Probe SEA Results

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
July 13, 2011

Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe“How come one school could get 14 passes in the top one hundred places of the SEA,” asked the irate caller on the phone, and drew her own conclusion: “Dey had to tief.”

After she calmed down she explained her anxiety. She was referring to the fact that 14 students from Chaguanas Government School placed among the top one hundred students at the recent SEA examination. To her mind, that was impossible.

I thought these students had studied hard and did a magnificent job until she announced:

“Ah hear ah Indian man from San Fernando give some teacher de exam and that is why dem students did so well.”

I did not like the racial manner in which she framed her questions. She was giving the impression that only Indian does tief. I couldn’t tell her that one week ago, the whole of the Atlanta Public School, a predominantly black school district in the United States, was accused of cheating on their examination, all with the purpose of getting more money for their school districts from a federal program called “No Child Left Behind.”

I continued to listen as she kept on ranting about the fundamental unfairness of the system and the advantages Indians have in the educational arena.

I am an educator. Although I wanted to disregard her highly-wrought conclusion I could not leave them unanswered. I wanted to know the statistical possibility of such a thing happening.

I had served as a member of the Massachusetts Education Board; did various reports for Higher Educational Opportunities Program in New York; and contributed to Harvard University Core Curriculum that changed undergraduate education in the United States during the last quarter of the 20th century. I had even taught at Bedford Stuyvesant Youth in Action, a program for disadvantaged youth,in New York’s inner city, so I know something about education and made several contacts in the field.

Taking the bull by the horns, I called a colleague at William Patterson University in New Jersey who put me on to a statistician to whom I asked the following question:

“17,327 students from 541 schools take an exam. One school has five standard five classes of approximately 25 students each. Some schools have several standard five classes that take the exam. Each class consists of approximately 25 students. Statistically, what are the chances of fourteen students from one of those classes being placed in the first 100 places in that exam?”

He answered:

“Bottom line I think it is safe to say that something untoward happened. a) unless this teacher is the most brilliant in the world; b) unless these 14 students are the most brilliant in the world; the chances are one trillion to one that some form of ‘cheating’ went on.”

Necessarily, more question needed to be answered (such as, “If this teacher taught last year, what was her/his class results?” “Is this a prestige school; is this an honor’s class and so on?”) before one could arrive at a more definite answer.

I could not answer all of these questions. Although this colleague sent me the process by which he arrived at his conclusion, I couldn’t get my mind around the startling conclusion: the chances of a particular class getting 14 places out of 100 in an exam in which 17,327 children from 541 schools were tested were one trillion to one.

My other colleague is a mathematician. He received his doctorate from University of Chicago and a master’s degree from Cambridge University, England. I posed the same question to him. He responded as follows:

“The probability is so incredibly small that it is almost zero. In fact, the probability that such a thing happens is about .00000000000000000258086%. This computes the probability that some class of 25 has 14 students in the top 100.

“I think that it is fairly certain that either cheating was involved, or you have an exceptionally bright number of students in this particular class.”

The statistical probability of this class achieving this educational feat was even more startling. Such a thing was almost impossible.

Cheating takes place in many jurisdictions. However, responses to such cheating vary widely. In Atlanta six high-ranking educators were stripped of their duties. In Dallas where a similar thing happened Superintendent Kathy Augustine was relieved of her $188,000-a-year job immediately. In Georgia criminal charges are being considered against some of the principals of the school system.

In our case, these children became a cause of celebration; the teacher was canonized as a genius and Jack Warner gave the school and the children $250,000. No questions were asked; no answers were required.

When I began my preliminary inquiry, every one I spoke to felt that something had gone wrong but no one had any actual evidence. My friend might have been biased in ascribing these cheating tendencies to one group but her fundamental suspicion is supported by the scientific evidence.

I am not sure what the posture of the Minister of Education is on this matter or how Ministry officials intend to respond to the flash of brilliance that occurred in this school. Under the circumstances, the Minister of Education has no more urgent responsibility than to use his resources to find out what happened and whether or not cheating took place.

Such an examination is important for both groups in the society. It removes the perception that one group only tief to get along while the other group is just dotish.

We need to remove such clouds of suspicions from our educational horizon.

28 thoughts on “Probe SEA Results”

  1. When I first read the results as reported in the daily newspapers, I was immediately suspicious, but as someone who believes that the SEA has little or no educational value, my focus on this topic rapidly disappeared.

    The mathematical and statistical information provided by Cudjoe’s colleagues make complete sense, especially when the setting of the results is considered, a place with countless examples of corrupt practices.

    The SEA itself is an educational idea which has long expired in most informed jurisdictions. How relevant, valuable, reliable and dependable are the results of a single instrument administered at a moment in time? The country would be better served if newer and more complete methods of student evaluation and placement are investigated.

    The ill advised practice of showcasing winners and losers in the daily newspapers should also be discontinued. Ranking schools and students in this manner has no educational value. The results should be shared with relevant parties only. A public spectacle is unnecessary. Results should be reported in general terms and clusters and should be evaluated with the goal of making recommendations for improvement.
    I realize that this is a tall order in a country which still archaically ranks each student in every class.

    Cudjoe should be congratulated for bringing this fiasco to the attention of the nation. The Minister of Education has a responsibility to investigate.

  2. I remember as a student of San Fernando Boys Government School, many many years ago, having to retake the Common Entrance Examination because the school had done a little too well.

    I support the idea that a probe is necessary. In fact the kind of statistical analysis here reported would be a sufficient basis on which to conclude that the students of the school in question had to have had an unfair advantage of some sort, innocent or otherwise, and that therefore they should be made to redo the test.

    The students are no doubt innocent, as we were, so many, many years ago. But if a whole school had to redo the examination then, the same should apply today.

  3. One moment (‘Express’; March 28, 1999) Selwyn Cudjoe pushes the racial paranoia, a la Indian doctors performing hysterectomies on African women,…

    …and now another racial paranoia vomited out into the T&T mainstream by this same PNM Black Goebbels??

    Has Cudjoe been given the go-ahead, once again, by his Patrick Manning and PNM leaders –under whom he perpetually and unabashedly mouth-wide-open-bukakke-style prostrates- to re-initialize the racist cant against Indians in T&T??

    [ And towards whose ears is this racist cant directed?? The low-class, small-islanders imported (from the 1960s – 2000s) into T&T and given T&T ID cards to go vote PNM??? ]


    1. It is the ancestors of these same “small islanders” who broke the back of European imperialism and empire in the Caribbean and the Americas. To name a few, Cudjoe, Nanny, Tousssaint, Makandal … can you name any similar heroes who were Indians?

      You, if you had even a modicum of intelligence and a matching sense of honour would not only welcome those who prepared the land on which you now base your status, but kiss their very feet in appreciation.

      But even ignorance has its own ironic logic; one oftimes most expressed in an historical ignorance and a contemporary contempt and prejudice.

      Therefore, were you to meet any of the Indentured Indians, oppressed and impoverished and arriving in the Caribbean as in paradise given what they’d left, your response to them would be no different: oafish, debased, and senseless.

      Now, let the healing begin.


  4. Dr. Selwyn Cudjoe’s blog of 13th July has placed him even deeper into the pit of vilification and innuendo that characterized his contributions over the years. While the nation rejoiced with the success of Chaguanas Government school in the recent SEA, Cudjoe produced statistical reports from New Jersey to insinuate that “the chances are one trillion to one that some form of cheating went on.”

    Cudjoe’s statisticians based their calculations on the assumption that each child had an equal chance of being in the 1st one hundred places. This was clearly not the case. If the quality of the learning environment at Chaguanas was superior to other schools; if the teachers could more effectively motivate the students to value academic success; if the parents held high expectations for their children’s performance; and if the children had a firm belief in their own ability to excel, then the results would be positively skewed and the statistical predictions would be invalid. In my view superior preparation led to success, and not for the first time in this school.

    If Dr Cudjoe were to visit Chaguanas Government, he would certainly pick up useful pointers that could rouse his own constituency into greater effort. In the mean time he is doing that community a disservice by making them feel that they were robbed, when indeed greater effort by all concerned would have led to greater success.

    David Subran

    1. If they’re so good, let them re-take a new test, taking appropriate precautions to ensure that there is no hanky-panky involved this time.

  5. Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!
    Get real
    Just to please a those who prefer to blame others for their own lack of effort?

    1. David Subram, while your glee should be offensive, it is your being in trouble for beginning to to believe in your own myths.

      This dilemma applies to people of every race.

      Your automatic response and at the end stating that some “prefer to blame others for their own lack of effort” speaks more in volumes about yourself than of the ostensible “others”.

      In fact, your world would probably be meaningless and arid intellectually and morally if there wasn’t the automatic “others”.

      Ironically, you use the same illness by which you blame others and by which others no doubt also blame to blame them.

      You also either ignore the possibility of cheating having occurred or take the stance that if one can get away with it, so what?

      I guess that I might also be like you had I not been blessed with the opportunities of teaching students of all races and backgrounds for more than three decades allowing me to better see myself in their frailties and for them to better see their possibilities in my passion that they all succeed.


      1. Well said, my brother. The wise will understand, but the wicked will not.

        Let me add the following that also will escape the wicked, for lack of the relevant moral and spiritual moorings:

        “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still.” (Rev. 22:11)


      2. I never alluded to race, you did. It is more of an attitude and disposition that makes someone sacrifice all in order to achieve.

  6. Rewriting the same exam is not an acceptable assessment option before first establishing that there was some sort of exam security problem, and in any case an alternative form of the exam would have to be provided to guarantee validity and reliability.

    The result is a statistical anomaly but admittedly possible. The frequency of failed security and corruption in the society in question is not uncommon however, leading one to have doubts. What is relevant here is not the ethnic background of the students but the authenticity of the examination process, as regressive as it is.

    Principals, exam supervisors and security personnel should be assuring the public that the process was secure and honest, especially if doubts are being raised by certain members of the public.

    Perhaps this scrutiny of the SEA results will spark a national debate concerning its educational value and its effectiveness as an examination instrument for secondary school placement.

  7. Looking at the high statistical improbability, I am inclined to agree with the caller, some ulterior means or advantage was given to these students however in whatever shape or form to present them with the such astounding results.
    Realistically speaking if 14 students from the same class of 25 within the same school received these results I would like to see the teacher walk on water for his/her encore.

  8. Soon Cudjoe and NAEAP/PNM would be advocating bussing of students form Laventille/Movant to the cow-sheds in central and south Tinidad. There were some rumblings about bussing during the Manning regime. That would be empowerment, papa!

    BTW Island scholars Rudy Capildeo and VS Naipaul went to Chaguanas Gov’t! Many other luminaries went to that school! My own nephew and niece were in the 1st 10 in Common entrance a few years age and got full medical scholarships to universities. So no surprise because that school is one of the most difficult to get into – getting the cream of the students from Central TT. In my time the Montrose Vedic school was the best in the area but now a slight shift to Chag Govt. Cudjoe and his ilk’s conspiracy theory thinking is downright lazy.

  9. Selwyn, Take a trip to your ‘brother’ school -MIT – the best science school in the world and check out the bunch of Indians on campus. There are even some students from the Chaguanas area going to MIT!Do you know that thare is a quota for Asians at MIT and Harvard? If the Ivy league looked at test scores only, Asians would be a majority!!!

  10. The following is a list of the members of the T&T Math Olympiad. They are all Indians. What is the probability of this occuring in a nation with a high percentage of non-Indians?

    The numeracy skills of 41 secondary school students were celebrated at the award function for their achievements in mathematics. The Trinidad and Tobago Mathematics Olympiad (TTMO) is a joint project of The University of the West Indies (UWI), and the Ministry of Education. It was conceived in 1986 with only one examination at the National level. Trinidad and Tobago started participating in the International Math Olympiad (IMO) in 1991 and has been competing ever since.

    The TTMO administers two rounds of mathematics competitions involving all secondary schools in Trinidad and Tobago. The best performing students are invited to join the training sessions in mathematics at the UWI. Through a series of selection examinations, a National team of up to six students is selected to represent Trinidad and Tobago at the IMO.

    This year’s team for the IMO, being held in Amsterdam, Netherlands comprises Bjorn Ramroop formerly of Naparima College; Kerry Singh, Presentation College San Fernando; Siddhartha Jahorie, Presentation College San Fernando; brothers Prithvi (Gold Medal Winner Level Two) and Prasanna Ramakrishnan (Gold Medal Winner Level One) both of the International School of Port-of-Spain; and Stephanie Hosang, formerly of Holy Name Convent, Port-of-Spain. They left for Amsterdam last week for the competition which takes place over two days, today and tomorrow. The team will return to this country on July 25.

  11. TMan,
    I see a trend here. They are all cheats!!! There is a high probability that they got the exam questions before hand! I agree with that caller who said so! Their science teachers most likely had them seated at the front of the class ignoring the others.

    In my time at high school, the brightest students were the Chinese. Did we call them cheats and favoured by their teachers? Oh no!! We admired the Chinese students and business men (a Chinese shop in every junction). Instead of making a career out of jealousy for these damn hardworking people, we emulated them even though the maximum leader scoffed at us in our cow-sheds. Hence the dramatic academic and business results today.
    It’s so incredible that Cudjoe had to consult the top staticians in the Northeast.
    So what’s the probability of a batsman breaking the world record twice – counting all the tests played and all the test players?
    Incredible but true. That’s a much lower probability than the 14 Chag Gov’t students.
    What’s the probability the the highest murder rates in the US happen in Martin Luther King Blvd and Mandela Ave.?

    1. What is the probability that a white man with a criminal record and no degree is considered more easily employable than a Black man without any criminal record and a Batchelor’s in Engineering? Or what is the probability that while there is a 20% unemployment rate among white youth this rate among Black youth is double at 40%, regardless of educational levels across the board? And what is the probability that Black students now find that the teachers most racist are not whites but Indians? And what is the probability that in these Ivy League schools, now accepting Indians and other “minorities” that it was Black students and professors who broke the backs of white supremacist attitudes on race and gender allowing in, first white women, and then Black women, Asians and others before Black women? What is the probability thet no where in this hemisphere over the last four centuries that the people who fought and defeated oppression allowing in all other races to benefit from their eforts were Black people like WEB Dubois? Can you list one Indian who did?

  12. Those children did not cheat, nor their teachers. What is statistically improbable is not impossible. Do we suspect the winner of the Lotto? What is appalling is the months of study, of “extra lessons” of coaching; the waste of the time that should be spent in play and recreation and development: and for what? An examination that is so skewed that it gives top marks to the children who can memorise well and does little to capture the real talents and strengths of all pupils.

    The SEA (and the Common Entrance before it) reinforce inequality of provision. In a system where there are few “good” places, competition is fiercest for the best of them. Teachers offer extra classes, with or without payment. The top marks go to children who are coached in examination techniques almost to the exclusion of everything else. That leaves very little for pupils whose interests lie elsewhere or develop later than the rest of their class.

    This annual recognition of the top 100 is a farce. We should recognise the education system for the failure that it is.

    As for the racial discussion, that is a distraction, a red herring. It adds nothing to the discourse.

  13. Thank you ,Glenda for your most insightful comment. Our energies should be focussed on eliminating the SEA rather than engaging in debates which consume us.
    If Cudjoe is the great educator which he claims to be, you would think that he would be making recommendations for replacing this ancient and unfair SEA process, rather than making accusations which will fall on deaf ears.

  14. I have been on earth long enough to know that if this has any ounce of truth to it, then time will deal with those who cheated. It has always been like that and it won’t change. If not then these kids and their teacher will be rewarded for their hard work and talent.

    If anyone has evidence of cheating then they should come forward. While I agree that statistics may call for a closer , I do not believe that this should be publicized based on these stats only. God forbid it is not so and the kids found out these rumors are going around. This will surely demotivate them.

    I leave this in the hands of the ministry to investigate. Until then lets celebrate these kids achievements.

  15. How does Dr Cudjoe explain children of east Indian descent winning the America national spelling bee three years in a row? He should be calling for an investigation into schools that are doing poorly,so that a plan for positive intervention can be developed. Crying down excellence does not make failure look any better.

  16. Very interesting piece by Dr Cudjoe.

    Too many people have gone down the path of making this an Indian/African issue without once considering the improbability of this event.

    Remember, not only did Chaguanas Government educate 14 of the 95 ‘percenters’, but they also claimed the Top 3 places.
    That is mightily odd.

    It would be useful information if someone could tell us what were the marks of the other eleven.

    Having studied the exam of the last few years and looked at the results of quite a few schools, it is noticeable that the schools which dominate are almost never from the Port of Spain nor Eastern areas.
    It is almost always south/central and schools with a dominant East Indian population.

    Now this is not surprising, as we all accept the East Indian students have dominated in the last twenty years.
    But this issue is about the possibility of cheating. And just as we accept East Indians have dominated, we cannot hide from the evidence that East Indians have the majority in public instances of cheating.

    We have three recent political people whom it is alleged, padded their resumes… All Indians.
    We have the Petrotrin employees who padded their qualifications… Almost all Indians.
    We have the students who recently bought and sold the O’Level exam… All East Indians.

    So, to suggest this is just sour grapes, is to ignore the evidence, real and imagined.
    I say investigate the matter, quietly, and use the findings, whatever it is, in a productive manner.

  17. How does Dr Cudjoe explain the fact that just a few secondary schools obtain the vast majority of scholarships every year at A Levels? Schools like Naparima College, Presentation College, Queens Royal College and St Augustine Girls High School are well known high volume scholarship winners every year for decades now.These scholarships are based on examination results and usually around seventy five percent go to Indians Explain that.(Indians make up about forty five percent of the population).

    1. What’s there to explain?
      The scholarships have expanded to an amount which gives the “prestige schools’ an advantage because they have a greater population of the best SEA students.

  18. Mrs. Neilla Kissoon teaches her class from 8am in the morning to 5pm in the evening on a daily basis. She spends several hours afterwards usually till 12pm, and then arising again at 4am, focused and dedicated to reviewing her students’ work and her personal lesson plans so that her students can reap the maximum benefits.

    She also employs the use of Education in Human Values, a moral enrichment exercise in which she had received training, to add value to her students’ lives and performance, by inspiring, motivating and encouraging them to live holistic and virtuous lives. During this period, she imparts several lifelong lessons, and skills to her young proteges. In her classroom, which usually ranges from 30 – 40 students depending on the year, Mrs. Kissoon adopts an approach whereby which she tends to encourage her students to become servant leaders, where the strong help the weak, and her students work in teams, to learn as well as fulfill their roles in various other activities. Her dedication to her students, and the fact that she encourages, and reaches out to their parents on a regular and constant basis, so that all parties can work together to help mold the child, can be seen as another of those keys to success.

    For those who are questioning her results, here are some past results to help open your eyes to the dedication and hardworking person this lady is;

    For the period of 2005-2007, Chaguanas Government Primary School had a streamlined one year (more like 8 months) SEA class. During this period, Mrs. Kissoon was teaching the “B” stream students (those scoring between 60-75% at the end of Standard 4). her results are as follows;

    2005 – 1 student in top 100 SEA performers (2nd year of teaching “B” stream).

    2006 – 2 students in top 100 SEA performers.

    2007 – 3 students in top 100 SEA performers. (“A” stream had 3).

    From 2007 onwards, the school adopted a 2 year SEA program, where the teacher would take the class from the beginning of Standard 4 straight up to the SEA exam. Mrs. Kissoon was asked to teach the first batch of students in the new system.

    2009 – 13 students in top 100 SEA performers, 7 additional in the Top Performers list. Total of 20 top performers out of a class of 39. School got 21 positions in all.
    Newsday article regarding results:,103032.html

    2011 – Top 3 SEA performers, with 14 in total placing in the Top Performers list for SEA.
    100% pass rate for 1st or 2nd choice school in class, all of which are prestige schools.

    Overall School Performance:

    • 2002—Seven in top 100 and second place winner in the country;
    • 2003—Four in top 100;
    • 2004—Three in top 100;
    • 2005—Six in top 100 and third place winner in the country;
    • 2006—12 in top 100 and six scoring 95 per cent and more;
    • 2007—Six in top 100 and 12 scoring 95 per cent and more;
    • 2008—Three in top 100 and seven scoring 95 per cent and more;
    • 2009—13 in top 100 and 21 scoring 95 per cent and more; and
    • 2010—Eight in top 100 and eight scoring 95 per cent and more.

    Just a little something to ponder.

  19. Whilst having a good grasp of statistical probabilities, and do not argue the calculated probabilities that Mr. Cudjoe has put forward, I would like to start my response with the fact that when there is divine work at hand it can no way begin to be explained by statistical probabilities. I am a parent of one of those 14 students and I would like to give a first hand account of our experience with that class and school.

    Firstly the school in itself has an excellent profile of teachers who have shaped and nurtured these students for 7 years! At the school they are encouraged to engage, participate, grow and the entire staff needs to be commended for that approach. They are dedicated to ensuring full delivery of the curriculum and at each standard they are backed by years of teaching the curriculum.

    Secondly the last time the teacher, Mrs. Kissoon prepared an SEA class – (2 years ago), 20 of her students attained places in the top 100.

    Secondly I would really like you Mr. Cudjoe, to sit with this teacher and talk to her about her methods and see if there is any credence and validity in her methods. Let me enlighten the public with some of her methods. Apart from the normal teaching techniques administered by most teachers, she focused her efforts on the entire class not through her alone but using the strong students to help the weaker ones. On a weekly basis, she rotated students’ sitting position based on their weekly test scores. In any given week, each row of students comprised of a strong, a little less strong, an average and a weak. She made the strong student the group leader – so in the class there were 10 group leaders each in charge of a row. They were given the task of improving the weaker ones. These 10 students were always those who placed the top 10 in the class – each week. The competition to gain these top 10 places was fierce – but motivational amongst the entire class. Each week saw a different mix of students being the group leader. These group leaders wore badges which stated “Group Leader” and the students wore it with great pride and achievement.

    The teacher also was committed to the children’s personal growth and mixed in many lessons on human values and taught many items on the curriculum through this approach. As could be seen in the poems and compositions that were chosen.

    She used motivational techniques of rewards – as simple as an eraser – presented in front of the class worked wonders. There are many others that I will choose not to mention and hope that you can explore these with her.

    Thirdly the combination was ripe for superlative academic success. As parents who were actively involved with the classroom dynamics – we expected no less. From since their 1st year in the school, each teacher that interacted with this class was of the view that this group of students had a special “umph” that could not be described. In this class you had an extremely symbiotic combination of hardworking, focused and dedicated students, mixed with supportive parents who worked tirelessly with their children, mixed with a teacher who did more than teach – she inspired, she motivated, she counselled, she supported – just as much as the parents. The end result is that the probability that any one of her 39 students could have been in the top 100 was high.

    I can understand your skepticism but cannot come to the same conclusion having been an active part of the entire process. I hope that you find the time to talk to this teacher, who lives right her in Trinidad, just as you have found the time to talk to others across the globe before gather all the necessary intel right here at your doorstep.

  20. My question is what were the teacher’s previous passes in thelast year/s and the eleven students what are their ethnic race and family status as compared to the 14 students who topped the 100. Her strategies changes as to this year compared to her previous years. Her/his length of time in service as a teacher.

  21. read a little higher up Bianca and am sure you will get your answers…

    Teaching experience for Mrs. Kissoon = 31 yrs
    (from infants come up)

    Approach – selfless, hardworking, inspirational, motivational, encouraging, and personal, with a regular class of 35-40 students most years.

Comments are closed.