Students to be graded on wider grade bands in PSLE
In a bid to reduce the emphasis on academic grades, there will be significant changes to the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) scoring and Secondary 1 posting. The changes were finally announced by the Ministry of Education (MOE) yesterday.
At the National Day Rally in 2013, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had said these changes would be made to reduce the stress of "fine distinctions" between pupils at age 12.
Here are some details of the new system, which will be implemented in 2021. This means they will involve those who started Primary 1 this year.
Pupils get a T-score aggregate and letter grades (ranging from A* to Ungraded) for each subject. A pupil with "better" letter grades might have a lower T-score than a pupil with a "poorer" letter grades, as the spread between the grades is wide.
The T-score aggregate - which can range from less than 80 to more than 280 - will determine which secondary school the pupil is posted to.
Each subject will be scored using eight Achievement Levels (AL).
AL1 - 90 and above
AL2 - 85 to 89
AL3 - 80 to 84
AL4 - 75 to 79
AL5 - 65 to 74
AL6 - 45 to 64
AL7 - 20 to 44
AL8 - 20 and below
The PSLE score will be the sum of the ALs. There are 29 possible scores, from 4 (four subjects x 1 point) to 32 (four subjects x 8 points).
SEC 1 POSTING
The T-score aggregate is the first criterion for posting.
A pupil is posted based on his choice order of school, starting from the first choice.
If all the places in his first-choice school is taken, his second choice will be considered.
If two pupils with the same T-score aggregate are aiming for one spot at the same school, citizenship will determine who gets the place.
The priority is as follows: Singaporean, permanent residents, international pupil.
If they have the same citizenship, computerised balloting will be used to allocate the space.
The order in which a pupil lists the schools does not give him priority.
The T-score aggregate will also determine the stream the pupil is placed in.
The PSLE score will still be the first criterion for posting, followed by citizenship. But the order of choice will matter now.
If two pupils have the same score and citizenship, the pupil who places the school as a higher choice will get the spot.
Computerised balloting will be used if two pupils with the same score, citizenship and choice order are vying for the same spot.
- Express - PSLE score of 4 to 20
- Express/Normal Academic option - 21 to 22
- Normal Academic - 23 to 24
- Normal Academic/Normal Technical option - 25
- Normal Technical - 26 to 30, with AL7 or better in both English and Maths
A pupil's Higher Chinese performance will also influence his or her secondary school posting to a Special Assistant Plan (SAP) school.
If two pupils with the same PSLE score, citizenship and choice ranking are vying for the same place in a SAP school, the pupil with the better Higher Chinese grade will get the spot.
MOE estimates that computerised balloting will affect only about one in 10.
There will still be affiliation under the new PSLE scoring.
Details will be released later.
It was announced at MOE's Committee of Supply debate this year that the Direct School Admission is under review to expand opportunities in more secondary schools.
It will also focus on recognising talents and achievements instead of general academic ability.
Q & A
WHY THE CHANGES?
The current T-score system differentiates pupils very finely. For example, a pupil who has a T-score aggregate of 231 might qualify for a particular school instead of a pupil who scores 230.
With Achievement Levels (ALs), pupils who perform similarly will obtain the same AL. A pupil who gets 91 and a pupil who gets 92 will get the same grade.
There will only be 29 possible PSLE scores, down from around 200 T-score aggregates today.
HOW WILL THIS PREVENT COMPARISON BETWEEN PUPILS?
Currently, if a pupil does well in a subject, but most of his peers perform better than him, he will get a lower T-score.
TNP ILLUSTRATIONS: BILLY KER
The T-score, which shows how a pupil has performed relative to his peers, will be scrapped.
In the new system, a pupil will be graded based on his own performance, regardless of how his peers have performed.
WHAT ABOUT CUT-OFF POINTS?
Schools with similar academic profiles will be less differentiated by cut-off points, so pupils can choose from a wider range of schools and pick those that are a good fit.
Over the next few years, secondary schools will be developing and maturing distinctive programmes.
WHY ARE THERE EIGHT ALS?
The eight ALs are meant to offer a good balance and reflect broadly different levels of achievement.
If there were too few ALs, there would be more pupils with the same PSLE score, leading to more balloting in Secondary 1 posting.
At the same time, it is not meaningful to differentiate between pupils too finely.
HOW ARE THE MARKS SPREAD AMONG THE ALS?
The reference raw mark ranges for the ALs are set based on the curriculum's learning objectives. The upper ranges are narrower because the PSLE is designed for pupils to score. Most pupils do well for the PSLE - about half are expected to score AL4 or better.
At the middle to lower ALs, wider raw mark ranges are sufficient to give a good indication of a pupil's progress and further differentiation is less educationally meaningful.
WILL PARENTS GET HELP TO CHOOSE SCHOOLS?
The Ministry of Education will provide parents and pupils with information about the profile of each school, including its learning environment, unique programmes and CCAs. It will also provide simulated cut-off points based on the previous year's Sec 1 Posting exercise.
RESPONSES FROM TEACHER, PRINCIPALS
WIDER RANGE OF SCHOOLS TO CHOOSE FROM
"Schools with similar academic profiles will be less differentiated by cut-off points so students can choose from a wider range of schools... Schools are engaging parents more regularly. Parents are more informed and they understand the importance of selecting schools that best meet their child's learning needs, talents and interests."
- Madam Maureen Lee, principal of Anglican High School
NOT JUST EXAMS
"Children will realise that their academic ability is not their entire story. Their interests beyond the classroom also speaks about their ability to do well after primary school. It will encourage parents and students to pursue sports, performing arts and not just focus on revising for exams."
- Madam Nurul Suhana Sulaiman, head of humanities department at Juying Secondary School
WILL THERE BE LESS STRESS?
"Academic stress will always be present, if parents don't change their mindset. If they continue to put high premium on grades, there will be stress, no matter the changes to the system. The new scoring system and posting will be similar to choosing a course for polytechnic, students will be spoilt for choice. It will be exciting times for the kids."
- Madam Sharida Batcha Sahib, principal of South View Primary School
"Our educators have done very well over 50 years to prepare our children to meet challenges. It is a good system and it is premature to revolutionise it. Besides PSLE, we have also taken steps to engender (a) more innovative and creative learning environment. (We have also made) outdoor and values education a priority. Some things are best evolved and not revolutionised."
- Mr Ng Chee Meng, Acting Minister of Education (Schools)