Thursday 21 November 2013

PSLE results won't show highest or lowest scores from 2013

Parents and educators commend move to de-emphasise competition
By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 20 Nov 2013

FOR the first time in 30 years, the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) results to be released on Friday will not include the highest and lowest scores achieved by pupils in the cohort.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) is leaving those scores out on the result slips from now on, said a ministry spokesman.

The PSLE "serves as a checkpoint of a student's mastery of primary-level subjects and identifies suitable pathways for secondary education", so it is not necessary to know the other scores, said the spokesman.

Each candidate's own aggregate score, as well as the highest and lowest scored that year, has been on result slips since 1982.

Last year, the top and bottom scores were 285 and 43.

Post by Heng Swee Keat.
When asked if MOE encouraged schools to celebrate their own top scorers, a spokesman said schools would continue to recognise those who had done well, "but not just in academic results".

Last year, the ministry ended the practice of naming the top scorer in the PSLE. Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said in a blog post then that it was unhealthy to have such national focus on PSLE.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also announced in August that pupils will in time get a grade band instead of aggregate scores for the PSLE to reduce the stress and competition over results.

Parents and educators commended the ministry's move to de-emphasise such competition.

Housewife Jasmine Sng, 47, who has a son in Primary 6, said: "If your child did not do so well, knowing these scores may not be good for his self-esteem."

South View Primary principal Jenny Yeo agreed. "If parents and pupils cannot change their mindsets that they need to get better results than their peers and go to a top school, then maybe this will alleviate stress for them."

Government Parliamentary Committee for Education chairman Lim Biow Chuan said the message was not to compare results but to focus on one's own achievement.

Pupils may obtain their result slips from their schools from 11am onwards on Friday. Secondary 1 postings will be out on Dec 20.

Pupils who can take a third language in Sec 1 will have the option of taking Spanish next year.

Spectra Secondary, a new school for Normal (Technical) stream students along with Crest Secondary, will take its first students next year. Students eligible for the Normal (Technical) course should apply directly to either school from Nov 22 to 26. More information is on the schools' websites at and

PSLE questions tweaked to better test understanding
MOE revelation comes as record 66.7 per cent make it to Express stream
By Sandra Davie And Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 23 Nov 2013

SOME of the tougher questions in this year's Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) were set differently to better test the pupils' understanding and guide them in arriving at an answer, the Ministry of Education revealed yesterday.

This came as schools celebrated a stellar performance, with a record 66.7 per cent of the 2013 cohort making it to the Express stream in secondary school.

In the last five years, the percentage of pupils qualifying for the Express stream has ranged from 62 per cent to 63.6 per cent. Last year, it was 63.1 per cent.

Of the 43,047 pupils who took the PSLE this year, 97.5 per cent of them passed the exam, marginally lower than last year's 97.6 per cent. Close to 20 per cent made it to the Normal (Academic) stream and 10.9 per cent to the Normal (Technical) course.

One reason for the better performance could be the change in how some PSLE questions are set.

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, who congratulated the pupils on their performance in a Facebook post yesterday, revealed that his ministry had tweaked the way it sets the more "challenging" questions.

"One small refinement we've made is to craft the more challenging exam questions in a way that lets our children show what they've learnt, while keeping the PSLE standard high," he said.

These questions were broken down into several parts to guide the pupils in arriving at an answer. And even if a pupil does not get the right final answer, but gets the first few parts right, he will be awarded some marks.

Mr Heng noted the positive feedback from students - that the exams gave them a chance to do well, and they felt confident about their learning. "This is exactly what we want - to bring everyone's focus back from chasing points to really learning," he said.

Following the practice last year, the Ministry did not name the top pupils and the schools they came from. In fact, it went one step further by not even listing the highest and lowest PSLE scores in pupils' result slips.

Each candidate's own aggregate score, as well as the highest and lowest scored that year, has been on result slips since 1982. Last year, the top and bottom scores were 285 and 43.

In line with the new approach, schools singled out pupils who displayed other abilities or who triumphed despite the odds, instead of highlighting only the best performers.

Nanyang Primary, which produced one of the nation's top scorers last year, did not reveal the school's highest score. Principal Lee Hui Feng merely flashed the list of "all round achievers" who scored 250 and above, and those who scored more than 260, on powerpoint slides.

At the popular Rosyth Primary School, again no top scores were revealed. The school shared general information, such as the overall pass rate of 99 per cent.

Housewife Agnes Phuah, 40, who was at Rosyth with daughter Alyssa Loo, said she did not mind not knowing the top scorers. "The result is just a number. It does not necessarily show the learning process, which is more important."

Over at Changkat Primary in Simei, the mood was celebratory. Principal May Tang announced that the entire cohort of 200 pupils passed the exam, an improvement from 98.2 per cent last year.

Pupil Sam Goh, 12 - struggling with his studies because of dyslexia - was happy that he qualified for Normal (Academic).

He thanked allied educator Tong Kum Yuen, 36, who helped him along the way. "Mr Tong helped me to learn through play. When I spelt correctly, he would give me a sweet."

At North Vista Primary in Sengkang, which saw its first batch of graduating students, principal Phua Kia Wang made no mention of aggregate scores but celebrated the fact that all pupils passed the exam. He said: "Nobody got left behind. Every one made it to a secondary school."

Shifting focus on scores to learning
By Sandra Davie, The Straits Times, 23 Nov 2013

LAST year, the Education Ministry (MOE) stopped naming the top scorers in national examinations.

Explaining the move just a day before the release of the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) results, MOE said it was to redress the over-emphasis on academic results, and shift it to a student's holistic development.

This year, the ministry took it a step further, by not even revealing what the highest and lowest scores were, which had been listed on every pupil's result slip since 1982. Last year, the top and bottom scores were 285 and 43.

Most parents agreed with the move, saying that it will help further ease the level of competition and the stress of the PSLE.

A few disagreed, pointing out that the information will help gauge their children's chances of landing a place in their preferred secondary school.

But MOE maintains the PSLE is simply a "checkpoint" in a student's learning journey, to show how well he has mastered primary-level subjects and identify suitable pathways for secondary education.

Yesterday's change in the result slip is only the latest attempt by MOE to make education less of a contest for marks.

Last year, the eight-year-old system of banding secondary schools based on academic results was ended.

Then, in August during his National Day Rally, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced the PSLE aggregate scores will down the line be replaced with grade bands so that pupils will not feel compelled to chase that last mark. He also revealed the Direct School Admission system will be expanded to take into account a pupil's character and leadership skills.

The ministry's message was reinforced yesterday when schools released the latest PSLE results.

Even top schools such as Nanyang and Rosyth did not single out their top scorers. Instead, they highlighted the pupils who overcame hurdles to do well. The achievements of those who did well in the non-academic areas, such as sports and the arts, were also celebrated.

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, in his Facebook posting yesterday, also revealed how the more difficult questions in the PSLE were restructured this time to guide pupils to the answers. Even if their answers were only partially right, pupils would still be able to earn part of the marks.

This was done "to bring everyone's focus back from chasing points to really learning", he wrote - showing the ministry is indeed serious about shifting mindsets away from an obsession with marks.

This may invite further rumblings from some parents who are worried schools might be dumbing down, and if this will lead Singapore to academic mediocrity.

But as Mr Heng said previously in response to similar concerns - these changes are meant to allow pupils to achieve excellence in a broader and more enduring sense.

Instead of just providing students with a solid academic grounding, schools will nurture in them skills such as leadership and the ability to communicate and instil values such as determination. After all, to thrive in a complex and ever-changing global environment, academic grades alone are not enough.

Pick a secondary school that suits child's character: Heng
By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 25 Nov 2013

PARENTS choosing a secondary school for their children should look beyond a school's cut-off point, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said in a Facebook posting yesterday.

Instead, they should consider a school's learning environment and one that best matches their child's character, he said.

His remarks came two days after the release of the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) results. A record 66.7 per cent of the 2013 cohort have made it to the Express stream in secondary school, up from 63.1 per cent last year.

Mr Heng said parents sometimes choose a school based on the previous year's cut-off point, "in the belief that the higher the COP, the more competitive the school, and hence, the better it is". He reminded parents that academic grade "is only one aspect" to measure a child's capability.

Some children may be late developers and being in the right environment will help them thrive. "Think of how best you can help your child develop confidence, and enjoy the space to discover his talents and passions," he said.

His comments came after the ministry ended its practice of printing on candidates' results slips the highest and lowest scores in the PSLE. Last year, it stopped naming the top scorer.

A statement put out by the Ministry of Education last Friday on the release of the PSLE results included, for the first time, a paragraph that advised parents when selecting a secondary school for their children to consider its proximity to home, its learning environment and its aggregate ranges.

Mr Baey Yam Keng, who sits on the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education, said the ministry is signalling to parents to "focus on other aspects of education, as grades are just one indicator". "It is also not advisable to put your child in a school where they can only scrape through," he said.

Madam Jasmine Sng, 47, said distance is her main consideration when choosing a secondary school for her son, Jerel. "If children are placed in a competitive environment and they are unable to catch up with their peers, it may be demoralising for them," said the mother of one in Mandarin.

Ms Elain Sim, a 42-year-old mother of two, said it is hard to look beyond cut-off points "because that is how schools admit students". "The system is based on the aggregate scores and cut-off points," said the assistant director who works in Singapore Management University.

Pupils have until Nov 28 to submit their school choices and they will be notified of their postings on Dec 20.

Towards the end of his blog post, Mr Heng gave encouragement to those who did not make it to secondary schools. Pointing to specialised schools that they can choose, such as Assumption Pathway School and Northlight School, he said: "You will also go on to make friends, discover things, make a difference to people around you. I want you to believe in yourself and keep doing your best - show the world what you've got!"

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