“Eighth graders’ results a bomb” blared the page one headline in the Journal’s August 28, 2020 edition.
Fast forward to this week, and the high school entrance results are out with almost exactly the same result as last year.
In 2020, only 109 — 12.5 percent — out of 868 taking the test managed to pass the high school entrance exam to go into ninth grade. Nearly nine of 10 students went into “pre-ninth” classes because of low scores on the national exam.
This year there is little difference. Only 136 — 12.6 percent — out of 1,076 taking the exam passed to go into ninth grade. The reason for the larger number is that last year’s numbers don’t include the results for Kwajalein and Northern Islands high schools.
During Nitijela’s first business day Tuesday this week, Aur Nitijela Member Hilda Heine voiced concern about the low number of eighth grade students passing the ninth grade entrance exam to enter the five public high schools around the country. This sparked extended debate and discussion among members.
The best results for the high school entrance test are for Jaluit High School and the worst are for Kwajalein Atoll High School.
Students going to Jaluit — based on a strong showing by students from Woja, Ailinglaplap and Kili Island — showed an 18 percent passing rate, the nation’s best. A total of 36 students passed the ninth grade exam, while 161 will go into pre-nine.
On the flip side, only one percent of the 237 students taking the test for Kwajalein Atoll High School passed for ninth grade. That one percent is three students — one from Ebeye Middle School and two from Queen of Peace — who passed and will go directly into ninth grade at KAHS. Meanwhile, the other 234 students from schools at Kwajalein and Kaben Meto are headed to pre-ninth.
The Kwajalein results are in keeping with the long-term national MISAT results that consistently show students from Kwajalein and Kaben Meto with the lowest test scores in the nation.
The results for students going to other government high schools:
• Marshall Islands High School saw a passing rate of 17.5 percent from students in Majuro and nearby outer islands, as 79 of 451 passed.
• Laura High School saw a 10.8 percent passing rate, with 12 of 111 making the ninth grade cutoff.
• Northern Islands High School experienced a 7.5 percent rate, with six of 80 students passing to enter ninth grade.
The low passing rate in the 2020 and 2021 is in dramatic contrast to the results in 2019. Two years ago, 459 students made the grade to enter ninth grade out of 1,025 taking the test. That is a passing rate of 45 percent.
Nitijela Member Heine urged the Cabinet to initiate a review of the pre-ninth results.
President David Kabua said the problem of only a small percentage of eighth graders passing to go into ninth grade isn’t new. He also said that Public School System staff advised him the entrance test has been “compromised” by cheating by some schools. As a result, there are issues with the test itself, he indicated.
But during the ongoing question and answer, Namu Nitijela Member Tony Aiseia disputed the problem being a “test issue.” He said if eighth grade students are prepared, they’d be able to pass any test.
Meanwhile a principal and Public School System administrator addressed the MISAT situation.
“It’s not the schools that failed, it’s the system that failed,” said Majuro Middle School Principal Alvin Simon. He explained that the school gave MISAT practice tests starting January to prepare the students. The Middle School students were ready, he said.
When the test was over students told the teachers and the principal that the test was easy. “They could count how many questions they got wrong and right,” said Alvin. Which means they know how well they did. MMS teachers did their best, he said.
Thirty-eight MMS students scored high enough to qualify for grade nine, while 183 were graded at pre-nine level. “Even our students that passed the Xavier High School test are in pre-nine,” Alvin added. Xavier’s entrance test is considered a rigorous exam.
Stanley Heine who is an Associate Commissioner at Public School System (PSS) told the Journal that the test is not the problem. The questions on the test were changed last year and this year, too. There’s nothing to improve on the test. Stanley also added that PSS visits the schools about ten times a year but there are not enough improvements.
Another MISAT test will be conducted in October to give to pre-nine students an opportunity to retake it and if they get 60 percent on the test they will be able to go up to regular ninth grade.