CAA Academic Excellence Award Winners, 2019, 4of5
CAA has for many years awarded our top ranked students a special academic excellence award voucher, and about eight of our students are usually in the running for academic awards with all grades at 90+; and at least three to six of those have posted all grades at 94+. Historically, only young women have earned CAA’s Academic Excellence awards – it has been difficult for the young men to break into this elite group. Four of the five Academic Achievement Award winners, from 2019, are shown in the photo. These young women had a lock on the top spots for most of their high school years – and we proudly recognize them.
This year and last, CAA did not issue the academic excellence recognitions because the Education Ministry replaced numeric grades with a Pass/Fail system due to the pandemic disruptions. However, the Education Ministry resumed numeric grades for 2022, and our students just received their first of two report cards for the First Term. Alisson, CAA’s Program Administrative Intern, is now collecting the report cards, and we are hopeful that our students have been able to get their grades back on track, based again on a numeric grade scale. We will review the report cards in person with the students/parents in July in preparation for Second Term classes in August, and again after the 2022 classes end in December. In 2023, we hope we can again identify and recognize another group of academic excellence students for their work.
What are the other challenges faced by these 2018-2022 students? According to UNICEF, 37% of children in Costa Rica now live below the poverty line (Swissinfo.ch/UNICEF, May 4, 2022). And, the Education Ministry reported in local news that public school students over the past 4 years have lost almost 2 years of instruction due to the two teacher’s strikes of 2018-2019, followed by the Covid pandemic disruptions of 2020-2021. Although the system has tried to add a few months of additional classes, it remains to be seen how much ground these 2018-2022 students have recovered, especially the most disadvantaged.
In fact, the President of Costa Rica just decreed that the standardized “FARO” tests should not be required for students in 2022, and the Education Ministry is considering the elimination. A student’s score on this standardized test in selected subjects was to represent 40% of the weighted test scores used to determine a student’s final grade; and a low score would jeopardize university eligibility which caused protests by students and their parents. Will another standardized national test be substituted to measure learning across campuses and years? The public university faculty association insists that Costa Rica continue annual standardized testing of achievement in the last years of elementary and of high school. Time will tell how this local testing issue will be resolved, and how Costa Rica will measure academic proficiency going forward.
Fortunately, Costa Rica as a member of the 38 OECD countries (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), participated among 600,000 other students from OCED and non-OECD countries (79 participating countries-economies) in the OECD’s PISA standardized tests in 2018 (Programme for International Student Assessment). These tests focused on age 15 students in reading, math, and science proficiency. The most recent OECD PISA was focused on reading proficiency and the results were reported December, 2019. The next math focused PISA test, originally scheduled for 2021, was rescheduled for 2022 due to Covid and results should be available next year. (Source-https://gpseducation.oecd.org)
Costa Rica’s 2018 PISA reading proficiency results demonstrated that only half, 50%, of Costa Rica’s students scored at or above the minimum level for reading proficiency, behind Chile’s 60% among PISA's participating Latin America countries. Mexico, Brazil, Columbia scored close behind Costa Rica, and Argentina ranked the lowest at about 38%. Costa Rica’s average score was 426 compared to the 487 average of all PISA participating countries. And, in the math portion, Costa Rica’s proportion of students scoring at or above the minimum level of proficiency was only about 40%. China led in overall scores.
PISA 2018 reflected the need for improvement in reading comprehension, math and science even before the impact of Costa Rica’s 2018-2022 educational disruptions. This PISA report indicated:
- " A large share, over 10%, of advantaged CR students had to repeat a grade"; (emphasis added on "advantaged");
- “ Socio-economic status explains 16% of the variance in reading performance in Costa Rica (OECD average: 12%)”;
- " 27% of children in Costa Rica live below OECD's defined relative income poverty line";
- “ However,10% of disadvantaged students (in Costa Rica) are academically resilient (OECD average:11%)".
We are optimistic that CAA’s socio-economically disadvantaged scholarship students will demonstrate that very important trait of “academic resilience”. Two other PISA 2018 findings could also be very significant:
- Costa Rica students “average level of life satisfaction is one of the highest of all the countries and economies participating...”, and
- Costa Rica students “strongly believe in their own ability to perform, especially facing adversity, compared with other PISA participating countries…”
These PISA 2018 captured beliefs may very well account for individual academic success despite poverty. We are hopeful that the disruptions of 2018-2022 have not shaken these incredibly important drivers of life satisfaction and academic success.
CAA’s eight 2022 graduating students that endured the 2018-2022 disruptions may be able to avoid the FARO final tests, but all of these students are facing the challenge of standardized university entrance exams – these tests are at the same level of difficulty as pre-pandemic. CAA funded the cost of those exams, and we hope to locate pre-exam prep/tutoring resources to get these students ready for the tests. Our scholarship students must do their very, very best work if they hope to qualify for public university admission given the limited number of openings available, fierce competition from private school students, and our students' absolute dependence on government scholarships. That PISA 2018 reported “strong belief in their own ability to perform…” is now of critical importance if our students are to achieve the dream of university education.
And, speaking of university and graduates, CAA’s hard-working Scholarship Program Administrative Intern, Alisson, received her Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work, with Honors, from UCR last week. She is continuing her classes in preparation for her required thesis necessary to be licensed; all done while responding to the needs of twenty-nine CAA scholarship students and program administration demands. Alisson will continue in her role as CAA Scholarship Program Administrative Intern for the next year or two until she is licensed. She is an important role model for our students, and we congratulate Alisson on this important Bachelor’s Degree milestone!
We send our heartfelt thanks to all of the generous supporters of these students through GlobalGiving, and to the many volunteers who donate their time and money to help turn the dreams of these students into reality. Without these combined efforts, the last ten years of CAA educational scholarship support for these students would not have been possible. Please help us continue to keep these dreams alive, one student at a time.
[all photos used with written permission of the subject(s)]
AVEM, Bachelor's Degree in Social Work, May 2022
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