Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Mid-year screening for P1 pupils to be replaced

July exercise to be replaced with 'better ways' to identify weaker kids
By Stacey Chia, The Straits Times, 11 Sep 2012

FROM 2013, Primary 1 pupils will no longer need to participate in a little-known screening exercise used to identify weaker children.

Currently, there are two screening exercises, one in January which is more commonly known, and the other in July.

But the mid-year screening exercise will no longer be held. It will be replaced with "better ways" of identifying pupils, said a Ministry of Education spokesman, without giving details.

MOE revealed the change in its reply to a parent who wrote to The Straits Times Forum Page last Friday, and in response to queries from The Straits Times.

The parent, Mr David Chin, 42, a lecturer at Republic Polytechnic, complained that his Primary 1 son was made to take a test without his knowledge or approval in July. The test, according to him, resembles an IQ test.

In its reply, MOE said that the July screening exercise which the boy went through is "not for making conclusions about a child's intelligence, nor is it linked to the Primary 3 GEP (Gifted Education Programme) selection".

Together with their academic performance, it is an exercise used to identify pupils who are progressing poorly.

Schools will then find "appropriate strategies" to help these pupils, such as providing remediation.

The January screening, meanwhile, identifies children who have not acquired basic literacy and numeracy skills by the time they enter Primary 1.

An example of this could be the inability to say and write the letters of the alphabet, count or write numbers below 10.

Those who are identified as needing help in the January screening are given learning support. There are two programmes for these children, the Learning Support Programme (LSP), for English and the Learning Support for Mathematics (LSM).

LSP was launched in 1992 and LSM in 2007. Support in LSP is provided at Primary 1 and 2, while the LSM stops at the end of Primary 1.

"Both LSP and LSM aim to enable the children to measure up to the same level of literacy and numeracy as their peers," said the spokesman.

In the past four years, about 10 per cent and 5 per cent of the cohort were identified as needing LSP and LSM respectively.

The MOE spokesman said that "the programme is working well and helping many students learn better".

He explained that they do not seek parental consent prior to the assessments "so as not to cause parents undue concern; especially since the majority of students would not need additional intervention in Primary 1".

This year, the ministry also started a school-based dyslexia remediation in 20 primary schools. A screening process, which is carried out at the end of Primary 2, identifies pupils who continue to have difficulties in reading and writing, despite receiving help earlier. The ministry said it plans to refine and extend the programme to other schools in phases, starting next year.

When contacted, Mr Chin said that he was not completely satisfied with the explanation. "Teachers can easily identify those who possibly need help, why do all pupils need to sit the assessment?"

The topic of testing in Primary 1 is sensitive among parents. Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP Hri Kumar Nair said in a recent Facebook post that some parents were concerned about banding Primary 1 pupils according to ability.

MOE has clarified that schools should not conduct testing for the purpose of allocating pupils to similar-ability classes for Primary 1 and 2 pupils.

MOE's guiding principle - help every child to learn

THE screening exercise is administered to Primary 1 pupils to identify those who may need further help and support from the school ("Cognitive test: Why screen kids in P1?" by Mr David Chin; last Friday).

It is not for making conclusions about a child's intelligence or linked to the Primary 3 Gifted Education Programme selection.

Schools get only the names of pupils who may need additional support, and complement this with teachers' observations, to tailor the types of additional support needed.

Our guiding principle is to help every child learn. Since 2006, we have implemented the enhanced learning support programme for the learning of English and mathematics for Primary 1 pupils after an initial assessment of their readiness in these areas. This programme is working well and helping many pupils learn better.

This year, the Ministry of Education started a school-based dyslexia remediation in 20 primary schools. With a screening process at the end of Primary 2, we identify pupils who continue to have difficulties in reading and writing, despite receiving help earlier.

This remediation programme is showing good initial results, and we will refine and extend it to other primary schools in phases, starting next year.

With better ways of identifying pupils who need support in specific areas of learning, we will no longer conduct the screening exercise for Primary 1 pupils from next year.

Loke-Yeo Teck Yong (Mrs)
Education Services Division
Ministry of Education
ST Forum, 11 Sep 2012

Why screen kids in P1?

ON JULY 30, my son, who is in Primary 1, came home from school to say that an external teacher had given his class a test that consisted of patterns. This teacher had not mentioned the word "test" or "IQ" and the pupils were given 30 minutes to fill their answer sheets.

I did an online search of IQ tests and found one where my son was able to recognise 46 out of the 60 questions. Based on this, I deduced that the test given was the Raven's Standard Progressive Matrices test.

When my daughter, a Primary 3 pupil in another school, saw the patterns, she said she had taken the same test when she was in P1.

I was concerned as to why the school had conducted such a test, what the results would be used for, and who would have access to them. I also wanted to know why the test was given without my knowledge as even the Gifted Education Programme screening test requires my consent.

I wrote to both the school and Ministry of Education (MOE) reflecting my concerns. On Aug 2, the school's learning support teacher called and said the test was given to determine which pupils have the potential to do better and it measures numeracy and literacy skills.

I pointed out that the test contains only patterns and so has little to do with maths or language ability. The teacher then said she did not actually see the test, and forwarded my questions to MOE.

On Aug 22, MOE replied. It said the "screening exercise" is used to "identify pupils who require additional help early" and to "obtain a more holistic picture of the pupils' needs". It would be following up with parents to explain the findings and discuss intervention programmes.

I wrote back the same day asking for a clearer response and have not got a reply to date.

MOE should let parents know when or why "screening" is done on our children.

Parents have a right to consent to an IQ test and know how the results are being used. In the light of the new approach to education with more focus on learning through play in the early years, are we still sticking to the conventional idea of what makes a kid smart?

Is it even necessary to screen children at Primary 1 when reasoning and cognitive skills are just emerging?

David Chin
ST Forum, 7 Sep 2012

What parents want to know... and what the Ministry of Education says
By Matthias Chew, The Straits Times, 11 Sep 2012

SHOULD teachers recommend tuition? Do teachers skip part of the curriculum if the majority of the class already know it?

These are some questions parents have about the primary school system here which the Ministry of Education should address directly, said MP Hri Kumar Nair on his blog last week.

The Straits Times got the ministry, schools and parents to respond:

Myth or Fact 1: It is not clear what literacy and numeracy skills children are expected to have when entering Primary 1.
MOE says: The ministry is currently revising the kindergarten curriculum framework, which will contain learning goals at the end of Kindergarten 2 (K2).

Parents say: Parents welcomed greater clarity in the K2 curriculum which would help them better prepare their children for primary school.But some fear parents will still try to do more than what is required.

Schools say: Early childhood consultant Philip Koh, 49, welcomed the move but pointed out that some parents may expect their children to do more.

Myth or Fact 2: Teachers do not teach the curriculum if the majority of the class already know their stuff.
MOE says: The ministry did not address this point directly in its written reply.

Parents say: Parents say they have not encountered teachers who skipped entire segments of the syllabus. But it is not uncommon for teachers to step up the pace for some topics, especially in high-ability classes, they added.

Housewife and former teacher Leong Sun Yee, 39, said her son's Primary 1 Chinese teacher sped through hanyu pinyin. She did not want to name the school. But when the teacher realised that her son was not coping, she called her and offered extra coaching. Madam Leong said: "There are teachers who do this but don't get credit for it."

Schools say: The fundamental dilemma, say teachers, is catering for children who learn at different speeds. Go too slow, and the bright ones get bored. Go too fast, and some get left behind.

Some schools, like Nanyang Primary, have instituted a system where for certain subjects, pupils who grasp concepts quicker can move on to higher-difficulty worksheets. But skipping content, said principal Lee Hui Feng, is not acceptable.

But sometimes, teachers can move too fast if pupils who need help do not speak up.

Myth or Fact 3: Teachers encourage parents to send kids who are behind for tuition.
MOE says: Teachers should not recommend tuition to pupils or parents as a form of learning support.

For pupils underperforming in their studies, teachers can provide various forms of support, including differentiated teaching, small-group teaching and remedial lessons after school.

Where helpful and necessary, teachers may also provide individual coaching to such pupils outside lessons.

Parents say: There are some teachers who do recommend tuition for pupils, according to some parents and teachers. But most do not do so explicitly, as it can be seen as unprofessional.

But nine of the 10 parents contacted said they have not personally encountered teachers who recommend tuition.

Parent Nancy Wong, 35, who has three children in primary school, said she does not mind even if teachers suggest tuition. Said the food business owner: "I always ask the teacher during parent-teacher meetings if my children need tuition, and some teachers will say 'yes'."

Schools say: Two teachers, who declined to be named, said they knew of colleagues who suggested to their pupils to have tuition. This is because some pupils still struggle to cope, even with additional classes and individual coaching.

Four principals interviewed said to ask parents to turn to tuition would reflect badly on the teacher's own ability. "It's like slapping ourselves in the face" was how one principal of a primary school in the north put it.

Westwood Primary School principal Ng Yeow Ling, 43, thinks that the onus is on teachers to "ensure that the child meets the requirements".

Myth or Fact 4: Pupils are "streamed" according to abilities in Primary 1 and the better teachers are assigned to the "better" classes.
MOE says: The ministry has instructed all primary schools last year that they should not conduct testing for the purpose of allocating pupils to similar-ability classes at Primary 1 and 2. P1 and P2 pupils should be grouped heterogeneously into classes, while ensuring a good spread of pupils by gender and ethnicity in each class.

Parents say: Parents interviewed say their lower primary children are not banded by ability.

Schools say: Principals and teachers said lower primary pupils are no longer banded by ability. But from P3 on, schools have the discretion to do so.

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