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Monday, November 26, 2012

How Does NYPS Do It?

I am not sure how far it is true but I am told that 47% of Nanyang Primary School's (NYPS') 2012 PSLE cohort scored above 250. This means that almost HALF the school places in the top 10% of the entire country's PSLE rankings. Get your child into NYPS and you stand a 50% chance to make it through to the top 10% of the country's PSLE rankings.

Indeed, 43 children from Nanyang Primary this year scored above 270. In the majority of other schools, NO ONE scores above 270. The 2012 mystery top scorer with 285 is from Nanyang Primary School.

MOE might say that these FANTABULOUS results accrue to students from Nanyang Primary School's Gifted Education Program... and lesser mortals in other schools cannot hope to replicate these results simply because the kids are not as bright.

I can concede that perhaps the 270 and above scores come from the GEP cohort. But what of the 250+? Let us also bear in mind that NYPS is only one of 10 GEP centers (and the other GEP centers did not produce such FANTABULOUS results with their gifted children). Indeed, there are even some GEP parents who assert that GEP kids are not MEANT to do well at PSLE because their days are filled with esoteric learning NOT tested at the PSLE... and that GEP centres DO NOT drill their kids. I know for a fact that NYPS GEP kids get practice paper after practice paper to help them prepare for PSLE.

It is clear that NYPS is doing something marvelously right. The question is what.

Friends with children who go to NYPS tell me that parent involvement is important. Teachers will easily co-opt parents' help. Teachers will provide analyses of strengths and weaknesses, brief the parents thoroughly... and in this manner, they harness parents' time and resources for the improvement of academic results. There is nothing wrong with this since the curriculum is so advanced that no one seriously expects teachers to teach everything anyway. NYPS merely faces this fact head-on and leverages on it. In Little Boy's school, the teachers give practically no parental guidance at all. Emails go unanswered and teachers more often than not fail to reply to requests for guidance. It has happened so many times that I have quite given up asking Little Boy's teachers for help.

It helps that in NYPS only 4 in 10 students hail from HDB precincts. The other students are drawn from financially comfortable homes that surround the school. Homes that easily cost at least $7 million dollars for a somewhat humble abode. Errrr... humble for the neighbourhood. In such a context, parents CAN afford both a Stay-At-Home Mom AND specialised external teaching to step into the gaps that the school has kindly highlighted. Of course, not every parent in NYPS has wealth and time. I do know a few such parents from NYPS. The only thing then, for them to do... is shrug their shoulders and accept that they, as parents, are unable to add value to their children. Just too bad, I guess.

It also helps that being a GEP centre, the school has access to the Gifted Education materials and teaching methods, which it flows over to its own mainstream high ability classes. This could account for the fact that 47% of the school scored 250 and above.

The formula comes in 3 parts: School Exam Analysis to Guide Parents X Parent Involvement & Resources X Spillover of GEP Materials. The formula is multiplicative. If any part is ZERO, the show stops. Rich parents can't do much without school analyses. School analyses won't be useful unless parents have the resources to help. Without GEP methods and materials, the high ability would be denied material that would make a difference in the last 10 marks or so of each PSLE paper... so no amount of analyses and parent wealth will make a difference.

Of course, Petunia's formula may just be conjecture. What is clear however, is that schools are not same good academically. NYPS does do something right... especially since all the schools along the Bukit Timah belt have access to wealthy parents, but don't produce similar results. The formula is not as simple as parent wealth alone. It cannot be that the school plays no part at all in such fantabulous academic results. Of course, people will say that there is more to education than academics. I believe that too. Nonetheless, academics are key to a host of downstream perks such as...

(1) EESIS scholarships
(2) Entrance to top schools with delicious learning opportunities
(3) Post A level scholarships earned from the delicious learning opportunities from top schools

In short, there is a fair amount of short and long term monetary gain that arises from getting children into NYPS at the tender age of 7. Parents who are prepared to forego the chance at top notch academic results also need to have the emotional discipline to forego all the money their kids could enjoy... and the emotional discipline to tell themselves "I know that I am making choices that deny my child access to money and prestige. However, my child is worth more than an aggregate."

It takes parents with character to not play the game, knowing that certain choices (that have little to do with child ability) will bring their kids wealth and glory. It takes some steel to not play the Parentocracy game KNOWING that the one that will be denied opportunities and wealth is not oneself... but another person - one's child.

NYPS' results are all the more striking in that their mainstream cohort was not picked for entrance into the school by IQ. These are children of alumni... and the children of families who live near the school. Unless one can draw a strong correlation between Family Wealth and Children IQ (as well as alumni status and children IQ), then the stellar results must be due to something the school does right.

Can other schools learn from NYPS so that children of similar ability in other schools will not be denied the opportunities that exist downstream (scholarships and such....)? Perhaps, it may be necessary to tweak with scholarship eligibility criteria to account for the fact that there are students in OTHER schools who are very deserving but having NOT benefited from regular doses of academic steroids, score less well at the PSLE.


Anonymous said...

Yes, NYPS does it year after year, more than 40% getting above 250, plus another huge chunk getting 240 to 249

monlim said...

Hi Petunia, I only just realised that you are a blogger too, doh! Nice to see you are as passionate about education as I am :)

Personally, I don't credit the school for their spectacular results as much as you do, let me try to explain why.

First, while wealth does not equal IQ, I think it's safe to say that wealth = opportunities, as you have mentioned. Rich parents have more resources to invest in help for their kids. I think I can also safely say that a good proportion of NYPS kids have better educated parents, hence the loose (albeit not perfect) link to IQ.

To me, that's the reason why NYPS is over-represented in the 250 and above group. Mainly because they're over-represented in the proportion of kids coming from privileged families + GEP etc.

What I feel is a more accurate gauge of the effectiveness of a school is how the weaker kids did. In other words, how did the remaining 53% do? If everyone else did better than the national average, then yes, kudos to the school.

The reason I say this is that my son's school, which is a popular one, also had an over-representation of 250 and above - about 25%. And having been seen the kids in the school over the past 10 years (including my daughter's), I can say that some of these kids were bright from the start, right from p3 or so. In other words, they probably would have done well even if they were in a less popular school.

On the other hand, there were kids who continually struggled to keep up and they never really improved much. Having access to GEP papers only benefits the very bright because many regular kids (like my son) would not be able to make sense of them.

A friend of mine has 2 kids who went to a popular SAP schl. Both struggled through the 6 years and despite tuition and parental coaching, at the end, were demoralised by the schl's ridiculously tough papers. For PSLE, they performed far below the schl's average. The school on the whole though, did well. But you never hear about these kids.

I feel compelled to say this cos I think many parents have the flawed logic that since Schl A produces good results, if my kids go there, they will get good results. I always say, don't ask about the top kids. Ask about the ones who don't make it, you'll get a more accurate picture.

I know this is very rambly, sorry if I don't make sense! Anyway, I could be wrong, there's no way to prove anything. Just sharing my very opinionated views from one analytical mum to another :) Do keep blogging!

Petunia Lee said...

Mon - WELCOME! Yup! I entirely agree with you that without parent wealth in the equation, the whole formula would be ZERO.

Petunia Lee said...

I do know less well off parents whose kids go to NYPS... and their kids are not faring well because the parents have little wherewithal to help. Some have money... no time. Some have time... no money.

Quite depressing really.

Karmeleon said...

I am envious. haha!

Petunia Lee said...

Karmeleon - I am envious too. I have had to do so much to make up for the shortfall in his education but longfall in his PSLE exams.

Celine said...

NYPS has the best ecosystem to help all the kids in their cohort. You hit the nail on the head with your formula Petunia. You are better at math than you think! Heh. Anyhow math is just another language with funny notations.

My alma mater primary school (one of the top 6 schools that MP Seah Kian Peng asked for stats on how many students lived in HDB) is by no means #1. It wants to be... even during my time there, I felt the focus on grade... but it is not.

The strange thing abt being #2 or #3 or #4 or #5 is that you rapidly start thinking you CAN be #1. Then principals and teachers start behaving in KPI (grades) driven ways which are not good for the children. That distance to #1 looks tantalizingly short, but in reality it is often not. There is a CHASM of difference between the merely good and the great.

Petunia Lee said...

Celine... yes, that is what I thought. From GOOD to GREAT is a leap. The original research was done at Harvard. This is what results when MOE fails to itself strive for overall greatness and allows economic competition to reign. A single school becomes great when the WHOLE nation must be well served.

Rachel Tan said...

Hi Petunia,

The differences are stark. I am sure if all parents realize the extent of the differences, NYPS will be even more flooded than it is today :)

By sheer statistics, your child has a has a 50% chance at 250 and avoce, and >80% (or is it >90%) chance of achieving 240 and above. Pretty much, most NYPS kids make it to the top 20 sec schools.

What's it in an average school? 10% chance of getting >250. 2/3 chance of making it to the Express Stream (>200 points), 1/3 chance to the Normal stream.

What's it like in a below average school? Err. One can extrapolate.

Of course these are mere statistics and does not consider the factors at work. Someone should perhaps run a regression equation with av PSLE score as a dependent variable (or a logistic equation of probability of scoring >240 or whichever predefined mark), and the independent variables that include SES (socioeconomic status), number of GEP kids etc. I believe there will be a fair portion of unexplained variation, which could then be attributed to the school.

The Bukit Timah belt schools probably have similar SES profiles as NYPS, and there must be something extra about the NYPS machinery that produces these stellar results above that of other schools, (beyond the predicted regression line). It's something that the school community is and ought to be proud of. How much is attributable to the school? I don't know :)

Just some random thoughts.

I do however agree with Monica that not all kids are cut out for the GEP or the rigourous education system. My kids won't survive repeated drills and a constant high stress environment, me thinks!

Petunia Lee said...

Rachel - Exactly! Parent wealth can't count for everything because the schools in the Bukit Timah belt all have well to do parents but they don't perform as well. There is something the school is doing right.

Celine said...

Hmm. ONE single school being great ... I wonder how much PSLE scores being on a bell curve, contributes to this sorry state of affairs. Some part of me thinks the game rules of PSLE - as it is set up today - are unjust.

Quick MOE, change the game rules!

Looking at the stats, if my alma mater is NYPS, I would be wavering in my decision now....

I need to hold onto the steel you mentioned in your blogpost.

Celine said...

My unnamed alma mater wanted to throw my youngest sister out of the school at P4.... citing that her PSLE grades are unlikely to make it to even 210.
Oh they were v nice abt it to my mother.... they said she might thrive in a lower pressure school. What the... isnt it the job of educators to educate all? Even the not so acad inclined..

Youngest sister went to Normal stream at Loyang Secondary. She prob pulled down the avg PSLE score of my dear alma mater. I have no love lost for the school at all.......

Petunia Lee said...

Celine - Yup! It's sad when schools choose to care only for kids that will help them in their journey to the top. Still more sad is that the bell curve guarantees that few schools efforts to get to the top will be rewarded.

trilinq said...

i just want to add tat i hv a friend whose kids are in nyps just recently.wat impressed me was e kids are pretty self motivated.perhaps due to peer influence,prior to psle they alrdy aspired to go to a certain sec school.this was not fr e parents bcos they told me e child just want to follow their friends.i think overall if there is e right environment,alot of good things can come out of it.

Rachel Tan said...

Thankfully, I do think there are schools in Singapore who genuinely care for the less academically-able students. My kids are in a mission school and the school has a ton of special needs kids. (The school is not classed as a strong school academically.) Also, there are mission schools around with affiliate secondary schools offering normal stream etc, and are not known to make kids drop subjects or move from Express to Normal stream etc.

Petunia Lee said...

Rachel - It also means that from where you start your children of... there will be little chance that they will get scholarships in secondary or tertiary EVEN THOUGH they may have every genetic disposition to academic excellence.

In the long term, it could mean that we'll have a bunch of academic over achievers who sub-developed in areas of morality and compassion.... and those who did develop in areas of morality and compassion are academic UNDERachievers (achieving below their comfortable academic capability).

An HOD in my son's school explained that when she teaches the last classes, she stresses on character development because they are academically so weak, it's hard to teach them academics. It's so odd that character education has been relegated to something you teach only to less able students. Fast forward 20 years and we'll have leaders with no character and followers with plenty.

Sure a recipe for social unrest

Rachel Tan said...

Hohoho Petunia, I already feel the statistical odds against my kids :) To be fair to the school, it's performing above the national average and has a diverse (academic and SES) range of kids.

I would say overall, I'm grateful for the humane environment in school. It's not an institution running on academic steroids, and I concede that it's not pushing the good kids to their fullest academic potential. That doesn't make it a lousy school, at least to me. So long as a child is happy and school is a positive environment, I am grateful. Lousy teachers, or lousy materials, I can step in or hire tutors, but if a child is unhappy or doesn't like the schooling environment, I am truly helpless.

Petunia Lee said...

Rachel - I completely agree with you. That is my approach with my son. It doesn't have to be the best school academically. Well-rounded VS lop-sided. The employment market is ruthless in its assessment of potential... and its better to develop naturally (sans steroids) in every area necessary for a thriving and fulfilling life.

You are most wise, my friend. I admire your steel. Sometimes, I waver.

Rachel Tan said...

Haha I am no saint Petunia. There are days I wonder why my kids are at a 'statistical disadvantage'. But you know I want to be reasonable in my expectations of MOE and the school too, in assessing whether it is doing a reasonable and realistic job in providing this public/merit good called mass education.

Well of course I may change my mind at the later stages once I feel like I have to spend inordinate efforts helping my kids to regain confidence and to put them back on their feet if they're continually bombarded with this negative psychology, that their worth is defined on academic success, and that they're always told they're not up to par.

One slow step at a time :)

Yau Chun Yi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Petunia Lee said...

Yau Chun Yi - Thank you for contributing this statistic. I wonder how many GEP there are in total VS how many mainstream?