Changes to PSLE scoring system 'will take a few years'

SINGAPORE - The new scoring system for the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) will take at least a few years to implement, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday. This is so there will be enough time to prepare schools, pupils and parents for the changes.

The PSLE T-score, which has been used to admit pupils to secondary schools for more than 30 years, has served an important function, said Mr Heng.

Changes to this will need to be "considered and communicated" carefully.

However, details on other changes to the education system, such as a broadening of Direct School Admission (DSA) to include qualities like character and leadership, will be revealed later this year. The DSA scheme lets pupils skilled in academics, the arts or sports secure places in a secondary school even before the PSLE.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced at the National Day Rally last month that the PSLE T-score would be replaced in a few years by wider grade bands similar to how students get A1 to F9 for the O levels.

The T-score, which is based on how well a child does relative to his peers, has been criticised for sorting children too finely because even a single point can make a difference.

Many had expected Mr Heng to reveal details on the new scoring system at his ministry's annual workplan seminar on Wednesday. But he did not delve into the hot-button issue, although he did say: "The PSLE will not define how successful (a pupil) is, but is really an assessment which will help him decide what level of subjects will suit him at Sec 1."

He also noted that reactions from parents on the issue have been mixed.

"One parent wrote to me, asking for changes to be implemented immediately so that his son, who is in Primary5, can benefit," he said.

"Another with a Primary1 child asked us to wait for six years so that the changes would not affect his child." While parents generally welcomed the move to do away with the T-score, some were worried that this would lead to a less transparent system. Schools with a larger pool of pupils to choose from may use more subjective criteria to pick from among them.

However, Mr Heng pointed out that the scoring system must be broadened so pupils will not feel compelled to chase that last mark. He shared with the 2,000 teachers and principals at yesterday's event what one parent told him at an Our Singapore Conversation session.

"One parent said to me, 'Each child is known by three digits - his PSLE T-score; each primary school by the PSLE T-scores of its top student; and each secondary school by its PSLE cut-off point.' "This is, indeed, too one-dimensional," said Mr Heng.

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