Nigel Henry

Nigel Henry

IN 2018, a detailed database of Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) results, including the name, exact scores, and schools of choice for each student was published in an unprotected publicly-accessible cloud location.

The Ministry declared that the publication was unauthorised, and it was soon removed.

While unfortunate, the publication of this dataset provides a rare opportunity to analyse the inner workings of the SEA-based secondary school placement.

This report gives a few of the most interesting findings.

The names of the students have been randomly replaced, but the students, their scores, ranks, choices and placements are all actual examples found in the data to emphasise that impacts are real, not theoretical.

Note that raw scores in Mathematics and Language (each out of 100) and Writing (out of 20) are converted to a scaled score between 126 and 255, which are referenced in this article when appropriate.

Numbers that counteract the Concordat

Jadon of an Anglican primary school in Port of Spain scored 24 in Math, 36 in Language and seven in the essay, putting him in the lowest 15 per cent of all test-takers.

Nonetheless, he passed for his first choice of St Mary’s College.

Jadon was “lucky” since another student, not too far behind with scores of 21 in Math, 43 in Language and six in the essay, had to re-sit the entire exam in 2019.

Meanwhile, a third student, Malachi, got quite noteworthy scores of 92, 76 and ten-good enough to place in the top 17 per cent among boys.

He was not placed in his first choice of St Mary’s College although Jadon and 34 other boys with lower scores passed for CIC.

This is the work of the infamous “20 per cent list”.

Back in 1960, the Cabinet of Trinidad and Tobago approved the Concordat of 1960 which states among other things that schools run by denominational school boards “...will make available a minimum of 80 per centum of the First Form entry places to those who...qualify on the results of the Common Entrance Examination.”

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The other 20 per cent of spaces can be filled “as they see fit...”

But what if instead of 20 per cent, as many as 21 per cent or 25 per cent or even 33 per cent of students placed at a denominational school are assigned out of sequence? Believe it or not, this is exactly what happened.

The leaked results for the first time show very transparently how this “20 per cent list” works in practice.

For the most part it works as expected.

The first 80 per cent of slots at denominational schools are filled by students in order of their scores.

Another group of students are placed out of the score-ranked sequence.

This number is usually about 20 per cent, but sometimes one or more additional lower-ranked students are placed in these schools for unclear reasons.

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