In 2016, the Ministry of Education (MOE) announced changes to the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) scoring system, stating that the new system aims to emphasise "how well your child has learnt, and not how well he has done compared with others".
In other words, the change reflects a shift away from comparing a pupil's knowledge to that of their peers - to comparing a pupil's knowledge to a predetermined standard or performance criterion.
In the light of this proposed change in mindset, why is there still a need for the Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board (SEAB) to set challenging questions since the purpose of such questions is to discriminate stronger pupils from the weaker ones, with the implicit objective of locating pupils' relative standing in their cohort?
Even though SEAB said questions have a range of difficulty, it appears that the average difficulty of this year's PSLE maths exam is higher than that of previous years, judging by the contrasting reactions of pupils and parents between last year and this year (Parents complain about 'tough' PSLE maths paper amid Covid-19 stress, Oct 2).
Can SEAB explain why it is still adhering to the old testing approach when the system has changed?
Also, why did SEAB choose to make the exam more difficult when it knows that pupils' learning has been compromised in the past two years owing to Covid-19?
Not surprisingly, a difficult test has the effects of increasing stress and adversely impacting the psychological well-being of test-takers.
This is evident in reports of pupils' reactions that surfaced on the Internet after the paper.
The unpredictability in test difficulty from year to year also introduces added stress for future cohorts of pupils who will be taking the PSLE. This is antithetical to MOE's efforts to reduce stress in young children.
As the pandemic rages on for the second year, it is perplexing that SEAB appears oblivious to the mental health issues that have plagued adults and children as a result of Covid-19, and chose to impose an unnecessary toll on exam candidates and their parents.
This is the kind of adverse social consequences of testing that testing professionals are concerned with when evaluating the value and validity of tests.
Cha Yeow Siah