• Hazlina Aziz, NST

Revamping exam-oriented system

THE country’s examination system is undergoing a radical transformation as we witnessed the recent announcements of Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR) results followed by Pentaksiran Tingkatan Tiga (PT3) results last week.

For many years, exam results has become an event in its own right in this country. With social media frenzy and the news taking the space on the front page of most newspapers, everything has become public. There is no such thing as private grief for those who did not score.

How can we forget the devastation caused by the poor UPSR nationwide results last year? It was as if national disaster had struck the country when newspapers front-paged pictures of students crying because they did badly in the exams.

The change now is timely although for some it will take time getting used to. We have been too fixated on scores and preparing for the exams that teachers spend too much time preparing material that will appear during the exams. We need to change this “mindset” of what is expected from exam results.

This year, everyone was more prepared for the results. Year Six pupils and their parents received an earlier warning to brace themselves for something different when they picked up their UPSR results.

What are the changes? First, the Primary School Assessment Report (PSSR) as it is termed, consists three other components along with the academic component. The other components were sports, physical and curriculum activities assessment; classroom assessment and psychometric assessment. Each student received four reports in total that evaluate their total development including physical, emotional and spiritual aspects.

This also leads to a change in getting a place in a boarding school (SBP) which in the past, only considered those with straight As. Starting this year, application for SBP is open to all and the candidates will be chosen based on the entrance exam that they have to sit. Aspects like general knowledge, emotional intelligence, intellect, spirituality aspects and social skills will determine their placement.

Finally, there are no mention of best schools, or states with the most straight A scorers on the announcement day. There are also no statistics to compare rural and urban schools or school-to-school. Data comparison shared this year were on the minimum standard achievement for this year’s batch and number of straight As students at the national level.

The first step in reforming our exam-oriented education system began in 2014 when the Education Ministry replaced the Penilaian Menengah Rendah (PMR) with PT3. It has the same scope as PMR except it is not a centralised system. Schools prepare their own examination questions. The Malaysian Examination Board and state education department are the moderator to ensure validity and reliability scores of the candidates.

The exam results for both UPSR and PT3 now encourage parents and students to celebrate achievements outside as well as within the academic realm. At the same time, the results are to provide information on students’ progress and proficiency to parents and teachers as feedback to improve teaching and learning.

However, parents are still unsure with the other information included in the results. They are still holding tight to the number of As from the examination.

PT3’s psychometric assessment for instance, also included the Holland Occupational Themes (RIASEC) --a theory of careers and vocational choice based upon personality types. Many parents are not aware that this assesses their child's vocational interest and inclination.

The six Holland codes based on six personality types. They are realistic, investigative, artistic, social, enterprising and conventional.

For example, conventional personality types are those who are methodical, logical, efficient and detail-oriented. They are usually accountants, budget analysts or administrative assistants.

If your child is a realistic individual, he values concrete information and rarely enjoys working with abstract concept. Realistic types take on roles that involve repairing or assembling things.

For lower secondary school students this would also be the first step for them to decide their future pathways. This can start with choosing the right subject stream for their higher secondary studies.

Like many issues in public education, standardised testing can be a controversial topic. Many people say exam results provide an accurate measurement of a student’s performance and teacher’s effectiveness. Others say this one-size-fits-all approach to assessing academic achievement is inflexible or even biased.

What’s still missing with these exam changes however, is the accountability of teachers and schools responsible for teaching students on the established standards.

It is still unclear how the exam scores can help identify teachers and schools that do not perform up to par and how to make sure that they do. Would, for example, the changes help improve our students’ performance in TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) and PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment)?

In any transformation, preparations along with the right plans take years to ensure a smooth process. Teachers, students and parents must know what to expect from the changes made.

It has been a low-key affair in many schools this year when both exam results were announced. The road to transformation, although slightly rocky at the start, is undoubtedly encouraging, but, moving towards the right direction.

Hazlina Aziz is left her teaching career more than 20 years ago to take on different challenges beyond the conventional classroom. As NST’s education editor, the world is now her classroom.

NST

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