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Thursday, July 21, 2016

New PSLE Scoring System

I am not going to cover the details of the New PSLE Scoring System here. You know, the 8 ALs and all that? You can visit the MOE website to learn about that. I am writing this post just to share my opinion about the change.

Will It Get Rid of Highly Difficult Exams In Schools?

I think so.

The PSLE bell curve rank orders children to 6 decimal points. Performance on the bell curve not only affected children's lives, they affected teachers' appraisals and school appraisals. If enough children reached a certain competence level in a subject, the bell curve would be left skewed. Then, the following year's exam would need to be set harder so that the next year's bell curve would NOT be left skewed. It was a moving target.

As a result, everyone (and anyone who cared about their own careers and the schoos reputation) was trying to preempt and predict the toughest questions in the PSLE. Everyone played it safe and set questions beyond the most difficult they knew. Schools would teach challenging material earlier and set extraordinarily hard exams because no one knew how difficult was enough difficult.

In the past 2 years, MOE has been sending teams to examine Primary 2 materials and tests in schools. The schools have been told that they are teaching too much too early. Nothing doing. Schools weren't about to change because top schools have every intention to stay at the top, and if they dumb down their curriculum, how would they ensure that their students can do the hardest questions of the PSLE exam?

It didn't matter what the MOE audit team said about the overly difficult curriculum. No school would dare to risk falling behind on the bell curve.

Will It Get Rid of Stress?

Since achievement levels are pegged to the curriculum and all it takes to score 90 plus is to meet a set standard, then schools have no reason to set harder and harder exams. They will find the exact difficulty level and train their students to that. It will not be like catching a moving train.

If this does not reduce stress, I don't know what does.

It usually is overly hard exams that frighten the bejesus out of parents and send them running off to find tuition, or makes them yell at and punish their kids.

Does MOE Care About Student Stress?

I rather suspect it does not. No really... if MOE cared about children's stress, it would be tracking the number of child suicides closely and try to study how many suicides are linked directly/indirectly to academic performance. This would be a KPI. It isn't.

MOE does care about developing a future workforce. This workforce is needed to see Singapore into future economic prosperity. Increasingly, the government realises that our workforce lacks a diversity of talent, has precious little EQ and lacks a robust moral grounding. It has realised such a workforce, whilst highly competent in numeracy and literacy was not a strong workforce because of a paucity of non-academic skills and values. All that focus on beating the bell curve left our students little time to grow in other areas - kindness, gentleness, charity... etc...

So yes, there are surely parents who are stressed by the random ballot because what if their 4 pointers cannot get into RI? It would be so awful to be shunted by random chance to HCI or SJI or ACS(I).

That sort of stress is irrelevant to the higher purpose of the MOE. The MOE does not exist to reduce parent stress. It exists as the country's Human Resource Development Department and it wants top talent distributed across the top 10 schools so that these schools with different ethos and different foci will groom top talent to be diverse.

We need that. This country needs that.

Choice Of School Gives Priority

Whoever thought this up is really smart. If I had a 4 pointer, I would more carefully consider the ethos and niches of the top 10 schools and ask myself which of the top 10 schools best fits my child. I would have to do this because chances of RI and HCI going into ballot will be high, and I will certainly stand a better chance of getting the school of my choice if I placed a well-researched non-RI and non-HCI school first on my list (rather than straightforwardly choosing RI or HCI). By lazily choosing RI and HCI, I might lose out on the ballot AND end up not get into ANY of the other top 8 schools because enough OTHER 4 pointers had placed those other 8 top of their list.

I would then need to go to a 2nd tier school.

So What About DSA?

If I had a 4 potential 4 pointer, I won't wait for the PSLE to get my choice of school. At P1, I would be researching the CCAs that RI and HCI want. Then, I would make sure that my child is well positioned to get in through that CCA. From young, I would try to angle for Leadership Positions to help my child get in through CCA.

Unless the DSA loophole is plugged, we are going to see an entire CCA industry grow in the same way that the tuition industry grew in the past 15 years.

Then, RI and HCI will have half the country applying to them via DSA. This is the ONLY way left to game the system once the new scoring system is in.

10 Years After The Change
10 years after the new PSLE Scoring System is put in, parents will realise that there really are 10 top schools because the top talent was randomly distributed across all the top 10. You really cannot discount the impact of IQ. Really.

I teach children. Some kids get it even before you have finished explaining. They put 2 and 2 together and voila! You give them feedback once and they get it. Some children have stiff brains that absorb slowly and think slowly. The processing speed is simply not there. The rate of absorption is just poor.

Right now, the fastest processors and the best brains go to RI and HCI (mostly), so is it any wonder that those 2 schools produce the most lawyers, doctors and scholars? The kids that go there are just very intelligent and one cannot underestimate the degree to which pure intellectual horsepower drives performance.

With top brains disseminated across 10 schools, we will realise (10 years after the change) that scholars, lawyers and doctors will come from 10 schools... and these schools will then all be considered equally good but different. I like the ACS(I) ethos. We were given a form to fill out a DSA to RI through shooting. We did not fill it out. In our choices, we put ACS(I) first. The ethos of the school fits our family. The school had CCAs my son was passionate about. In ACS(I) he is Captain of this and Head of that. He has just been picked to do a research internship with DSO at the end of the year. He thrived in ACS(I). The school values and culture fit us like a glove. We actually grew to love the school.

It will take a while to get to the point where parents see groups of schools as equivalent.

Whither the Stress?
The MOE has done what it should. It has taken away the bell curve, which was a major contributor to stress (because it directly caused schools to set harder and harder exams). No matter the system, there will still be parents who stress their kids. If so, then it really is parental accountability.

The MOE is no longer at fault.

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