Tuesday, 26 July 2016

The New Scoring System

The new PSLE scoring system is on the tongue of just about every parent whether his or her children are going to be affected by it.

As an individual, I welcome the changes although I do not think the system is perfect:

- I do think that AL 6 is too big a band for marks ranging from 45 to 64.

- I prefer the current system's placement of school choice in which you don't have to worry too much about the order of the schools as long as they are somewhat realistic.

- I think raw scores can be used as an intervention tool where there is a tie. Balloting has too much uncertainties and gives people unnecessary stress no matter how small the percentage of students need to go through balloting. Balloting should end at P1 registration!

I have always felt that the T-score system contributes to the rise of elitism and the creation of elite schools. The more refined a system is, the more it sharpens the elitist elements in the system.

The T-score system tosses out the average children and tells them they don't matter. In fact, a teacher-friend shared that she wanted to emigrate because our education system is extremely unforgiving to the average children, and her own children are "average children in an average neighbourhood school".

My gut feel about the new system is it is more inclusive to a wider circle of children.

I did a quick search on the Internet and it seems to suggest that the T-score system was first introduced in the 1980s, but as far as I remember, the PSLE scores during my era in the late 1980s were never called 'T-scores'. They were formally known as 'aggregate scores' and everybody called them "the PSLE scores", and no one ever said that our scores were benchmarked against the whole cohort's performance. However, with the introduction of T-scores, schools started to educate parents about how it is computated, and how the average marks and standard deviation have a bearing on their children's T-score.

I like to think that during my time, our aggregate scores were the raw scores rather than T-scores.

I don't remember parents being so crazy about getting their children to squeeze into the Big Four: Raffles Institution, Hwa Chong Institute, Raffles Girls' Secondary and Nanyang Girls High. Rather, there was a good spread of top students going to a variety of top schools such as River Valley, Anglican High, Victoria Secondary, Dunman High, Catholic High, St Nicholas Girls', Cedar Girls', Methodist Girls' etc. I don't remember people drawing the line so thinly between the top schools ie. "These few are the Tier 1 schools. Those are the Tier 2, Tier 3 schools. And this one is just a 'good' school." What I remember was people saying "This is a good school. That is also a good school."

I hope by having a good spread of top scorers among the good schools, we will stop mentally rank and group the schools in such an unhealthy manner.

With the refining of T-score system down to the last digit for the sake of ranking the first children to the last 50, 000th, competition started to stiffen, to the point where every single mark matters.

I detest this horribly competitive culture. I heard about all sorts of things the children did to their friends to gain an edge over them. The lies they told, the stories they made up,  the bad luck they wished upon their friends, the 'prophecy' they spoke over their friend's composition marks ... and there are probably others that I don't know.

I feel that our education system has reached a sad state where children become vicious or vindictive at such a young age for the sake of a score.

It is good to be competitive trying to outdo your opponent by sharpening your skills but it's a different story when you stab someone to cripple him so that you could do better.

To me, T-scores serve the pick-out-the-elite system well. You easily identify the top students by their 3-digits on a piece of paper and you send them all to the Big Four to further sieve the diamonds from the shuff. However, the new system allows many top students to be distributed to the different top schools and nobody will be none the wiser who exactly is the real 'top'.

Under the new system, I honestly do not think that there will be that many AL 4-pointers that can't squeeze into the Big Four. In fact, I think the Big Four would have some 5-, 6- and 7-pointers as well. Even under the T-score system, how many 4A* scorers do we have? And A* may not necessarily be 90 marks and above. 

And why should all 4-pointers go to the Big Four? The way I see it, we should have many 4- to 8-pointers and the scores are not too far apart from one another actually, and since not all top scorers could get into these coveted schools, many such scorers would be distributed to the good schools elsewhere. These top scorers would give the good schools in different parts of Singapore a better distribution of talents, like what we used to have, rather than crowding themselves in only certain areas like now.

Being someone who has worked with children from disadvantaged backgrounds, my heart aches for these forsaken and forgotten children. Not only are they let down by their parents, they are also abandoned by our education system which is more interested in finding geniuses or top brains.

My heart often pains for the average students in neighbourhood schools who have not heard of RI and Hwa Chong, whose dream schools are average schools in their poor neighbourhoods. I rarely criticise something as 'unfair' but there are many times in my heart that I believe the T-score system is unfair to the students in neighbourhood schools.

The new scoring system is not fantastic for those bordering on the 'brilliant' category but it should help bridge the gap between the above-average and average students. I believe under the new scoring system, the divide between these two groups of students would not be as glaring as the cold, hard three-digit T-scores.

That said, it will not be a perfect system or even a fairer system. But I hope it is a better system.


Anonymous said...

hello Rain,

This is spring. Its been a long time but I have been following your blog faithfully.

I agree with you that the new system will not be a perfect system....but hopefully it reduces the ugliness and competition between the children.
Actually, its not just between the kids but also the parents. Don't you agree?

Whilst I think that a little bit of competition is healthy, I do not like the way our system has bred elitism and arrogance amongst some parents whose kids are supposedly scoring well. All kids learn in different ways and time and it doesn't mean that if they start off well they end off well and will be successful in life.

Success in life is not just academic results, wealth, money or status but developing confidence, resilience, independence, creativity and most importantly, good relationships everywhere you go.

Our hope our education system can place more focus on this going forward.

Rain said...

Hi Spring,

Yes, you're right. The parents are also part of the ugliness and competition. As my kids grow up, I have been thinking if all the competitiveness is worth it. We act like only those who go to top schools would go to the university which translates to a better life. Prior to the rise of elite schools, most students from good schools do go to the university and are successful in their own lives.
Sometimes I suspect we are the minority in the world, using money to measure success. But living in the environment as such compels us to live according to its standard.
Yes, I hope the new scoring system will bring some positive changes to the education landscape, even if it is a small step towards the change.