School-Based Assessment: Unresolved issues must be addressed
EXAMINATIONS and assessments are part and parcel of learning and teaching. If they are well designed and purposeful, the scores should "speak" to the teachers of the educational progress of a student.
Public examinations have their objectives and usefulness. Of far greater importance are assessments of, and for learning at school level. They can be likened to taking the pulse of the child's cognitive progress and competencies throughout the educational process.
Formal and informal assessments at school level (penilaian berasaskan sekolah) are not new to teachers but they have become a component of the total evaluation of student learning at Form Three and Form Five. Now that results from school-based assessments are to be added to one-off public examinations scores, a number of unresolved issues and concerns have been raised.
FIRSTLY, there is doubt as to the extent teachers across the country set questions that are of similar knowledge and competency levels.
It is not whether the question design is objective or subjective. It is about levels of questions that have been agreed as the national standards to evaluate, and describe various achievement levels for every Year at primary, and Form at secondary level. This is to ensure that an A score in school-based assessments in any school across Malaysia describes a near similar knowledge and competency level, and students evaluated against a nationally agreed achievement matrix.
When school-based assessment scores are combined with public examination results, the two scores should reflect a student's capability as accurately as possible, as against national standards.
Therefore, to what extent have these competencies and questions designed to evaluate, for example, high order thinking skills, been rigorously tested and standardised, and made available for teacher reference and use?
SECONDLY, teachers in groups continue to attend sessions to up-skill their knowledge and competencies in dealing with the design and scoring of school-based assessments. The sessions should be useful if they include understanding of a nationally agreed evaluation matrix and the different types of test design to evaluate all levels of thinking skills. Of what proportion in every school assessment should there be high order or low level thinking questions?
The purpose of school-based assessments now has a new and critical dimension, impacting on the credibility and validity of results of public national examinations.
How are teachers, supported by state and district level administrative structures, not only enable the smooth transition of this policy change but also the reliability and validity of the school-based assessment scores?
THIRDLY, teachers now find themselves spending more time with the task of uploading the required school-based assessment scores to the central agency. It is reported that high traffic within the critical reporting period has caused the information technology system at the central agency to be slow, crash, or shut down periodically.
The instability of the IT system meant teachers work all hours to upload the scores. If not completed, teachers may find themselves further burdened with having to upload this year's scores, next year, teach new classes, with several sets of new scores to be uploaded. Has the system for reporting school-based assessment scores overwhelmed the teachers and distracted them from their core teaching duties?
The policy change was made to enable teachers to increase their instructional role with emphasis on continuous monitoring of each child's educational progress through school-based assessments of learning. It is both a safety net to ensure that no child is left behind in the learning process, as well as a reminder that school is about education and not a factory churning out A scores.
The international benchmarks are important signposts for the direction in which Malaysia should prepare young Malaysians for the future to enable our country to stay ahead of the rest of the pack. But the unresolved issues must be addressed now to maintain the credibility of the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia locally and internationally.
Datuk Dr Siti Zaleha Abdullah Sani New Straits Times Opinion Columnist 10/12/2013