BVI News

Lowering exit exams pass mark will benefit students, not handicap them

Dr Natalio Wheatley

Education Minister Dr Natalio Wheatley has said his ministry’s move to lower the pass mark for the secondary school Exit Proficiency Exams (EPE) is to protect the interests of students in the long-term.

The ministry announced recently that the pass mark had been lowered from 60 percent to 50 percent for school-leaving students.

In a seven-page statement on Tuesday, Dr Wheatley said that the decision was made after consulting with parents, students, teachers and officials of his ministry on the issue.

“I did not take this decision lightly. I researched as much information as was available to me, and I carefully considered the implications of such a decision,” he said.

Dr Wheatley said, as a former educator and academic, he understands that failure is a very important part of the learning process and “shifting standards to accommodate poor performing students sends the wrong message”.

“I know the high academic standards students must meet internationally, and I assure you that by no means am I seeking to handicap our students,” he further argued.

Probe: Students were being disadvantaged

The Education Minister said he discovered early on in his tenure as Education Minister that there were several students who were honour students who failed the EPE.

“This reality led to two important questions: one, how was it possible that students would perform so well during the course of the school year but fail this exam? And two, what was this exam measuring?”

He said the questions above prompted an investigation and it revealed that the teachers with the responsibility of preparing the students had never seen an EPE exam.

They were not privy to the results of past exams and felt handicapped in preparing students to improve their results.

He said after failing the exams, students could not see what questions they got wrong to determine what their weak areas were.

“It was unclear how the results of the EPE were used to improve teaching and learning,” the minister argued.

Shift system affected students

He said the probe revealed that teachers held the view that the shift system impacted the students’ preparation for the exam as the environment was not ideal.

Another point was the format of the exam; the instructions of which differed from what students were accustomed to.

He said students’ anxiety level impacted their performance, and the pass mark was also different from what was used all year.

“As a result of my investigations, I concluded that there were significant gaps between the expectations of the Ministry and the process of teaching and learning in the schools, and that put the students at a disadvantage,” he said.

The system must be fair

Dr Wheatley said while he is being accused of “watering down standards” it would be callous for him to ignore how students were being disadvantaged.

“When the system lacks consistency and fairness, another problem is created that has very far-reaching consequences. Students who have worked hard and, in some cases, are honour students, would be denied the opportunity to participate in one of the most memorable experiences of their young lives.”

This, he reasoned, can result in emotional trauma — something he believes is “inexcusable”.

“Not receiving a diploma will result in a black mark on their record that could affect their prospects going forward. These were consequences I was not prepared to entertain. Let them say that the government and Ministry of Education did not unfairly hold them back but pushed them towards their destiny.”

He said this is the backdrop that he used to make the “right decision” and not to “simply to lower the pass mark of the exam, but to align the pass mark of the exam with the school’s standards.”

The exam was first introduced to the territory in 2016 to replace the School Leaving Examination, which accounted for 15 per cent of the requirements towards graduation. Notably, students must also satisfy all graduation requirements to graduate.

Education reform coming

In the meantime, Dr Wheatley said plans are coming to review and reform several education policies that govern pre-primary, primary, secondary, technical and vocational education.

He said where necessary, existing policy structures will be upgraded to reflect the government’s collective vision for the territory’s human capital development.

“During this process, the methodologies applied in the assessment of students and the graduation requirements would be reviewed,” he also noted.

He said consultations on the reform with stakeholders is also coming.

Copyright 2021 BVI News, Media Expressions Limited. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or distributed.


Disclaimer: BVI News and its affiliated companies are not responsible for the content of comments posted or for anything arising out of use of the comments below or other interaction among the users.

  1. My two pennies says:

    With all due respect Mr. Minister, you lowered the pass mark to accommodate the students. Regardless of the long talk that you had designed to lose the people in the details because you know we don’t read long stories or listen to long speeches and are easily confused at times, the fact remains you lowered the pass mark to accommodate students.
    You should be raising the school pass mark not lowering the exit exam. The grading scheme as I understand it was increased by 5% after 2011 and then it was scheduled to be raised by another 5% in 2017 but was delayed because of the hurricane damage and all that followed. Sometimes as members of the public, if we only do our own investigations rather than listening to people talk who have their own political agenda we would learn soo much more.
    If the minister intended to change the exam pass mark it should have been done from next year. The students knew the pass mark was 60% for the exit exam and it has always been that pass mark since it started. It is unheard of that a pass mark is lowered after the exam is done. Ridiculous! And no long speech can change that fact.
    Why do we continue to concentrate only on students passing when they can do soo much more when pushed, encouraged and supported? If a child can only get 50% of the work taught right then it means they got 50% of the work wrong. We have an obligation to those students to pull the best out of them. Doing this doesn’t mean lowering grades to create a false sense of success when in fact they need help. The world out here is rigorous and only the well prepared will do well.
    Stop playing politics with the children. I strongly believe that you got some calls from parents and caved into the pressure for fear of losing votes. Nothing you say makes sense on this matter and where are the main civil servants in all this from the ministry. It’s suspicious that you are the only person speaking. It wreaks of politics!

    Like 73
    Dislike 14
    • Hmmmm says:

      Nothing further to add, YOU SAID IT!!! It’s shameful as f**k!

      Like 42
      Dislike 6
      • SMDH says:

        This government gets a failing mark for public relations. This could have been done differently. Let the children with special circumstances walk on graduation day then withhold the certificates until they pass the exam.

        Why come out in public and announce that you are lowering standards? This is sure to bring a negative response.

        Like 10
        Dislike 2
    • Word says:

      No lie there. Straight FACTS

      Like 25
      Dislike 1
    • Not2Sure says:

      Exactly right. First thing the new minister does is *lower* the standards in our schools.

      Like 29
      Dislike 5
    • BS says:

      That is why you have so many unhappy and suicidal kids in the UK – leave our kids alone and out of it and let them learn within the context of the Virgin islands culture and requirements- I know exactly where you are coming from

      Like 5
      Dislike 12
      • vi haters says:

        This site is where all the haters of the Virgin Islands congregate- you will never see the fall of these beautiful Virgin Islands – until your freakin death beds

        Like 3
        Dislike 4
    • Edu macation says:

      Lowering the pass mark just keeps the population below the standards of not only the Caribbean (which is low already) but is vastly lower than the “first world”. All this does is solidify that the Territory is truly a “third world” land. Keep it up BVI. YZou are slowly destroying yourselves daily.

      Like 31
      Dislike 6
    • Not again says:

      We’ve been misled. Where is the whistleblower law they promised us? When are they goin to deliver what they promised us? I say we impeach em if they don’t do this by end of July.

      Like 5
      Dislike 2
  2. Understood says:

    Thanks for addressing this Hon Minister.

    It’s also a breathe of fresh air to hear you speak with such knowledge.

    What happened here highlights the many flaws in our education system. There needs to be a thorough review and we know you will tackle this from early childhood up to the college level.

    Those who like to politicize everything will talk a lot of rubbish as usual but those with common sense know better

    This was the right decision taking all the circumstances into consideration.

    Like 8
    Dislike 47
  3. vip heckler says:

    If you cant jump over a 6 ft pole you lower it to 5 ft 6 inches

    Like 22
    Dislike 5
  4. Well sah says:

    Take your two pennies and buy some vision and understanding. People like you are what is wrong with society, How do you mean people would not read and listed to the information because its lengthy…. I’ll say no more. I agree with you 100% Dr. Wheatley.

    Like 8
    Dislike 39
  5. Backward says:

    Failure is that gut-wrenching experience we all have to deal with at one time or the other, but it is not the end of the world.
    Some times you have to let people fail in order to strengthening them physically and prepare them for the road ahead.
    keep supporting them and pushing through, no matter what the situation or how painful the setbacks are, incredible things begin to happen.
    But rewarding them when they did not pass the test should not be an option.

    Like 44
    Dislike 1
  6. smh says:

    or simply make the exam with one question in it so everyone can look smart. then we will have a lot of people with certificates who dont know their A** from their Elbows. it have enough kids running round the streets with no education, now the few in school. you telling them it ok to be dumb, by you dropping pass mark to facilitate them. wrong. if that was done in my days i wouldve been a Astronaut by now.. lol

    Like 36
    Dislike 1
  7. Richard says:

    We have to get the children out of school quickly, so what else can be done.

    Like 1
    Dislike 16
  8. Ausar says:

    “Honoured Students.. being unable to participate… in the most memorable experiences of their lives”….

    You see, the problem I have with this statement is, WHO determines how
    each “honouring” status is given out?

    If an honour student fails in testing, it’s obvious that he or she was GIVEN the status and not earned it, or, some form of ineptness has taken place!

    Lowering thresholds to meet substandard operations are not helping our students.

    And we wonder WHY, employers are willing to hire “others”- others” that have gone to private institutions and/or others, who’ve been educated outside of the BVI!

    Yes, we need continual educational reforms, but not on the backs of mediocrity!

    Like 33
    Dislike 1
    • @Ausar says:

      Let them keep up the bullshit and leave the blinders on! Look around at the businesses and see the trends, this will only get worst with the dumbing down of this little nation. It is really really sad to watch. Not only in their actions, but they seem to be proud of doing it and trying to back it up with their own ‘facts’.

      Like 19
      Dislike 1
  9. Well.. says:

    Don’t stop there! Let’s lower the basketball hoops on our recreational facilities so that our kids could score more points and be scouted to attend the best colleges and probably turn pro ballers. It’s a no brainer, why didn’t we think on these things much sooner?

    Like 33
    Dislike 1
  10. Stupidness says:

    Know way in h**l you could be an honour student and fail. Nonsense that!!!

    Like 18
    Dislike 1
  11. Question says:

    What percentage of high school graduates go on to obtain a 4 year degree? Not an Associates in Tortola but a true 4 year degree? All high schools in the US keep those statistics.. where are yours? What do the students score on SAT exams? If anything like USVI, far below the US National Average.
    Maybe if health care was better, education was of higher importance and the college offered 4 year degrees, belongers would not have to leave the country to give birth, get an education thus losing out on jobs to expats.
    The problem starts with the government and it’s allocation of money.
    Lowering standards…. you are on your way to becoming a third world country in education, infrastructure and health care.

    Like 11
    Dislike 2
  12. from experience says:

    I have known of several children who have been on honor roll, valedictorians and sals who have appeared quite academically intelligent in the BVI school system. But then they somehow can’t seem to qualify for entrance into Canadian and some U.S universities or pass the entrance exams. Some of them meet some hard times after they leave our secondary schools because they can’t match up. Now I can’t answer as to why, but it is clear that the buck fell somewhere.

    They are eventually accepted into the higher institutions, but not before re-doing some basic proficiencies. This messes with a child’s mental health because where they came from, they were considered honor students, now in the real world they are considered way below the grade.

    Like 13
  13. OZYMANDIAS says:

    He basically admitted that you all children slow. Can’t keep up with industry standards. Your kids are liabilities and not assets. Sad state of BVI children oh well end of month is here another 4k.

    Like 14
  14. stink says:

    student:i graduate with honors.
    me: whats your GPA
    Student:what.what the h**l is that.

    Like 10
    Dislike 2
  15. Vocational says:

    The stress on academic qualifications in today’s world is limiting- today, hands on skills are becoming increasingly more important than simple academic knowledge, especially for the economy- I support the minister and I see this as stressing that there are many more options out there for Virgin Islanders- let the kids learn other things that will empower them not just the 3 Rs-

    Like 4
    Dislike 11
  16. OH. MY. GOSH! says:

    Dear Dr. Wheatley,

    Instead of going forward, we are going backwards! Sir, we cannot lower the passing grade to make our students feel good about themselves. What is going to happen when they travel abroad and realize that they have to work double hard because a 70 is a D in other places of the world? Have you really pondered this? Are you trying to keep our students in a bubble? When other parts of the world like Finland, South Korea, to name a few, are pushing their children so that their country can be known for their solid education program, you are letting the world know how extremely weak our education program is and our sense of misplaced priorities regarding our students!
    Dr. Wheatley I strongly advise you to reconsider. Our children are already lacking. They are leaving high school like sucklings instead of mature, responsible young adults capable of making sound decisions.

    Our education system is already horrible and lacking. In other places of the world, for example, America, their education curriculum is more advanced, rigorous and offer subjects that develop a student’s worldview. Sir I ask you, who are your advisers? Who are you surrounding yourself with? Please read Proverbs 24 FULLY.

    If you are truly a doctor, I believe that you are, you should conduct a more thorough investigation into this matter keeping in mind that they (our students) are going to be the future of our small nation! Please, please reconsider!!!

    Like 16
    Dislike 1
    • Doctor? says:

      He has PhD – a doctorate degree which I’m sure he has to work his a…s off to get. Regardless of hurricane or life conditions, I’m sure he is to meet the requirements. Of the learning environment that the children are in is not conducive to learning (as he implied in what I just heard on ZBVI news tonight) then it sounds like school is a daycare center and not a learning environment. Heard him talk about alot of reasons why the children failed. Hey, come on. You sounded like a big joke

    • BVI lacking nothing says:

      The BVI already kicking butt as number one destination in the Caribbean without your so called freakin high standards – go back to Brexit land and leave us alone

  17. So... says:

    ..Wasn’t ESHS up for accreditation or recently accredited? How will the lowering of grades affect this?

    Like 11
  18. Educator says:

    It is so sad watching all of this unfold. What was the rush? Why didn’t they take some time to assess what is really going on and remedy in a phased manner? This reminds me of the good to great program not so long ago where they were bragging about 98% pass mark and majority of the graduating class couldn’t read. What is ironic is that the now Hon. Wheatley, while as an Instructor at HLSCC publicl commented that the students coming over to HLSCC were nowhere near ready for college level and spent too much time doing pre-college courses. Now he is the Education Minister and look what he has done. I’m so ashamed of this Government and will be surprised if they serve a full term in office. The people truly deserve better especially in these crucial times.

    Like 24
    Dislike 1
    • @Educator says:

      One of the questions you need to ask yourself ; was he a good instructor at the college? If you can find the answer ask anyone at the college. None of this surprises me.

      Like 4
      Dislike 1
  19. Common Sense says:

    If the Minister thinks that the EPE was a problem due to the particular circumstances the children were facing, then the sensible decision would have been to set aside the EPE exam altogether and until they could work out the kinks and the circumstances normalized for students. Lowering the standard is reactionary to a situation and it means you are trying to get certain persons over the. Then the decision becomes personal/discretion and not policy/principle.

    Like 15
    Dislike 1
  20. Teacher says:

    This is utter nonsense if you ask me. Why didn’t he post the exam to show everyone. It was grade 7-8 exams. That’s why our children can’t do anything better.

    Like 1
    Dislike 2
  21. Hah says:

    Knowledge isn’t the ability to pass one exam. Passing an exam doesn’t necessarily mean that you are educated. A lot of people confuse educated and intelligence. I agree with the minister one test shouldn’t be the ultimate factor in deciding whether someone receives their diploma. For example everyone with a driver’s licence in the BVI complete a drivers test, written and road but how many drivers can actually drive well. It is arguable that the BVI has the most accidents per capita in the world. What does passing the test mean in this case? The next time you see traffic hold up by someone trying desperately to reverse or acting like their little Sprint is a big truck just remember these people passed 2 test.

    Like 7
    Dislike 4
    • @hah says:

      Point taken. And can you imagine where we would be if we lowered the standard to let more maniacs on the road?
      I know not everyone does well on exams but somethig does not add up.
      How can an honour student not qualify for graduation? There is a clear mis-alignment here. Perhaps the criteria for becoming an honour student needs to be looked into.

      It seems like more thought was put into our upcoming festival line-up than ito our academic crterias.

    • Understandable...but says:

      Have you considered that perhaps what the students are more capable of is memorizing; therefore, they are not truly thinking? If the students are able to comprehend and learn true thinking skills, no matter what exam comes before them they will be able apply the strategy/rules to pass the exam. It is all about learning strategies, not memorizing what is before you. So teachers not getting to see the exam is a poor excuse. Teachers have to understand the standards and teach the children how to apply said strategies. Everywhere else teachers DO NOT get to see the exams.

  22. xxxxx says:

    Which one of you know it all Jackxxxxs can pass a test on questions that you were not taught because not even your teacher was given a syllabus of what to teach. This EPE exam is not organize. The person who prepares the EPE exam said these are things the children should already know. Also if it is of good intention why don’t the students be made knowledgeable of what their weaknesses are. The detriment of an education system is when it becomes political.

    Like 4
    Dislike 1
    • The Hooded Claw says:

      Your comment makes little sense. How many students took the EPE exams? 90 something. How many failed? 14. That clearly indicates that the majority of the student (70+) grasp and understood the material. To lower the passing mark after the results came out is offensive to all the other student who passed originally. The Hon Minister’s decision appears personal/political. Do not dumb-down the system to create the illusion of intellectualism. This is a disservice to our students and ultimately the entire community as a whole!

      • True says:

        I agree with you. I do not see anything wrong with those numbers at all. I feel as though the government just wants to improve the look of their numbers! But again, at what cost? Would the numbers be lowered for each letter grade now? So, instead of having 10 graduating with As, are we looking at 20 graduating with As though they really are not A students?
        Kuddos to the kids who worked their behinds off to achieve the grades that they achieved!!!! They really earned it!

  23. Seriously? says:

    Raising a country full of idiots. At least there will be plenty to run for election.

    Like 4
    Dislike 2
  24. vip heckler says:

    We are moving back to the days of MOVING FROM GOOD TO GREAT

    Like 4
    Dislike 4
  25. vip heckler says:


  26. Anonymous says:

    Wow. The educational system has utterly failed the kids. Something is broken and needs urgent overhaul now. I feel awful for the kids. I knew that this half day system would have to have fall out. NDP should be ashamed of themselves for failing to get the school fixed and failing the children so spectacularly. I truly believe that they created this problem because a full curriculum simply can’t be crammed into half a day. I feel for the teachers who are doing double shifts and must be exhausted.

    I spoke with some secondary kids that casually said that they had some stuff to do and “might not go to school tomorrow”. When I challenged them they told me that teachers write notes on the boards and their friends take a picture and WhatsApp it to the and that they learn from that. They said that they don’t need to attend to graduate. None of them had a favourite subject and that made sense if they were just learning from notes. I was shocked by what I heard.

    I get the problem. But raising the pass rate isn’t going to fix it. The kids still do not have the knowledge they need to succeed in passing the criteria set as standard. No amount of changing the pass grade will increase that knowledge.

    Like 2
    Dislike 3
  27. hahahaha says:

    JUST TO WIN ANOTHER TERM. TO EARLY TO CAMPAIGN SIR FOR NEXT ELECTION. HAHAHAHAHA. Poor children studying in public schools. Did you ask Honorable Sir the college deans and employers what they are looking for? Your research is irrelevant. You just proved that politicians are clowns. You also proved that you have NO political will by caving in to the parents (who are your potential voters) of those who failed the exam.

    Like 5
    Dislike 2
  28. OK says:

    The way I see it the weight given to the EPE should be reduced and the passing grade remain the same!

  29. BVI NEWS says:


    Like 1
    Dislike 3
  30. :) says:

    All the people that are complaining about what was done are overreacting. Do people know that this 60% only started less than 4 years ago now they acting like we need it. Is this is needed are you saying everyone that did not go through this over the other 50+ years are somehow inadequate?

    Like 4
    Dislike 16
  31. Not qualified says:

    Dr. Natalio Wheatley is a lecturer at the H. Lavity Stoutt Community College in the British Virgin Islands. He has a Masters of Arts in Literary Studies from Purdue University, and a PhD from the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, where his dissertation focused on “Race, Class, and Resistance in Three Caribbean Novels”. He is a poet who was recently anthologized in Where I See the Sun: Contemporary Poetry in the Virgin Islands. Dr. Wheatley has presented alongside intellectual giants, such as Tony Martin, Horace Campbell, and Rex Nettleford, and has performed poetry throughout the world, including Carifesta 10, the Caribbean Festival of the Arts in Guyana and as an invited guest in the Houses of Parliament in London, England.

    He is a poet and not qualified by his degree to be in charge of the education of the BVI. He has not studied education and would not be granted this job in any other country.
    Minister of Education should have a PhD in EDUCATION!!

    Like 7
    Dislike 3
    • @ Not qualified says:

      Oh Gosh! Yikes! I probably would not have put it so bluntly, but you do raise a point. Listen, I have been in situations where tell the truth and shame the devil I realized that I did not have enough knowledge to do the job effectively. I agree with you! He doesn’t have enough experience in the education sector to truly understand what is best for the kids. Of course, I am piggybacking off your research. However, even if he does not have enough knowledge, he has enough education to be able (I believe) to make sound decision making. He needs knowledgeable advisers. Seek them out! Consult with people who have completed the research. There are education consultants everywhere. That is all he has to do!

    • dude says:

      SO anyone who’s a poet isn’t qualified to know anything? Personal attacks by the high & mighty ndp bloggers………show us your phd and your ba let us see what you are qualified in besides hating

  32. Hmmmmmmmm says:

    Hon. Minister as you were an educator I totally expected better from you. Dissappointed doesn’t begin to explain how I view your actions. Keep setting the children up for failure. The proof is in the pudding. As far up as HLSCC where you taught. Makes one wonder if you lowered the mark for your students to pass or they passed on their own merit. Just saying!

    Like 3
    Dislike 1
  33. 6 cents says:

    Look at all these dislikes are critiques by ppl who don’t have degrees in Education defending decisions made by a person who didn’t dedicate his life to education and understands HOW to get the desired results.

    Wheatley spent yrs & $$$ studying this and this is his expertise. Students need a proper environment to learn and must be prepared for the standards you test them on. You can’t learn to drive an automatic car then get tested in a standard and expect to pass. Prepare them from the foundation upwards not a top down approach (that is for headlines & to preach a different agenda that locals can’t do this & that) Prepare them educate them and they can meet the mark.

    Like 3
    Dislike 1

Leave a Comment