10 questions on PSLE scoring and school posting changes answered

PSLE books on display at a Popular book store in 2015.
PSLE books on display at a Popular book store in 2015.PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

SINGAPORE - The Ministry of Education (MOE) announced major changes to the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) grading system on Wednesday (July 13).

Eight scoring bands known as Achievement levels (ALs) will replace the current PSLE T-score.

The changes take effect in 2021, which means those who started Primary 1 this year will be affected.

As many pupils may have a similar score, other tie-breaking factors will be considered when posting them to secondary schools.

This includes citizenship, choice order of the school and computerised balloting.

Here, MOE answers 10 questions that parents may have about the changes.

1. What is the point of making these changes to the PSLE?

To equip our children to thrive in the future, we are making shifts to help our pupils discover their talents and interest and to nurture well-rounded individuals.

The PSLE changes are another step in this larger direction. We are moving away from an over-emphasis on academic results by:

Reducing fine differentiation

  • The current T-score system differentiates pupils very finely. However, a pupil who has a T-score Aggregate of 231 and a pupil who scores 230 could be equally ready for secondary school, and it may not be educationally meaningful to differentiate so finely between the two at this age.
  • Under the new system, each subject will be graded using Achievement Levels (ALs) which span a range of marks, so pupils who perform similarly will obtain the same AL.
  • A pupil's PSLE Score will be the sum of the ALs of the four subjects, and this will replace the T-score Aggregate. There will only be 29 possible PSLE scores, down from around 200 T-score Aggregates today. This means that pupils will be less finely differentiated under the new system.

Reflecting a pupil's own level of achievement, instead of comparing him to his peers

  • The T-score shows how a pupil has performed relative to his peers. A pupil may do well in a subject, but if most of his peers perform better than him, he will get a lower T-score.
  • In the new system, a pupil will be graded based on his own performance, regardless of how his peers have performed.
  • Standards will remain the same year to year. A child who gets AL5 in 2021 and a child who gets AL5 in 2022 will have demonstrated similar levels of achievement.
  • This allows pupils to focus on their own learning instead of trying to outdo others.

2. How will these PSLE scoring changes reduce stress among pupils?

Help children focus on learning instead of marks

  • To encourage pupils to focus on their own learning, the new scoring system will show the child how well he has learnt, not how he has done in comparison to his peers.
  • By moving to ALs, pupils are not so finely differentiated on the basis of every mark. pupils who demonstrate similar achievement in a subject will receive the same AL. Likewise, schools with similar academic profiles will be less differentiated by cut-off points, so pupils can choose from a wider range of schools and pick those that are a good educational fit for them.
  • The changes above should help reduce excessive competition and anxiety among pupils.
  • Parents often think that only a specific school can help their child do well, and this can cause excessive stress. With our increasingly diverse secondary school landscape, no matter what the child's PSLE Score and interests are, there will be a variety of good schools to choose from.
  • Collectively, parents, teachers and society need to help our children find the right balance between doing their best academically and pursuing other interests, which will help develop them into more well-rounded individuals.

3. Why are there eight ALs?

This provides a good balance

  • The eight ALs are designed to reflect broadly different levels of achievement. While it is not meaningful to differentiate too finely between pupils, we need a broad indication of their progress after six years of primary school, so that they can be matched to suitable academic programmes in secondary school.
  • For example, while there may not be any difference between a pupil who scores 65 and another who scores 66 marks in a subject, there is a difference between one who scores 65 and another who scores 75. We want to be able to recognise this difference.
  • If there are too few ALs, there would be more pupils with the same PSLE Score, which would lead to more balloting in S1 posting. This would cause more anxiety for parents and pupils.
  • Eight ALs offer a good balance.

4. Why are the reference raw mark ranges not evenly distributed?

They provide meaningful differentiation

  • The reference raw mark ranges for the ALs are set based on the curriculum's learning objectives.
  • They provide educationally meaningful differentiation of pupils to enable schools to better guide the pupils' secondary school journey.
  • The upper ranges are narrower because the PSLE is designed such that pupils are able to show what they can do and a large majority of pupils do well for the PSLE. On average, about half of the pupils will score AL4 or better.
  • At the middle to lower ALs, wider raw mark ranges are sufficient to give a good indication of a pupil's progress and further differentiation is less educationally meaningful.

5. Are the eight ALs derived from the current letter grades?

This is a new scoring system

  • The new ALs are not related to the current letter grades.
  • Each AL reflects how well the pupil has performed in a subject.
  • The academic expectations for each AL are set based on the curriculum's learning objectives.

6. Doesn't choice already matter in S1 posting today?

Choice will matter more

  • Today, S1 posting does take into account a pupil's choice order of schools, as each pupil will be posted to his most preferred school for which he is eligible. However, for pupils with the same T-score Aggregate, the order in which they place a given school does not give them priority in admission to that school.
  • Going forward, with choice order being a new tie-breaker, this will change. Between two pupils with the same PSLE Score, the pupil who has placed a given school higher up in his list of choices will have priority in admission to that school. However, academic merit remains the main factor in posting pupils.

7. How should we choose secondary schools under the new system?

Look at different aspects of the school and its overall fit for your child

Discuss the options with your child.

  • Take some time to reflect on your child's personality, learning style, strengths and interests.
  • Look beyond the cut-off points of the schools. Consider a school's ethos, culture, programmes and CCAs, as well as its distance from your home.
  • Secondary schools also hold open houses where you and your child can learn more about the school's programmes, and speak with teachers and pupils.
  • To help parents choose schools in the first year under the new system, we will provide parents and pupils with information about the profile of each school, including its learning environment, unique programmes and CCAs. Parents can refer to the S1 Posting booklet given to pupils in Primary 6, the online School Information Service, school websites or visit the schools at their open houses.
  • We will also provide simulated cut-off points for secondary schools based on the previous year's S1 Posting exercise. However, the actual cut-off points may differ, depending on how pupils perform in the actual year.

8. Will there be more balloting under the new system?

  • Under the current system, computerised balloting is used as a tie-breaker when two or more Singapore citizens who have the same score are vying for the last place in a school. There is only a small amount of balloting conducted.
  • With wider scoring bands, more pupils will attain the same PSLE Score. There could be more balloting if many pupils choose the same school. However, MOE anticipates that balloting will only affect a small proportion of pupils, as it would only take place after all earlier tie-breakers have been used up. Based on past cohorts' performances and choice patterns, about nine in 10 pupils would not have to undergo balloting. This balloting figure will change depending on the actual choice patterns of pupils.

9. Why are the changes being implemented in 2021? Why not earlier?

The PSLE changes are significant, so we will not rush the implementation

The next few years will be used to:

  • Test the new exam scoring and posting systems thoroughly;
  • Engage parents and other stakeholders on the changes to help them better understand how the new system works; and
  • Give schools time to familiarise themselves with the new PSLE scoring system and provide support to parents and pupils.
  • Develop and mature distinctive programmes in secondary schools, so that pupils can choose those that complement their diverse learning needs, interests and strengths.

10. Will the PSLE curriculum change?

The PSLE scoring and secondary one posting changes will not affect:

  • The curriculum
  • The subjects tested at the PSLE
  • The demand of the PSLE on pupils

However, MOE does review the curriculum regularly to ensure that our curriculum is relevant and up-to-date. This will continue as per current practice.