Side Effects of Removing a Standardized Test

This school year, the Malawian government has removed the JSCE (Junior School Certificate of Education). Those of us in the US might see the removal of a standardized test as a good thing, however in Malawi there are a few key reasons why removing the earlier test could have adverse effects on the success of Malawi's students.

In Malawi, it is not possible to take full-length proctored practice tests for the MSCE, despite its outcomes deciding everything from which students can attend college, to which graduates can receive business loans. Imagine if this were the case in the US with the ACT or SAT; the economy and universities would be seen as incredibly competitive and inaccessible places for many. This is the case in the minds of Malawian young people. Except, to high schoolers like Memory, they continue to aspire to reach the score that will allow them to achieve their dreams, despite the lack of resources in their way.

 An example of a MSCE Notification of Results.

An example of a MSCE Notification of Results.

The JSCE used to be the first standardized test that secondary students faced in their high school career. It would prepare students for the format, pacing, and types of questions on the MSCE - the standardized test that matters for their futures.

All that has been publicly released about the removal of the JSCE simply states that the test was removed because the government has run out of money to continue proctoring it.

 The Nsondole CDSS schoolyard is a place for many types of students and community members to pass through.

The Nsondole CDSS schoolyard is a place for many types of students and community members to pass through.

What the New Policy Means for Rural High Schools

With the new policy, instead of testing students at the end of Form 2 (Sophomore year) on what they have learned from Forms 1 and 2 (Freshman and Sophomore years), the MSCE will test knowledge that the students have learned from their first year through their Senior year.

The removal of the JSCE, as a test with smaller stakes proctored early during student’s high school careers, means that not only are students going into the MSCE without a frame of reference not having done a full practice test, but the test has also become a cumulative representation of all the knowledge they’ve acquired in school.

In rural areas, this new policy will cause even more downstream effects. This year’s rainy season has been incredibly dry, not at all what the subsistence farmers who live near Nsondole were expecting. You can tell from the corn stalks in many of the families' plots - they are scrawny and tinged brown from burning in the hot sun. 

 Healthy stalks in February should be green, have a thick stem, and be growing tall.

Healthy stalks in February should be green, have a thick stem, and be growing tall.

 These stalks of corn are short, singed from heat, and dehydrated from little rain.

These stalks of corn are short, singed from heat, and dehydrated from little rain.

This year, in the dry season, there will be a draught.

There will be less food to go around, which means a few things:

  1. More students at Nsondole CDSS will be hungry while at school affecting their focus and their grades.
  2. Many students may be pressured to skip school to find food or money for their families in any way that they can.

This will affect attendance rates, which will cause the number of students taking the MSCE who are even somewhat prepared by their rigorous studies to drop.

While this new policy does not bode well for current students, we are remaining hopeful that students supported by the Advanced Sponsorship Project will be able to continue preparations for the big test with minimal issues. As one of the last classes to have taken the JSCE, Form 4 (Senior) ASP students for this year and next will know more of what to expect than their juniors. Story Time hopes to begin evaluating how helpful and feasible a mentorship program might be for upcoming Juniors and Seniors.

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How would your life have been different if a certain ACT or SAT score

was required for everything from a business loan to a college application?

How would your life have been different if a certain ACT or SAT score was required for everything from a business loan to a college application?