SINGAPORE: Primary 5 students next year will be the first cohort to receive their exam results based on the new Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) scoring system that will be implemented from 2021, the Ministry of Education (MOE) said on Thursday (Jul 25).

They will be graded based on an Achievement Level (AL) score ranging from 1 to 8, with 1 being the best score and 8 the lowest.

In the following years, all P5 and P6 students will receive their results in that format, moving away from the T-score system which will be scrapped in 2021. 

This change will not affect students from Primary 1 to 4 who will continue to receive progress reports.

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The AL system will result in 29 possible scores, as opposed to the current T-score system, which has about 200 variations, according to MOE.

This aims to reduce fine differentiation at a young age and recognise the students’ level of achievement regardless of how their peers have done, it added.

At the PSLE,  students’ AL score for each of the four subjects – English, mother tongue language, mathematics and science – will be added up to form a total score of between 4 and 32, which will decide which secondary school they will be posted to.

The lower the score, the better.

A PSLE score of 20 or better will qualify students for the Express stream in secondary school. 

READ: Current approach to streaming in secondary schools to be phased out by 2024

SECONDARY SCHOOL CUT-OFF POINTS

Information on indicative AL cut-off points for the various secondary schools will be announced in the first half of 2021, MOE said.

These will be based on the 2020 PSLE results and choices made by that year’s cohort, it added.

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The order of school choices will also become more important from 2021 as it will be used as a tie-breaker when two students with the same score vie for a spot in a school. Currently, places in school are allotted based on results, citizenship and computerised balloting.

“Students and parents may choose schools based on a consideration of factors such as the distinctive programmes offered by the school, the school’s ethos and culture, or home-school distance,” an MOE spokesperson said. 

FOUNDATION LEVEL SCORES

The ministry also unveiled details on how pupils who take subjects at the foundation level will be scored. They will be graded AL A (75 to 100), B (30 to 74) and C (below 30). These will be converted into the standard level subject equivalent scores of AL 6, 7 and 8 respectively for the purpose of working out their total PSLE score for Secondary 1 posting. 

“The pegging reflects the fact that the curriculum of a foundation level subject is a subset of the standard level subject, and the assessment load at the foundation level is less demanding when compared against the standard level,” MOE said. 

PSLE results day at Bendemeer Primary School

Students at Bendemeer Primary School after collecting their PSLE results. (Photo: MCI)

Foundation level English, science, mathematics and mother tongue language were introduced in 2008 to Primary 5 students as part of subject-based banding. MOE said that about 10 per cent of students from each cohort take one or more subjects at foundation level, which allows them to study at a pace suited to them. 

A student can qualify for the respective academic courses in secondary school as long as his or her overall PSLE score meets the placement criteria, regardless of the mix of standard and foundation subjects offered, the ministry said.

SCORES FOR HIGHER MOTHER TONGUE ELIGIBILITY

MOE also said that those who score 8 and better in the PSLE will be eligible to take higher mother tongue in secondary school, while those who score 9 to 14 will be able to do so if they do well for mother tongue or higher mother tongue in the PSLE. 

Schools can also offer higher mother tongue to students at their own discretion. 

Students taking higher Chinese will no longer gain bonus points for entry into a Special Assistance Plan school but will continue to have an advantage over those who do not take it. 

MOE said that it hopes that the reforms in education – including the phasing out of streaming in secondary schools – taken together will “lower the temperature” when it comes to concern over which stream or level a student goes to in secondary school. Going to a lower one is “not the end of the world”, it added. 

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Director-general of education Wong Siew Hoong said: “This new PSLE scoring system is part of a broader shift that the system needs to make to reduce the over-emphasis on examination results, examination grades, so that we can make space for the students to be developed more holistically.”

REFINEMENTS WILL BRING ABOUT POSITIVE CHANGE

Radin Mas Primary School principal Muhammad Farizal Umar Effe said that the changes show that the intention is to “blunt” the focus on PSLE results and broaden the definition of success.

“PSLE is just a snapshot of the child’s abilities at that moment of their life and we recognise that child will grow and develop at different pace and will continue as a system to focus more on the holistic growth of a child to prepare them not only for the examinations but for life as a whole,” he said.

Still, examinations have their place in the system, Mr Farizal said. “We must recognise the role and the value of the examinations as a useful checkpoint to guide the child in the next phase, especially at PSLE,” he added. That said, there have been “several refinements” to reduce the assessment load by removing examinations at several levels, he added. While any examination will lead to “inherent pressure”, making it manageable for students is key, he said.  

“The new system will reduce fine differentiation with its wider bands, and recognise students abilities and performance without the reference or comparison to peers and this will lead to students feeling less pressure as the student can focus on their own learning outcomes,” Mr Farizal said.

National University of Singapore (NUS) sociologist Associate Professor Tan Ern Ser also said that the refinements will bring about positive changes.

“They will reduce unnecessary competition and stress among students going through the education system, enhance their learning experience, equip them to be more future-ready, and engender a more equal society characterised by multiple pathways to success,” he said. 

Dr Kelvin Seah, lecturer in NUS’ Department of Economics said the changes to the education system, including PSLE scoring, may even have wider repercussions.

“In doing this, it is sending a signal to employers that academic grades should not be the be-all and end-all and that they should broaden the way hiring and promotion decisions are made so as to recognise other strengths and talents,” he said.