A couple of weeks back, the Ministry of Education (MOE) announced that the Primary Six Leaving Examination (PSLE) scoring will change from a PSLE T-score system to 8 Achievement Levels (AL). As an educator, I am excited by this move. My sense is that this is an important move in how we measure ability. We can understand it from three simple questions:
- What hasn't changed?
- What has changed?
- What does it mean?
Composition and Free Response Questions Remain Critical Success Factors
Well, the critical components like the composition, the problem sums, and the free-response questions (FRQs) remain and will continue to test for the same skills and abilities. This is comforting because the traditional avenues of help remain so, and it does not spark a mad frenzy for help to give one student some kind of "first mover advantage" over another. Likewise, our curriculum will place continued emphasis on the oral, composition and comprehension skills, which will remain the critical success factors in differentiating the students.
Possible Emphasis on Achievements over PSLE Score for Secondary School Admission
Thinking in terms of scenarios may paint a clearer picture. In the past, it might matter to a parent that her son got a score of 276, 3 T-score points higher than the girl next door. In the new system, the high likelihood is that both students would receive the same best possible PSLE score of 4 ALs, rendering comparisons meaningless.
To cite Acting Minister (Schools) Ng Chee Meng at the Committee of Supply debates in April, he emphasised on the need for the education system to go “beyond test scores”.
With this shift in focus on aptitude and skills, the concerns about the Direct School Admissions (DSA) process must also be addressed. Now that the review of the DSA scheme is underway, would this mean that students should place equal focus on honing his skills and talents beyond the classroom?
I believe so.
Given that there would probably be many 4 ALs scorers, perhaps schools would consider a much wider discretionary form of acceptance for DSA applicants who got 5, 6 or even 7 ALs These students might demonstrate other qualities like leadership, or overcoming a great personal setback. My sense is that the new PSLE scoring system will give school administrators much more space in discretionary admissions, with a better chance of judiciously rewarding achievements beyond academics.
What does all of this mean?
1. Students can now Focus on Weaker Subjects
The implications are that students can now work on their weaker subjects and components to lift themselves into the next AL band. With their stronger subjects, they now have the space to work on more meaningful real life skills without the fear that their composition is a 32/40 and not a 33/40.
2. Educators can Get Creative on What Really Matters: 21st Century Life Skills
So with the chase for the final point lifted, educators can be creative in focusing on honing the timeless skills which matter and the rightful outcomes of education: with the languages, sincere and eloquent communicators; with Math and the Sciences, persevering, inquisitive and critical thinkers. The art of expressing one’s thoughts and opinions on current affairs– both verbal and written- can be further developed in classes. It is building up that confidence and eloquence which will help them ace that coveted job interview years later.
3. Cultivate Creativity and Compassion Beyond Classroom
Beyond that, our students will inherit a space where they can be guided to think more about the wider world, rather than be fixated on individual performance. We surely then have a better chance of developing excellent team players and people who care more about their community and how they can contribute to it.
What Is Next For Us, Educators and Parents?
There is no perfect system, but I think this change is an important step in the right direction. Above all, I am glad that our students now have the space to work on and demonstrate the abilities that will make a sure difference in the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world we live in.
On that note, the last point about stress must be addressed. Stress during an examination will always be present. The question is whether the stress is coming from the child himself or external forces – his teachers, his peers, and even you (yes, you).
What parents can help with is by guiding your child with goal setting. This not only manages your child’s expectations, but your own as well. A vast improvement from 60 marks to 70 marks deserves just as much – if not more! - praise and encouragement as a 90 to 92 mark jump. With a network of support at home and in the classrooms, the stress levels should be lowered.
Related content: 8 studying tips on how to prepare for exams.
In the end, what matters is that your child is constantly inspired and motivated to do better. Most importantly, he must constantly have the desire to develop his interests, and learn more about the world he lives in.
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About the author:
Justin Leow is a Senior Teacher at The Learning Lab and one of key trainers in The Learning Lab’s in-house teacher training program. You can also read his earlier opinion piece on the PSLE Changes.