March 8, 2005 After much heated discussion, the V.I. Board of Education on Tuesday voted to suspend the St. Croix District examination until the Education Department, which developed and administers the tests, appears before the body to report on the necessity of the test.
The test, which is being administered to students of St. Croix's public junior high and high schools, has been a controversial topic for many St. Croix parents who are frustrated that their children have to take the tests when their counterparts in the St. Thomas-St. John district do not.
Tregenza Roach, executive director of the Board of Education, said Tuesday that many parents had called the board to complain about the test, which is based on standardized tests such as the SAT. Roach said the major source of complaint is that the students' test scores make up 10 percent of their final grade, and a lot of students are not doing well on the tests.
Roach told the board the Education Department recently notified him that they were preparing to implement the test in the St. Thomas-St. John district as well.
"I have a fundamental problem with the district exam being given on St. Croix," board member Terrence D. Joseph said, because the Education Department "has not been given approval by the board" to administer the test.
Joseph requested that the exam be brought to the board before it is given to any more of the territory's students.
"The children of the St. Croix district have been adversely affected by this exam," Nereida Rivera-O'Reilly, board member, said. "I feel strongly that this board needs to address how it will right the wrong faced by the students of the Central High School and the St. Croix Educational Complex."
Board member Keith Richards asked whether the board had jurisdiction over the matter.
"In my mind, that is under their [Education Department's] purview to administer exams," Richards said, adding there isn't a specific section in the V.I. code authorizing the board to set exams.
Pedro Williams, legal counsel for the board, said the Board of Education has authority to adopt curriculum for the territory's schools. Williams advised the board to schedule a hearing with the Education Department on the matter.
"My position is that the board has broad statutory authority to conduct hearings for concerns such as this," Williams said.
Jorge Galiber, board member, said his advice would be to "carry the department to court" for violating the V.I. Code. Galiber said even the Education Commissioner Noreen Michael testified before the Senate that she did not bring the test before the Board of Education before implementing it.
"I don't believe we've reached that point yet," board secretary Debra Watlington said, adding they should first give the Education Department directives, and if it failed to follow them, then take legal actions.
Board member Nandi Sekou said, "It's not fair to have these exams given in one district and not in another."
Sekou said the board needed to find out if the students were being adequately prepared for the test, whether teachers were covering the subject matter, and whether the test makers were proficient.
"It's discriminating," Judy Gomez , board chairwoman, said, questioning if the tests were implying that students from one district were smarter.
O'Reilly said, "Our children in St. Croix are being used as guinea pigs, and I don't think we should sit back and let it happen."
Richards moved to schedule a hearing within the next two weeks to hear testimony from the Education Department on the purpose of the test. Watlington amended the motion to state that the board would suspend the administering of the test until the Education appeared before the board to report on it.
The board approved both the amendment and the motion, as amended, unanimously.
Richards then motioned for the hearing to take place on March 15.
"This is by far too important," Richards said. "We need to move ahead with this issue."
The board approved his motion for a March 15 hearing at 6 p.m. on St. Croix with a 5-4 vote. Board members Galiber, Shawn Gibson, O'Reilly, Richards, and Oswin Sewer Sr. voted in the affirmative. Gomez, Joseph, Sekou and Watlington voted against.
Gomez said she didn't want to "tie down the commissioner to a date."
In other matters, the board, during its executive session, voted to refrain from joining the Central High School's Parent-Teacher Association in a suit against the Education Department for failing to implement the recommendations of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools as it pertains to the schools.
The board also voted to adopt a $1.35 million budget for next fiscal year and to request a supplemental budget of $800,000 for scholarships and $25,000 for an independent audit of the board.
"We want to give college students more financial aid," Roach said, adding the $800,000 would allow them to double the amounts currently given to students.
All board members were present at the meeting.
Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.