While the new Form Three assessment has drawn criticism, the move aims to gauge students more holistically and equip them with critical thinking skills.
ALTHOUGH the results of the first Pentaksiran Tingkatan 3 (PT3) last Monday were expected to be momentous, many did not anticipate just how dramatic it would be.
The PT3, which replaced the Penilaian Menengah Rendah (PMR) initially saw many students up in arms over what they felt were unsatisfactory results.
This was somewhat mitigated by subsequent clarifications from teachers and ministry officials, saying that comparing the PT3 to the PMR was trying to draw similarities between apples and oranges.
Queens of KGV: Cheng Yu Xuan, P.Yaashiene, Nurliyana Syamini Azlinor, G. Dharini, Voon Yong Shing and S. Preyanka (clockwise) were all top scorers at SMK King George V, Seremban. -- foto BERNAMA (2014) HAKCIPTA TERPELIHARA
While there was talk of doing away with the PMR as early as 2005, it was only in 2010 that Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced that the PMR will be abolished in favour of school-based assessments.
Muhyiddin, who is also the Education Minister, said then that some 550 schools had been carrying out such assessments as part of a pilot project since 2008.
The school-based assessment system (Pentaksiran Berasaskan Sekolah or PBS) was introduced to assess students more holistically, and lessen the excessive focus on examinations.
It was rolled out in primary schools for Year One pupils in 2011, and for Form One students in secondary schools in 2012.
Under the PBS, students are continuously assessed and graded from Band 1 (the ability to recall information) to Band 6 (the ability to have higher order thinking skills and knowledge).
Aside from academic assessments, students are also gauged on sports and co-curricular participation and undergo psychometric tests to better identify their interests.
The immediate source of frustration for teachers was the online system used to record students’ grades and “learning outcomes”, which often froze up and delayed the data entry process.
Additionally, while the ministry-issued Standard Performance Document outlined detailed ways to track students’ academic performance, the recording of the various “descriptors and evidence” for classrooms of 30-odd students for every lesson was too much for teachers to bear.
The Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013 – 2025 captured some of this early feedback, saying that teachers had “yet to fully grasp the magnitude of the change”.
“Some teachers and schools are also struggling to develop their own assessment tasks and instruments for the school assessment component,” said the blueprint, adding that the ministry was strengthening its training modules to tackle the issue.
Meanwhile, parents continued voicing their doubts over the PBS, as they felt that the system was unclear and lacked sufficient transparency.
Some, particularly those who were uneasy over the abolishment of the PMR, complained that their children would become “lazy” since they no longer had to “study for a major examination”.
However, from the start of the PBS, the ministry has maintained that there will be some form of centralised assessments.
Although the Examinations Syndicate would set the format and time frame of the centralised assessments, schools would be in charge of executing and marking – this process in turn would be monitored by external appraisers appointed by the ministry.
Although this overall plan stayed the same, the concrete details appeared to shift.
The PBS operational guidelines published by the Examinations Syndicate in 2012 for instance, stated that centralised assessments were scheduled to take place at the Form Two level itself.
However, the syndicate’s circular dated Dec 16 last year clarified that only Form Three students would face centralised assessments, and outlined which subjects would have written, oral and coursework assessments.
Following public feedback, the ministry in February informed schools that the PBS would be temporarily halted to iron out kinks in the system.
In March, Muhyiddin held a special press conference to announce that a revamped PBS will be rolled out from April 1 onwards, as well as details of the PT3.
The rebooted PBS simplified the process for day-to-day student assessments, and allowed teachers more autonomy in tracking their students’ progress.
While teachers still used the national curriculum and ministry guidelines, they could monitor students’ learning development based on their own observation and evaluation methods.
Teachers could also record this data “offline”, and share these records with parents.
In mid-June, the official PT3 schedule was announced: “case study instrument assessments” (or coursework) for History and Geography would be carried out in July, oral tests for Bahasa Melayu and English in August, and written tests in October.
Although the ministry had earlier carried out briefings and training sessions on the PT3 format, some students and teachers said that they only had a vague idea of how the test papers and questions would look like.
Even after the results were released last week, students still lamented the fact that their schools’ trial papers “didn’t at all look like the real tests”.
A reason for this is said to be the inclusion of more questions which tested students’ “higher order thinking skills” – questions meant to challenge students in applying the knowledge they have, instead of merely regurgitating information.
Unlike the PMR, there were no multiple choice questions in all the PT3 papers.
With thousands of students scoring straight As over the years, the sudden drop in As for the PT3 was a sore point for some parents.
Unlike previous years, the ministry did not issue a statement on the overall performance of students; ministry sources declined to comment, and only said that they no longer “compiled nor analysed” the scores of Form 3 students nationwide.
One ministry official speculated that the reason for lack of public comment may be part of the ministry’s move to shift the discussion away from the number of top scorers.
“Every year, for every public examination, all reporters want to know is which school scored the most As, how many scored straight As, and so on,” said the official.
While the PMR, like other public examinations, afforded grades based on the general performance of students, the PT3 has fixed cut-off scores for grades.
Thus, students would have to score 80 marks and above on paper to obtain an A.
A senior Mathematics teacher said that this was a “long-needed” move to have “a consistent grading system”.
“You’ll see a student getting Bs and Cs on school tests suddenly scoring an A in public exams; from there you can roughly guess the standard of grades in a given year,” said the teacher.
The Malaysia Education Blueprint probes further into this point, by comparing local examinations to international tests such as the Trends In Mathematics and Science Survey (TIMSS).
The TIMSS 2011 tested a representative sample of Grade 8 (or Form Two) students in 2010 – these same students then sat for the PMR in 2011.
The blueprint summarised that up to 38% of Malaysian students in the TIMSS 2011 did not meet the minimum standards for Mathematics and Science, noting that these students understood “basic Mathematics and Science concepts but generally struggled to apply this knowledge.”
While only 2% of Malaysian students achieved “advanced levels” in the TIMSS 2011, 32% of the same group of students received an A grade in the PMR 2011.
While teachers marked their own students papers in the PT3, these scores were looked over again by external invigilators (or Pentaksir Kawasan).
Some teachers pointed out that these examiners should also be held responsible if there were any jarring anomalies in the results.
“The process was very strict in my school – when the external invigilators looked over our marking, they told us that even a single discrepancy on one paper would mean we’d have to mark the entire pile again.
“If there’s a suddenly a spike in As in a particular district or area, those responsible for overseeing the schools should be queried,” said a teacher.
At the end of the day, the ministry will have to decide on how to move forward with the asssement.
In a statement on Wednesday, Education director-general Datuk Dr Khair Mohamad Yusof said the ministry appreciated public feedback on the matter and will continue to improve the system.
“The decision to replace the PMR with PT3 was made after gathering feedback from a wide spectrum of the public, who all wanted an education system that was not too focused on examinations.
“Instead, our country must produce quality students who have the ability to think critically, creatively, and out-of-the-box,” he said.