A national literacy and numeracy examination for children at the grade four level could be introduced as soon as next year, in hopes of getting children to focus on reading well, rather than on being selected to attend particular elite high schools.
The new exam will replace the existing Grade Four Literacy Test, and enable children of different ages to be certified as literate, Education Minister Andrew Holness disclosed on Tuesday.
The minister said the new test would be administered under similar conditions to the critical Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT), but would challenge children to read widely.
"It won't be like GSAT where we put our children through a routine, and you can swat and practise for certain expected questions," Holness said. "It is a diagnostic test to see what is your innate appreciation of literacy and numeracy."
Holness, who was speaking at the opening of the expanded branch of Sangster's Bookstore in the Mall Plaza in St Andrew, indicated that any child in grades two through seven could sit the exam, and those passing would be certified as literate.
"Before you (parents) start thinking about which high school your child will go to, you will now have to start thinking 'Is my child literate and numerate'?" Holness emphasised.
The minister noted the improvement in the mastery rate of the existing grade four exam, but said he would not start celebrating it as overcoming the problem of illiteracy.
"We will not celebrate yet until we achieve (mastery rates) in the high 70s over a period of time," he said.
Last week, special advisor to the minister, Ruel Reid, disclosed that 79 per cent of students achieved mastery in the grade four examinations last academic year - an improvement of 14 percentage points over the 63 per cent achieved the year before.
The existing grade four exam is administered and marked by the schools, and the results sent to the Ministry of Education for compilation.
But the proposed new test will be administered nationally, like the GSAT.
Holness also announced that the ministry was developing a new policy on school textbooks.
"I have seen book lists with 30 and 40 books... it is clear the ministry will have to give some guidance as to how many books per subject they can have on a book list and the number of books we recommend and endorse for reading," he said.
Holness said the Ministry does not intend to police what students read, but is encouraging students to read widely and develop critical thinking skills.