The Education Ministry’s decision to implement school-based assessment (SBA) at primary and lower-secondary levels is a wise move.
Two batches of students have already undergone the PT3 (Pentaksiran Tingkatan Tiga), formerly PMR (Penilaian Menengah Rendah), and the first batch of the newly introduced UPSR (Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah) will do so next year.
The bearing from the decisions made based on the examination results at these respective levels on students’ lives is relatively low (hence, low-stakes).
Given such a situation, the external accountability pressure on teachers will be lower. Utilising the assessment activities throughout these levels to promote learning in almost every subject is relatively easier.
Therefore, teachers may be able to assess students with the intent of diagnosing both their strengths and weaknesses, and therefore, bridging the gap between the desired and actual levels of learning.
The biggest decision made upon completion of the UPSR and PT3 is moving on to the lower secondary and upper secondary levels, respectively.
This is unlike the decisions made at the upper secondary and pre-university levels, which have serious bearing on students’ lives, such as awarding of Public Service Department scholarships and employment (hence, high-stakes).
When high-stakes are attached to a test, it affects almost all stakeholders (parents, teachers, etc.) in different ways, but they all have one goal in common: the test-taker’s performance.
A test-taker in his desperate attempt to achieve the best result, sadly, sometimes may resort to fraudulent means, such as hiding notes in their sleeves, or, in some cases, hiring ghostwriters to act as proxies in exam halls (mostly in higher learning institutions).
Parents who are overly-concerned about their children’s exam performance but unable to help with their learning process may make every effort to send them to private tuition classes, even if that burns a big hole in their pockets.
Those who can’t afford expensive monthly tuition fees may alternatively offer monetary rewards within their means if the performance is as expected.
How much the learning matters for both categories of parents is one big question which is perhaps best known to them.
As the performance of schools nationwide is evaluated based on students’ performance in public exams, teachers, along with school principals, may also resort to looking for ways and means to increase the number of students who can score straight As.
In such a scenario, reviewing the past years’ exam papers, teaching only the constructs, which are tested, and blatantly disregarding the non-tested ones are reportedly pervasive practices.
Can we then expect meaningful internalisation among our students? Considering these arguments, it is quite clear that the higher the level of education, the higher the stakes attached to the tests that come along.
Failing to perform in such tests inevitably leads to many undesirable consequences, such as being unable to graduate and a higher unemployment rate.
Therefore, it is a wise move on the ministry’s part to implement school-based assessment at the formative stages of education (primary and lower-secondary).
School-based assessments may serve to nip these deleterious effects in the bud in Malaysian schools. It is a growth- and process-oriented approach, in which a teacher who knows his students better than anyone else (external examiner) accumulatively assesses the growth and guides his students in attaining the learning outcomes by ensuring meaningful internalisation rather than rote memorisation.
This is unlike the former external examinations (UPSR and PMR), which were externally set and assessed by someone who does not know the students at all.
One particular group of students that stands to benefit significantly from such an assessment system is the socio-economically disadvantaged, and the shy and weak ones.
Considering the recent announcement of the PT3 exam results, where parents of successful students (straight As) were out in the newspapers, we can’t cease to wonder if the “examinations tail is still wagging the educational dog”.
The education minister has asserted that parents have now understood the SBA, but we wonder if they have really understood it, or whether they have what they wanted (straight As).
Primary and lower secondary levels of education are the formative stages, as it is at these levels that the teachers, along with parents, can mould many aspects of children’s lives, one of which is attitude.
It is, therefore, of utmost importance that we mould their attitude in not being too obsessed about the examination grades at these stages; as the Malay saying goes, “Melentur buluh biar lah dari rebungnya”. Alla Baksh Mohd Ayub Khan and Assoc Prof Dr Mohd Sallehhudin Abd Aziz, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, The NST Home News Opinion Letters You Write 30 December 2015 @ 11:01 AM