CXC By Design

By the World Bank:

The Caribbean Examination Council (CXC): Purpose, advantages and disadvantages

Purposes of the Council and main characteristics of the Secondary Education Certificate
The Council was established in 1972, as a fully managed Caribbean operation financed mainly by subventions from member territories, with the main purpose of replacing the examinations of overseas Boards with local secondary school examinations of more relevance to the needs of the Caribbean. Based on extensive consultations with the participating countries, it developed syllabuses and examinations for a Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC, more well-know as CXC) under three separate schemes-Basic Proficiency, General Proficiency and Technical Proficiency, which is now taken in 15 Caribbean countries. These three schemes are intended primarily for candidates who have completed five years of secondary education. The General Proficiency syllabus and examination is defined as a full equivalent of a “O” level, while the Basic Proficiency one offers a certification for students who cannot make it for a O level, making cognitive demands on candidates different from the ones of the General Proficiency. The Technical Proficiency scheme was introduced in response to the demand for secondary school graduates who have a higher degree of practical skills in certain technical subjects. These three schemes had the purpose of providing greater flexibility for students in defining a course of study at the upper secondary level that was responsive to their interests and abilities. The Council, in 1998, also established a post-secondary examination, the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE).

The CXC uses a wide range of measurement techniques to assess the performance of candidates. Two modes of assessment are used: a final written examination and internal school-based assessment. In the typical CXC examination, the multiple-choice paper accounts for about 30% of the total score, while essays or problem-solving papers are used to measure those objectives that they are better suited to measure. The CXC certificate reports information on a student’s overall performance as well as his profile of performance for each subject take. It also presents within-subject profiles which show how a student performed on various dimensions of the subject. Candidates are tested, following the above mentioned format, on a variety of subjects, having in general to pass at least 5 subjects (at the General Proficiency level), including Math and English, to be considered eligible for application to a tertiary institution. The CXC has been attracting more and more students, resulting in approx. 116,000 candidate entries and 430,000 subject entries in 1998, by offering more and more subjects. It started by offering 5 subjects and, by 1998, was offering 36 subjects in the General and Technical Proficiency schemes clustered around Agriculture, Business Education, Home Economics, Industrial Arts, Information Technology, Modern Languages, Science and Mathematics, Visual Arts, etc. 

Main advantages of the Secondary Education Certificate (or CXC) 
i)The establishment of a regional exam and the common syllabuses have contributed to the acquisition of common knowledge and skills relevant to Caribbean development, promoting the process of regional integration. 

ii) The CXC is an established exam. General Proficiency Grades I to III (which also correspond to the pass rates) are widely accepted as satisfactory prerequisites for admission to universities within the Caribbean and some other countries like the US, Canada and the UK and for employment by all Caribbean government and private employers

iii) The CXC reports, each year, entries and grades (ranked from I to VI) obtained for each of the subjects by country, making it possible to track down how CXC results evolve in time per country and how countries perform relative to one another. Results are fully comparable. This is particularly important for establishing comparable diagnostics of the quality of the education sectors across countries, assuming that the CXC provides a good measure of learning outcomes.

iv)Teachers are highly involved in the CXC, through a strong representation in the Subject Panels that develop the CXC syllabuses and participation in the internal assessment component.

v) The combination of an internal assessment with the external examination has the advantage of
offsetting the unreliability associated with a particular sample of items administered on a particular
day (since it is conducted over several months) and providing information about skills and abilities
that cannot be easily and adequately tested externally.

Main disadvantages of the Secondary Education Certificate (or CXC)

i)The increase in number of subjects offered from the initial 5 to 36, where subjects like home economics, metals, office procedures, typewriting and woods can be sat at the General Proficiency level together with English, math and integrated sciences is having many more disadvantages than advantages. In particular, it leads to: (a) an actual impoverishment of the curriculum bringing students who should get prepared for good professional opportunities to study subjects which should be, at most, studied in technical and vocational education; and (b) an excessive diversification of subjects taught which leads to low cost-effectiveness of the education system through small class sizes and low pupil-teacher ratios. The mounting skepticism towards this proliferation is a contributing factor to the introduction by several countries of national alternative graduation exams at the end of the third, fourth or last grade of secondary education, together with the poor performance in the General Proficiency CXC, the low number of students reaching the last year of secondary education and (see below) the poor reputation of the Basic Proficiency exam. 

ii) The typical CXC candidate is expected to offer a combination of subjects under two or three of the above mentioned schemes (General Proficiency, Basis Proficiency and Technical Proficiency). However, experience to date with the examinations suggests that this mix of proficiencies is not as widespread as was originally expected and students have a strong incentive to try to sit the General Proficiency exam whereas the Basic Proficiency is seen at most as a second best which offers very little professional opportunities (entries for Basic Proficiency have in fact been declining from approx. 44,000 in 1989 to 27,000 in 1998).

iii)The CXC runs the risk of promoting an “inward-looking” culture which brings the Caribbean countries to be overly focused on their own specificities with little exposure to the outside world. This is also confirmed by the lack of participation in international exams. 

iv)The combination of external exams and internal assessments imposes strong common standards in assessing coursework in the last two years of secondary education which reinforce the already fully homogenized programs and syllabuses offered in these last two years by all the secondary schools of
the participating Caribbean countries. This might deprive schools of some necessary pedagogical autonomy.