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Testing and supporting struggling students

The Education Ministry has come up with a test that assesses pupils with learning difficulties and helps them define their strengths and skills, to move on to the next level.

THE Year Six boy carefully counts the change and hands the money to his “customer” on the other side of the counter.

The “customer’ has bought some popiah from his “stall’ to have for her mid-morning break.

Just behind him is his teacher who observes the transaction. She takes note of the cash he has as the boy puts it away in the till.

The teacher’s presence at the “stall” is to grade her pupil for his basic counting ability and his interactive and conversational skills with his customer.

Her rating of the pupil is a requirement that has been outlined in the Pentaksiran Alternatif Sekolah Rendah (PASR).

Introduced in February, the PASR is an assessment to gauge pupils with learning disabilities who have between six and eight years of schooling. It is similar in concept to how mainstream Year Six pupils are gauged in the Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR).

The PASR objective is to assess pupils’ aptitude for numbers, their ability to interact with others and learn a skill.It also aims to measure the achievement and the development level of special needs pupils using an integrated assessment approach which encourages meaningful learning by using skills that can be applied in real life.

Prior to the PASR implementation, pupils with learning disabilities did not have any alternative to cater to their learning needs.

In fact, there has so far been no centralised assessment at all for special needs pupils.

While no single test or evaluation can capture a child’s full spectrum of strengths and challenges, an assessment like the PASR helps teachers gauge their pupils to some extent.

Examinations Syndicate Alternative Assessment Development Sector head Mohd Satar Ramli says the Education Ministry wanted a fair way to assess these pupils.

“We explored and studied the assessment instruments used in foreign countries and found that they had modified their mainstream syllabus to suit the pupils’ needs,” he adds.

Education Minister Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid (second from left) presents Khoo Jenny (second from right), a special needs student from SK Bukit Rahman Putra, Sungai Buloh, with her PASR certificate. — File photo
Education Minister Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid (second from left) presents Khoo Jenny (second from right), a special needs student from SK Bukit Rahman Putra, Sungai Buloh, with her PASR certificate. — File photo

“We didn’t want to modify the national syllabus for special needs pupils just for the sake of doing so,” he adds, saying that the ministry wants to make sure the assessment report has a purpose in helping and defining the pupil’s development to the next level.

He says the ministry is taking a “gentle approach’’ as the children are sensitive.

In 2016, 2,550 pupils from 738 schools took the PASR.

One of the ways the ministry is using a gentle approach for this assessment is to do away with grades.

Instead, candidates are given a competency level ranking.

“They are either “not competent”, “competent” and “more than competent”.

Under the PASR, there is no “fail” or “distinction”.

“We are not judging them by grades, neither are we trying to sugar-coat and give false impressions,” he adds.

“This is what we call an authentic assessment.”

“The ministry believes that if a candidate is rated “not competent” in a skill, but continues to be taught and guided, he can become competent in that skill.

“We also do not want to draw comparisons among candidates as this will cause competition and that is not what the PASR is about,” he points out.

A comprehensive report is also given at the end of the assessment.

The PASR provides a holistic and comprehensive overview of what a child has picked up in primary school, says Mohd Satar.
The PASR provides a holistic and comprehensive overview of what a child has picked up in primary school, says Mohd Satar.

Mohd Satar says that the candidates will receive a physical activity, sports and co-curricular assessment, and psychometric assessment reports as well.

Those who sit for the PASR must be from national, national-type and schools with special needs classes and integrated schools that are following the Primary School Standard Curriculum (KSSR) Special Education also known by its Malay acronym KSSRPK.

Only children who have completed the KSSRPK Level 2 can sit for the assessment.

Examinations Syndicate Alternative Assessment Development Sector assistant director Ku Azman Tuan Mat says candidates must also be in their final year of primary school, and since they have learning disabilities, they are allowed to take the exam between the ages of 12 and 14.

Assessment instruments

Mohd Satar says that the only thing “centralised” in the PASR is the assessment instrument and the scoring rubric used.

The PASR consists of two integrated assessment instruments carried out at the school level, better known as school-based assessments.

Pupils are given eight weeks to complete the instruments known as Special Project (ProKhas) 1 and four weeks to complete ProKhas 2.

ProKhas 1 consists of Bahasa Melayu, Mathematics and Life Skills carried out for eight weeks throughout July and August.

All the subjects are integrated and assessed concurrently through an activity.

Life Skills can be divided into four areas – farming (perkebunan), cooking (masakan), animal husbandry (penternakan) and sewing (jahitan).

For this year, the cooking assessment was based on making, marketing and selling popiah, and it was held in conjunction with Entrepreneur’s Day at the schools.

It is kept very flexible for these pupils as the teacher has a choice of assessing all four life skills or choosing only the best score.

“It all depends on the candidate’s capabilities,” he says, adding that the life skill taught to the child would also depend on the facilities available in the school.

He adds that it does not matter how much popiah they sell but rather, whether they can communicate effectively, measure the ingredients correctly, follow the recipe taught to them and count the change meant to be given to their customers.

“What we want to measure is how they fare - whether they can read, write, speak and count correctly, as well as the knowledge, skills and values demonstrated in the 20 constructs in a holistic and integrated assessment,” he adds.

“They need to talk to their customers, they need to design a poster with words to promote their product — these are ways we assess their Bahasa Melayu skills.”

“For PASR, we assess them based on the skills they learnt in class,” says Mohd Satar, adding that they cannot be tested based on the theories or cognitive-based questions that mainstream students experience.

ProKhas 2 was carried out for four weeks in September and blended the Social Science and Environment Education, and English Language subjects together.

“The assessment happens during the teaching and learning time in school,” he says.

The long time span, he says, also allows the PASR candidate an “opportunity” to increase their capabilities.

“We will take their higher competency (rating),” Mohd Satar adds.

He says this is crucial as what they aim to do through PASR is to give an accurate view of a pupil’s capabilities and what they have picked up in primary school.

“Realistically, in the real world there are those with special needs that will still need help even after they have finished schooling.”

Another benefit for the pupils when it is conducted during the teaching and learning periods is that teachers are able to help these special needs children, who may not be able to grasp concepts easily or have forgotten them.

“It keeps them motivated to go on and helps prevent the child from becoming frustrated although they might be given a “not competent” in their assessment,” he adds.

Just because it is school-based does not mean the Education Ministry is not keeping an eye on the PASR though.

“The ministry still conducts quality control through mentoring, monitoring, detecting hiccups and coordination efforts,” he says.

The assessment instruments, scoring guide, assessment rules and guidelines are given by the Examinations Syndicate.

“We have a specific scoring rubric that the teachers must use when assessing the pupils.” he points out, adding that they trust the teachers to score the candidates fairly.

Feedback from all those involved has been pretty much positive.

Although there were only six months to train the teachers, most of them have said that the training was comprehensive enough for them to understand how to conduct the assessment, adds Mohd Satar.

This is based on a survey conducted by the Examinations Syndicate.

“On the ground, the teachers and students have enjoyed the cooking assessment with mainstream students coming to the stalls set up and buying the popiah,” he says.

“The pupils have even asked the teachers if there are any more assessments like this once PASR was over.

“Pupils normally do not like tests and assessments but the PASR has them asking for more,” Mohd Satar happily adds.

He says this is because the children get to experience what is being taught in class, and this is exciting for them.

Mohd Satar says the PASR rankings can be used by the secondary school teacher and parents to determine how much help or independence should be given to the child when they enter Form One.

He reiterates that special needs education needs to be tailored to the individual child as each of them have varying degrees of learning disorders.

“They may need remedial lessons or enrichment if they are more advanced.”

As for plans for the future, Mohd Satar says: “We are now preparing for PASM which is for those who have completed their lower secondary education. It will be the secondary school equivalent of PASR.

“Nothing is confirmed yet but we have plans to have the PASM at the same time as PT3 (Form Three Assessment) which will also be a school-based assessment.”



The PASR objective is to assess pupils’ aptitude for numbers, their ability to interact with others and learn a skill.It also aims to measure the achievement and the development level of special needs pupils using an integrated assessment approach which encourages meaningful learning by using skills that can be applied in real life.

Prior to the PASR implementation, pupils with learning disabilities did not have any alternative to cater to their learning needs.

In fact, there has so far been no centralised assessment at all for special needs pupils.

While no single test or evaluation can capture a child’s full spectrum of strengths and challenges, an assessment like the PASR helps teachers gauge their pupils to some extent.

Examinations Syndicate Alternative Assessment Development Sector head Mohd Satar Ramli says the Education Ministry wanted a fair way to assess these pupils.

“We explored and studied the assessment instruments used in foreign countries and found that they had modified their mainstream syllabus to suit the pupils’ needs,” he adds.

Education Minister Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid (second from left) presents Khoo Jenny (second from right), a special needs student from SK Bukit Rahman Putra, Sungai Buloh, with her PASR certificate. — File photo
Education Minister Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid (second from left) presents Khoo Jenny (second from right), a special needs student from SK Bukit Rahman Putra, Sungai Buloh, with her PASR certificate. — File photo

“We didn’t want to modify the national syllabus for special needs pupils just for the sake of doing so,” he adds, saying that the ministry wants to make sure the assessment report has a purpose in helping and defining the pupil’s development to the next level.

He says the ministry is taking a “gentle approach’’ as the children are sensitive.

In 2016, 2,550 pupils from 738 schools took the PASR.

One of the ways the ministry is using a gentle approach for this assessment is to do away with grades.

Instead, candidates are given a competency level ranking.

“They are either “not competent”, “competent” and “more than competent”.

Under the PASR, there is no “fail” or “distinction”.

“We are not judging them by grades, neither are we trying to sugar-coat and give false impressions,” he adds.

“This is what we call an authentic assessment.”

“The ministry believes that if a candidate is rated “not competent” in a skill, but continues to be taught and guided, he can become competent in that skill.

“We also do not want to draw comparisons among candidates as this will cause competition and that is not what the PASR is about,” he points out.

A comprehensive report is also given at the end of the assessment.

The PASR provides a holistic and comprehensive overview of what a child has picked up in primary school, says Mohd Satar.
The PASR provides a holistic and comprehensive overview of what a child has picked up in primary school, says Mohd Satar.

Mohd Satar says that the candidates will receive a physical activity, sports and co-curricular assessment, and psychometric assessment reports as well.

Those who sit for the PASR must be from national, national-type and schools with special needs classes and integrated schools that are following the Primary School Standard Curriculum (KSSR) Special Education also known by its Malay acronym KSSRPK.

Only children who have completed the KSSRPK Level 2 can sit for the assessment.

Examinations Syndicate Alternative Assessment Development Sector assistant director Ku Azman Tuan Mat says candidates must also be in their final year of primary school, and since they have learning disabilities, they are allowed to take the exam between the ages of 12 and 14.

Assessment instruments

Mohd Satar says that the only thing “centralised” in the PASR is the assessment instrument and the scoring rubric used.

The PASR consists of two integrated assessment instruments carried out at the school level, better known as school-based assessments.

Pupils are given eight weeks to complete the instruments known as Special Project (ProKhas) 1 and four weeks to complete ProKhas 2.

ProKhas 1 consists of Bahasa Melayu, Mathematics and Life Skills carried out for eight weeks throughout July and August.

All the subjects are integrated and assessed concurrently through an activity.

Life Skills can be divided into four areas – farming (perkebunan), cooking (masakan), animal husbandry (penternakan) and sewing (jahitan).

For this year, the cooking assessment was based on making, marketing and selling popiah, and it was held in conjunction with Entrepreneur’s Day at the schools.

It is kept very flexible for these pupils as the teacher has a choice of assessing all four life skills or choosing only the best score.

“It all depends on the candidate’s capabilities,” he says, adding that the life skill taught to the child would also depend on the facilities available in the school.

He adds that it does not matter how much popiah they sell but rather, whether they can communicate effectively, measure the ingredients correctly, follow the recipe taught to them and count the change meant to be given to their customers.

“What we want to measure is how they fare - whether they can read, write, speak and count correctly, as well as the knowledge, skills and values demonstrated in the 20 constructs in a holistic and integrated assessment,” he adds.

“They need to talk to their customers, they need to design a poster with words to promote their product — these are ways we assess their Bahasa Melayu skills.”

“For PASR, we assess them based on the skills they learnt in class,” says Mohd Satar, adding that they cannot be tested based on the theories or cognitive-based questions that mainstream students experience.

ProKhas 2 was carried out for four weeks in September and blended the Social Science and Environment Education, and English Language subjects together.

“The assessment happens during the teaching and learning time in school,” he says.

The long time span, he says, also allows the PASR candidate an “opportunity” to increase their capabilities.

“We will take their higher competency (rating),” Mohd Satar adds.

He says this is crucial as what they aim to do through PASR is to give an accurate view of a pupil’s capabilities and what they have picked up in primary school.

“Realistically, in the real world there are those with special needs that will still need help even after they have finished schooling.”

Another benefit for the pupils when it is conducted during the teaching and learning periods is that teachers are able to help these special needs children, who may not be able to grasp concepts easily or have forgotten them.

“It keeps them motivated to go on and helps prevent the child from becoming frustrated although they might be given a “not competent” in their assessment,” he adds.

Just because it is school-based does not mean the Education Ministry is not keeping an eye on the PASR though.

“The ministry still conducts quality control through mentoring, monitoring, detecting hiccups and coordination efforts,” he says.

The assessment instruments, scoring guide, assessment rules and guidelines are given by the Examinations Syndicate.

“We have a specific scoring rubric that the teachers must use when assessing the pupils.” he points out, adding that they trust the teachers to score the candidates fairly.

Feedback from all those involved has been pretty much positive.

Although there were only six months to train the teachers, most of them have said that the training was comprehensive enough for them to understand how to conduct the assessment, adds Mohd Satar.

This is based on a survey conducted by the Examinations Syndicate.

“On the ground, the teachers and students have enjoyed the cooking assessment with mainstream students coming to the stalls set up and buying the popiah,” he says.

“The pupils have even asked the teachers if there are any more assessments like this once PASR was over.

“Pupils normally do not like tests and assessments but the PASR has them asking for more,” Mohd Satar happily adds.

He says this is because the children get to experience what is being taught in class, and this is exciting for them.

Mohd Satar says the PASR rankings can be used by the secondary school teacher and parents to determine how much help or independence should be given to the child when they enter Form One.

He reiterates that special needs education needs to be tailored to the individual child as each of them have varying degrees of learning disorders.

“They may need remedial lessons or enrichment if they are more advanced.”

As for plans for the future, Mohd Satar says: “We are now preparing for PASM which is for those who have completed their lower secondary education. It will be the secondary school equivalent of PASR.

“Nothing is confirmed yet but we have plans to have the PASM at the same time as PT3 (Form Three Assessment) which will also be a school-based assessment.”

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