PSLE changes from 2021 and what they mean for you

PSLE, from 2021, will never be the same again. Here are some of the key changes and implications of each.

stress from test scores

1. Byebye T-score, Hello Achievement Levels.

T-scores which benchmarks each student against the performance of their peers will make way for a broader 8-band system called Achievement Levels. The ALs uses students’ actual scores (not adjusted score based on bellcurve as in the case of T-scores). The new bands will look like this: AL1 (90-100), AL2 (85-89), AL3 (80-84), AL4 (75-79), AL5 (65-74), AL6 (45-64), AL7 (20-44), AL8 (less than 20).

The best PSLE score is 4, and the worst, 32. The current streaming system will remain intact and students scoring 20 points and below will qualify for the Express stream.

Pros:

– This move helps to reduce the fine differentiation of scores among students, and cut down unnecessary competition, giving kids more space to focus on their own mastery and understanding of subjects.

Cons:

– Instead of chasing the elusive mark for a grander T-score, students now need to make sure that they do well in every subject in order to avoid having the total score pulled down by one weak subject. This, to me, will breed fear among parents whose child may be weaker in one or two subjects.

2. Your Order of Choice Matters.

In the existing system, the T-score aggregate is the first deciding factor for posting. The order in which you list your preferred 6 choices of schools is not considered. So if there are 2 students with the same T-score vying for the same spot, it falls on tie-breakers like citizenship and computerised balloting to decide who gets into the school.

In the new system, your order of choice matters. While the AL score will remain the first criterion, the order in which you list the school will come into play. So someone else with the same PSLE score who placed the school higher on his list of choices will get his preferred choice. The next tie-breaking factor is computerised balloting, which is also in the existing system. You may find it reassuring to know it is anticipated that balloting will only affect a small percentage of students.

Pros:

– The new system forces us to weigh our choices carefully. To be honest, I was surprised to know that the present system doesn’t take choice order into consideration as I think back in the 90s, this wasn’t the case. Anyway from 2021, kids and parents will have to select their first choice carefully, based on the actual PSLE score attained, the secondary school’s cut-off points, and other factors such as whether the school’s interest areas matches those of your child’s.

In order to facilitate parents and students’ decision-making, MOE has said that it will provide indicative cut-off points and information on each school’s focus and niche programmes.

Cons:

– None that I can think of right now

But seriously, what are the implications of these changes?

1. Stressful days are here to stay.

I think the changes are in the right direction and were made with the intention of getting everyone to stop chasing the elusive mark, focus on actual learning and understanding, and finding the school that offers the right fit and programmes for our kids.

That said, I don’t think the stress is going to let up anytime soon as it’s still about aiming for the top band (or the best band according to your child’s ability), and fitting our kids into the best possible schools out there.

2. Focus on building weak subjects.

As I mentioned above, children will have to shift their focus from aiming for full marks on their best subjects to strengthening their weaker ones. For most kids these days, the weakest link could be Chinese. (I also have similar concerns for my kids, and our philosophy is to avoid tuition classes for as long as we can help it. For now, we’re pulling up our socks and trying to speak Mandarin more at home. But I can’t deny that the thought of having a Chinese-less grading system is a pretty tempting one.)

3. Looking beyond grades.

On the surface, it looks like nothing much has changed. Different point system, but still the same stress. But I think (hope?) that the Ministry is actually laying the groundwork for further changes. For one, getting parents to assess their child holistically and to consider their strengths and interests in different areas will help to broaden the current narrow thinking that only certain schools are “good” and worth pursuing. It also helps us to go beyond grades, to view our child as a unique individual with special talents, and focus on building them up as self-motivated and passionate lifelong learners.

But here’s the missing link…A growth mindset.

In order for real change to occur, parents, kids, and schools need to adopt a growth mindset. A growth mindset that says:

“I can get better at this if I keep trying.”

“I am not defined by my failures. They are stepping stones to success.”

“It doesn’t matter that I didn’t get into my first choice of school. There are still skills and interests I can develop here.”

Versus a fixed mindset that says “I am a total failure because I failed this paper.” Or “I’ll never be good at this.”

Mindsets do not change overnight. (I know because I’ve been working on my own for the past few years.) I think in the long run, less emphasis needs to be placed on the PSLE exam altogether, as it DOES NOT define or limit a 12 year old child). Not trying to make light of a major exam here, but really…it’s just one exam in a lifetime of many many more exams, tests and challenges.

Emphasising a growth mindset will enable parents and children to see that it is a  journey and it doesn’t matter so much where you begin, but where you end, and the process of learning and growth that you take to get there.

It will also help our kids develop resilience and grit. Isn’t that much more valuable than a single test score, especially in this information and tech era where mistakes/failure are prerequisites for innovation?

What we do and say as parents can empower a child to grow and thrive and develop a growth mindset.

– Do we allow them to make mistakes?

– Do we emphasise the lessons and experience that can be found in them?

– Do we help them view challenges with a positive spirit?

– Do we acknowledge their effort?

– Do we speak the language and understand the power of YET?

In the same vein, the Singapore school system isn’t perfect, but one that is still evolving and growing with the times. The choices that we make today will have an impact on future generations, so choose, applaud and criticise wisely.

These are just my initial thoughts about the new PSLE system. What are your thoughts/feelings about it?

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