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EPE pass mark adjusted to 'align with school standards’ - Hon Natalio D. Wheatley

- Says rationale was not to lower quality of educational standards but rather to be 'fair & just' to students
Minister for Education, Culture, Youth Affairs, Fisheries and Agriculture, Dr The Honourable Natalio D. Wheatley (R7) in an official statement today, Tuesday, June 25, 2019, moved to provide context and a rationale behind his decision to lower the Exit Proficiency Examination (EPE) pass requirement in the territory. Hon Wheatley said the move is to align the exam pass mark to the standards set by the school. Photo: GIS/File
Minister for Education, Culture, Youth Affairs, Fisheries and Agriculture, Dr The Honourable Natalio D. Wheatley (R7) has promised reforms of the entire education sector and policies at the pre-primary, primary, secondary, technical and vocational levels. Photo: VINO/File
Minister for Education, Culture, Youth Affairs, Fisheries and Agriculture, Dr The Honourable Natalio D. Wheatley (R7) has promised reforms of the entire education sector and policies at the pre-primary, primary, secondary, technical and vocational levels. Photo: VINO/File
The decision—to lower the pass percentage from 60% to 50% at the ESHS— first revealed by acting Principal Ms Vanessa Garraway, has since sparked some amount of public uproar, including concerns raised by Leader of the Opposition, Hon Marlon A. Penn (R8) over its impacts on the quality of education in the territory. Photo: Facebook/File
The decision—to lower the pass percentage from 60% to 50% at the ESHS— first revealed by acting Principal Ms Vanessa Garraway, has since sparked some amount of public uproar, including concerns raised by Leader of the Opposition, Hon Marlon A. Penn (R8) over its impacts on the quality of education in the territory. Photo: Facebook/File
ROAD TOWN, Tortola, VI – Minister for Education, Culture, Youth Affairs, Fisheries and Agriculture, Dr The Honourable Natalio D. Wheatley (R7) in an official statement today, Tuesday, June 25, 2019, moved to provide context and a rationale behind his decision to lower the pass requirement of the Exit Proficiency Examination (EPE) in the territory, adding that the move comes not with an aim to lower the quality of education but rather to align the exam to the standards set by the school.

The decision—to lower the pass percentage from 60% to 50% at the ESHS—first revealed yesterday by acting Principal Ms Vanessa Garraway, has since sparked some amount of public uproar, including from Leader of the Opposition, Hon Marlon A. Penn (R8) over its possible impacts on the quality of education in the territory.  

Impacts on Education

“By now, many persons would be aware that I made a decision in regard to what the pass mark for the Exit Proficiency Examination should be. I am happy to discuss the context and rationale for such a decision," Hon Wheatley said as part of his opening statements in addressing what impacts his decision could have on the integrity of graduation results and the education system.

In pointing out that he comes from a family of educators and maintains high standards, Hon Wheatley implored, “I understand very well that failure is a very important part of the learning process. Shifting standards to accommodate poor performing students sends the wrong message.”

As part of the announcement, the ESHS Acting Principal had indicated that the pass percentage for the EPE had been lowered to give students who had failed, an opportunity to pass.

The minister noted that the decision was not taken lightly, “I consulted with education officers, teachers, parents, and students. I researched as much information as was available to me, and I carefully considered the implications of such a decision,” he said.

Hon Wheatley was clear to point out that if students did well in their course work throughout the year, but did not do well on the school leaving exam, they could still graduate and as such, the move to lower the requirements took all those factors into consideration.  

This EPE exam, introduced in 2016 under the then Minister for Education Myron V. Walwyn, replaced the School Leaving Examination, which accounted for 15 percent of the requirements towards graduation. 

Student welfare first 

“I must emphasise that the number one consideration for this action was the protection of the interests and welfare of our students in the immediate and long term. And I can assure the public that this action is a part of an overall reform that will ultimately strengthen our education system,” he said.

However, many on social media including callers on the Monday, June 24, 2019, edition of ‘NDP radio’ has chastised the government’s move to supposedly ‘lower the standards of education.’

In further justifying the move, the Minister notes, “Final assessment reveals not just what students have learned but how well they have been taught. So assessment cannot be separated from the process that leads to assessment,” he said in pointing out that education must adapt to the learning style of the students.

In highlighting the failures of the EPE, he said it is an exam that must be passed to graduate regardless of how well the student performed throughout their academic life. “Therefore, if students passed all other requirements and even thrived in their 6 years of secondary school, they would not be able to graduate if they did not test well.”

Following the announcement, the ESHS Acting Principal said that with the adjustment, of the 14 students who did not pass the EPE Exams, 9 were able to pass.

EPE has shortfalls – Hon Wheatley

In pointing out more faults in the system, Hon Wheatley said, “Very early in my tenure as Education Minister, I discovered there were a number of students who were honour students who failed the EPE.” 

"One student was not going to be able to graduate, because she failed the exam. But in her final year at ESHS, she had a 3.4 GPA, far higher than many students who would be receiving their diplomas. Her grades in this her final year were as follows: English B, Social Studies A-, Technical Drawing B+, Physical Education A+, Human and Social Biology C+, Woodwork B+, Electronic Document Preparation B+, Tourism A+, Math B+. This type of profile was not unique. There were several other students failing with GPA’s above 3.0," he said.

In making a list of disadvantages, the Minister further pointed out shortcoming with the exam. “How was it possible that students would perform so well during the course of the school year but fail this exam; and what was this exam measuring?”

He pointed to preparation shortfalls, failure to show weak areas in failed students, the school shift system and other issues such as anxiety and formatting as shortfalls.

“After a careful, examination of the facts, it would be callous for me to ignore the blatant ways in which students were placed at a disadvantage,” the minister said.

Leveling the playing field

He said when the system lacks consistency and fairness, another problem is created that has very far-reaching consequences, “Students who have worked hard and, in some cases, are honour students, would be denied the opportunity to participate in one of the most memorable experiences of their young lives.”

“And this was the background upon which I made the decision, not simply to lower the pass mark of the exam, but to align the pass mark of the exam with the school’s standards. This means that if the school has a pass mark of 55 the exam will have a pass mark of 55. If the school has a pass mark of 60, the exam will have a pass mark of 60. This was the right decision,” he said. 

The Minister further promised reforms of the entire education sector and policies at the pre-primary, primary, secondary, technical and vocational levels.

9 Responses to “EPE pass mark adjusted to 'align with school standards’ - Hon Natalio D. Wheatley ”

  • 2HMBPRZ (25/06/2019, 20:01) Like (12) Dislike (2) Reply
    I appreciate this message Dr. the Hon. Wheatley; it was well thought out and explained.

    I would like to point out that it is quite possible for a student to perform well throughout the school year and receive a failing grade or a very low grade on an EOY (end of year) exam. Reasons being, there are several things that affects the final grade overall grade/s such as class participation, quizzes, class test, projects and the likes. Some students do struggle sometimes when they have to do EOY or EOT (end of term) exams not only because of the added pressure but also because some students and or teachers just do not prepare/review adequately enough. Hence the poor results at times. This I know first hand because I have children of my own.

    Whatever it takes to bring a high level of academic and overall intelligence for the students of the Territory I strongly endorse. You and your team have my blessings!
  • Jordana (25/06/2019, 20:01) Like (8) Dislike (3) Reply
    Minister Wheatley I applaud you based on the rationale given for lowering the percentage.. I do think it’s unfair for someone to have really good grades and for some reason had difficulty passing this EPE exam.. there are many reasons why persons fail an exam.. one may assume that said failure is due to not knowing the work and this doesn’t have to necessarily be so.. there could be other factors involved .. so yes I am on board with the rationale.. also Mr. Minister you need to look into this “community service” being a requirement to get your diploma..I have seen young kids at the primary school level having to do community service for graduation as well.. ???..I do not see lowering the score mark as disadvantageous to our students.. can you imagine getting good grades all year long and the failure of that exam being the determining factor to prevent you from graduating.. another to this is that that student would be devastated even in the worst way- in some cases persons become suicidal.. we need to give all this thought..
  • Outspoken (25/06/2019, 20:45) Like (10) Dislike (2) Reply
    Critics, there you all have it. I often said, if you all do t understand, please verify before jumping on high horse. An EPE exam should not be the the final determination. How can you have a student performing so well throughout his or her school life and because he or she cannot muster a 60% for an EPE, they cannot graduate. Give me a break
  • Observer (25/06/2019, 22:51) Like (5) Dislike (1) Reply
    Someone from the Department of Education definitely needs to explain to the public "What exactly is the EPE exam measuring?” that the students need 3 tries to pass it.

    In addition, failure to show weak areas in failed students should be addressed in a report where teachers and students can review before the students are allowed to redo the exam.
  • Wow (26/06/2019, 01:42) Like (0) Dislike (20) Reply
    Should of left it 60% only for them island people children and 50% for VI landers
  • Wow (26/06/2019, 06:28) Like (2) Dislike (0) Reply
    “This EPE exam, introduced in 2016 under the then Minister for Education Myron V. Walwyn, replaced the School Leaving Examination, which accounted for 15 percent of the requirements towards graduation.“

    From 15% to 60%? Not good, students graduation grades should account more of what they did during the last 2 school years for their chosen program (science, arts, business, etc.). Why not breakdown the exit exam in 2 parts, one exam in January and one in May in the last school year? Since a 2 week break is given over the Christmas holidays, students can prepare well for the January exam. Only a suggestion.

  • SMH (26/06/2019, 15:19) Like (2) Dislike (2) Reply
    If the Minister thinks that the EPE was a problem due to the particular circumstances the children were facing, then the sensible decision would have been to set aside the EPE exam altogether and until they could work out the kinks and the circumstances normalized for students. Lowering the standard is reactionary to a situation and it means or appears to mean that you are trying to get certain persons over the. Then the decision becomes personal/discretionary and not policy/principle.
  • Teacher (26/06/2019, 16:53) Like (5) Dislike (5) Reply
    This is utter nonsense if you ask me. Why didn’t he post the exam to show everyone. It was grade 7-8 exams. That’s why our children can’t do anything better.


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