20 August 2013

PSLE — Does Blurring the Difference Make Any Difference?

Instead of getting T-scores in the future, PSLE students will receive grades in bands, such as those used in the O and A level examinations.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong highlighted the issue of how a one-point difference in T-score may make a difference to a student's secondary school posting.  It is a distinction which is meaningless, too fine to make.

The change will reduce excessive competition to chase that last point — an A* is still an A*, whether one scores 91 marks or 99 marks, he said.
 
PM Lee's reasoning is flawed.
 
1. The stress that parents feel (which they pass onto their children) and that the children feel stems from their strong belief that not all schools are equally good, regardless of what the Ministry of Education says.
 
2. The stress that parents feel (which they pass onto their children) stems from their strong belief that their children are smarter than they really are.  If the cut-off T-scores of all secondary schools were still published (as they were in the past), these parents unrealistically push their children at the PSLE in an attempt to get into the schools with the higher cut-off T-scores that they might not have otherwise qualified for.
 
3. When writing their exam papers, most students want and try to do their best.  Their objective is to get as high marks as possible, not aim for an A* instead of an A or 91 instead of 90.  It is simply not possible to aim for any specific grade or mark when writing any exam; a student can only aim to do his or her best.
 
4. The T-score is the sum of the T-scores of the four subjects.  The T-score of each subject is not the raw score, but the raw score adjusted for the mean and the standard deviation of the raw scores of all the students for the subject.  Even if it were practical to aim for a raw score (but it is not, see earlier point), it is not possible to aim for any specific T-score.

5. If Ministry of Education tells students their grades (by subject and/or aggregate) but not their T-score, this in itself does not remove the incentive to chase the last point because the last point may just be the difference between, for example, an A* and an A.
 
6. Although only one point separates, for example, 231 and 230, that one point may translate into one whole grade difference.

7. (The flip side of the previous point), a single grade or band will consist of a range of T-scores.
 
PM Lee said that, in his time, the students were simply told whether they had passed or failed, and which secondary school they were posted to; no T-score was disclosed.  The primary concern of students and their parents nowadays is not the T-score per se, but which secondary school the students will be posted to; the T-score is just the means to an end.  Nothing has changed.

Withholding the T-score from students does not solve the fundamental concern surrounding the PSLE.  There are simply too many parents chasing too few places in good schools for their children.

Let's not waste time with cosmetic moves that serve little purpose.

2 comments:

  1. We know it was just a rah rah speech to tug at emotions. Never to solve root causes of these issues. The blunt truth is that Singapore under PAP doctrine only needs people with so called brainpower, if you don't have it, please just leave. Singapore is not a nation, it's a corporation that needs to thrive. Like General Electric, the bottom 20% must be weeded out every so often.

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  2. PM Lee said that, in his time, the students were simply told whether they had passed or failed, and which secondary school they were posted to; no T-score was disclosed. If we do the same, there will be no stress for everyone. Make life simpler and happier for us. If kids are smart, they will excel anywhere.

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