Wednesday, 23 March 2016

On Tests and their Purposes

A new term begins and so do our tingxie drills. This whole afternoon was spent on writing Chinese words and remembering their strokes. I thought of some ways to make the learning of Chinese more interesting for J, but I have not implemented them as we are still fighting fire. I hope to have some time soon to carry out my plans.

Anyway, J received his test scores for last term. He did well for math and science, in my opinion. For math, he had three marks deducted from a total of fifty for two calculation mistakes. Since the errors arose from carelessness, I deduce that he had more or less mastered the curriculum for term one. He scored half a mark higher for Science, and I congratulated him on getting that mark since it was his very first test in that subject.

I felt J could have done better in the languages. For English, he needs to improve in vocabulary and comprehension (as well as remember to write a full stop after every sentence!). As for Chinese, he also needs to work on the same categories, albeit the need is much more dire for the latter language.

Tests are useful in that sense. They help teachers, parents and students know the strengths and weaknesses of the students and help students gauge how much of the curriculum they have mastered.

It is unfortunate when test scores are used for ranking students. That may get people fixated on marks and miss learning from their mistakes. Also, some parents may berate their children for making careless mistakes and scoring 47/50 instead of rejoicing that their children had shown competence in the subject. For that matter, careless mistakes are made even by adults (I recently received a request for "conslutation" from an adult). I think we should cut the children some slack when they make them.

I am eagerly waiting announcement on how the scoring for PSLE would change. I hope the grades would reflect how much of the curriculum a student has mastered rather than his standing among his cohort.

For the past years, the percentage of students scoring A and A* for English, math and science at the PSLE has been kept at around 45%. That makes one think that more than half each cohort scored less than 75% of the highest possible mark, if A really refers to a raw score of 75 to 90 marks as students have been told. That is not necessarily true. The PSLE grades are norm referenced, so if one scores an A, it just means he is in the 10th to 45th percentile of the cohort. Thus, even when the papers were superbly difficult, the percentage of A and A* was still about 45%. For Chinese Language, about 80% of each cohort score A and A*. There were parents who were elated when their children scored A for Chinese despite never ever getting good scores in school. Well, if they received an A grade for Chinese, it could still mean that 70% of the cohort performed better than they. Such a system may force exams to be pitched at increasing difficulty with the years. I feel that as long as children meet a set of fixed curriculum standards, that should be sufficient for them to progress to the next level. Tests at the primary levels should be criterion referenced rather than norm referenced, in my opinion.

I think this blog post is rather disjointed and I am still hoping for a breakthrough in education, where students really pursue knowledge out of interest and not just to prepare for tests. While I am thinking these thoughts, my dear husband looks at an email sent by J's school, sighs loudly and laments that in six weeks' time, J's semestral assessments would begin. May God's strength be upon J as he embarks on another term of learning.

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