PSLE not reliable predictor of secondary school success

I disagree with Li Wanqi that Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) T-scores are necessary for targeted teaching ("T-score important for targeted teaching"; Voices of Youth, last Wednesday).

Owing to the differences between the primary and secondary school curricula, students should be given a fresh start rather than be categorised according to admission scores.

Wanqi's argument assumes that PSLE performance can accurately predict secondary school success.

However, the secondary school curriculum and the primary school curriculum make very different demands of students, thus reducing the PSLE's ability to predict secondary school performance.

For instance, PSLE maths is drastically different from secondary school maths. While PSLE maths relies on visual reasoning through the model method, secondary school students are, instead, required to use algebra to solve problems, demanding a different mode of thinking.

Moreover, secondary school students are required to study humanities subjects.

As these are not assessed in primary school, the PSLE cannot predict how well a student will eventually perform in these new subjects.

Consequently, students who perform well at the PSLE may find themselves floundering in secondary school, as they are not used to this new curriculum.

Conversely, students who do not perform as well may find greater success in the secondary school curriculum. This is especially the case for humanities-inclined students, who may be disadvantaged in the maths- and science-intensive PSLE.

If secondary schools continue to use the PSLE as a predictor of academic ability, they risk misallocating academic resources and opportunities based on flawed predictions of school performance.

The culture of stress in the education system may also be further entrenched as parents convince students to chase the last point to ensure better opportunities for themselves in their future secondary schools.

Even worse, pupils who perform below expectations at the PSLE may lose the motivation to try harder to improve their academic performance, as they feel that society is telling them that the PSLE is a final judgment of their individual worth.

While targeted learning is indeed beneficial to students, it should not be dispensed based on PSLE T-scores.

Instead of being too hasty to categorise students in Secondary 1, we should allow students the time to get used to the demands of the secondary school curriculum.

Teaching can thus be more effectively allocated, based on how well a student actually performs in secondary school, rather than on the drastically different metrics of the PSLE.

Ng Qi Siang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 17, 2016, with the headline 'PSLE not reliable predictor of secondary school success'. Print Edition | Subscribe