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PSLE T-score to make way for scoring bands in 2021

Collective paradigm shift needed to prepare children for the future, says Ng Chee Meng

MR NG: The new scoring system will be 'more reflective of a student's learning and level of mastery'.


IT is time for Singapore's education system to undergo a "paradigm shift" away from an overemphasis on academic grades, Acting Education Minister (Schools) Ng Chee Meng told Parliament on Friday.

The biggest change is to the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), which will have a new scoring system starting with the Primary Six cohort in 2021.

T-scores will be replaced by wider scoring bands, similar to what is used for the O-Level and A-Level exams. Full details of the changes will be released in the next two to three months.

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Speaking during the debate on his ministry's spending plans for the new financial year, Mr Ng noted that academic excellence remains a hallmark of the education system and that there was recognition for the high standards achieved over the years.

"However, the focus of our education system should go beyond test scores. Currently, despite our efforts to move towards a holistic education, there is still a narrow emphasis on academics and paper qualifications. This is deeply ingrained in our culture, translated into the expectations of our children, parents, and teachers. Eventually, this is perhaps even manifested in employer mindsets in workplaces."

Stressing the need to dial back on the excessive focus on academic grades, he spent a large chunk of his speech outlining the thinking behind the changes to the PSLE scoring system. The way that the T-score is calculated may have created "unhealthy competition" among students.

The scoring is also done too precisely, which differentiates students more finely than necessary, and Mr Ng said that there was a need to move away from such fine distinctions for students at such a young age.

The T-score, also known as the transformed score, is used to standardise raw scores and rank students relative to others.

While he admitted that some broad level of differentiation was still needed to guide students to academic programmes that best suit their interests and strengths, the scoring would be "blunted" to a large extent. The new scoring system will be "more reflective of a student's learning and level of mastery", said Mr Ng.

Once a student shows a level of understanding and ability that meets the professionally-set standard, they will receive the grade, regardless of how their peers perform. This, Mr Ng added, is more meaningful than assessing a student's performance relative to his peers.

The minister also addressed concerns about the Secondary One posting system as a result of the PSLE changes, and he gave the assurance that it would still be a "fair and transparent system based on academic merit".

With the move to broader PSLE scoring bands, students can pick a suitable school from a wider range of schools with a similar academic profile. They can consider factors such as the school's unique programmes, co-curricular activities, and partnerships with the community and industry.

The Education Ministry will take a few years to work through all the changes carefully, as well as give enough time and support for parents and students to understand and adjust.

In his speech, Mr Ng also said that there was scope for greater flexibility in how different forms of merit and achievement in the overall Secondary One posting system are recognised.

Thus, the Direct School Admission (DSA) scheme, introduced in 2004 to promote holistic education, will be reviewed to see how best to bring it back to its original intent. Noting that there was "some unevenness" in how different schools pick their DSA students, Mr Ng said that the review would look at having more options in more secondary schools for those with specific aptitudes and talents.

The ministry also wants to sharpen the focus of the DSA to better recognise talents and achievements in specific domains, rather than general academic ability that can be demonstrated through the PSLE.


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