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New PSLE Scoring System: Here’s What Singaporean Mamas Think

new psle scoring system opinion singaporean moms
LearnPost Category - LearnLearn

Feel affected by the new PSLE scoring system announced by MOE? You’re not alone. We spoke to these Singaporean moms with kids in local primary schools to hear what they have to say

Earlier this week, Ministry of Education, Singapore (MOE) released more details on the new PSLE scoring system along with the complete list of all secondary school entry and cut-off points. Previously, students taking the PSLE were graded through the T-score system, which ranks a student’s performance in relation to their peers. This new scoring system (taking effect this year) scores each standard-level PSLE subject using eight bands known as Achievement Levels (AL). Each student will be given AL scores from 1 to 8 for each subject, totalling the PSLE score as the sum of the AL of each of the students’ four subjects, with the best possible total score being 4.

Why are they changing the PSLE scoring system?

MOE decided on this so students’ examination scores are less finely differentiated, and more students will have the same PSLE Score. This also means more schools will have the same cut-off point, so students have a wider range of schools to choose from depending on their strengths and interests, unique school programmes, and co-curriculur activities (CCAs). However, this leads to more competitiveness, because if two students with the same score contend for the last spot in a school, they will be subjected to tie-breakers. The first being citizenship status – Singaporeans will get priority over Singapore permanent residents and international students – followed by the position of the school in each student’s list of school choices, where a student who puts the school higher on the list of choices will get priority. If both students still end up tied after both rounds of tie-breaker, computerised balloting will be used.

new psle scoring system al chart
Source: Ministry of Education

This has led to parents immediately predicting their child’s PSLE score based on their current performance in each subject. You can check MOE’s PSLE score calculator, which also has a map of all the schools your child is eligible for according to the predicted score.

What do Singaporean moms think about the new PSLE scoring system?

“The AL margins are truly small”

One mama we spoke to (whose child is going through PSLE this year) said, “Given the scoring system, my child is an average student who falls in the range between AL4 & 5. We’re looking at a total of 16-25 ALs in his overall results for 4 subjects and that qualifies him for the Normal Academic (NA) stream. This is also an indication that many students will fall in this category… So given the ministry’s focus on ‘the joy of learning’, how is AL1 a score of more than 90? The margins for each AL is truly small.”

“A move in the right direction, but the stress is still there”

Vivian Teo, children’s book author and mama-of-two (one in Primary 3 and one in Primary 5) said, “I think overall the change from the previous T-score system to the current scoring bands is a move in the right direction for stakeholders to be less fixated on that one point that would have made the difference for a child going to say, a particular Special Assistance Plan (SAP) school, or the Integrated Programme (IP) or the O-level stream. But I don’t think this change in scoring makes a huge difference in alleviating the stress that children and parents face when it comes to the PSLE. While we don’t have to think about that one-point difference now, we are still talking about that one AL score difference (say a grade AL1 or AL2) that can make that difference between entering a certain school or stream. The banding system feels similar to the O-level banding system, but it doesn’t mean the O-levels is any way less stressful.

On my part, I’m a rather laidback mum. While my eldest daughter is in P5 this year, I do not enrol her for tuition to prepare for the PSLE. My husband and I coach her but sometimes we do get stumped by how difficult the Math problems can get and high standards they are expected to write in English. I tell my child I don’t need her to make it to some SAP school and that I’m happy for her to be able to make it to her primary school’s affiliated secondary school. Though I’m laidback, to say that I’m not somewhat stressed about the PSLE would be a lie. In fact, after MOE announced the news, I looked up the cut-off points for schools in our home vicinity as options should she not be able to go to her affiliated secondary school; the AL scores to enter without affiliation to these schools in our vicinity are pretty low, meaning they are not that easy to get in. So as long as the PSLE is there, the stress will be there too.

Like Malaysia, which recently announced that it was doing away with its UPSR (their PSLE equivalent) and have students assessed through school-based performance instead, I look forward to the day when we find better and more holistic means to educate our children rather than assess them through a major exam at only the tender age of 12.”

local school foundation chinese

“They’re just calling it something else”

Realtor and mama-of-two (one aged 2.5 years old and one in Primary 4) Nadia Ederer said, “It sounds like a naming convention to me – you name it something else, give it another score, and it’s just another way to measure the same thing. The fact is they’re still using this score to determine what children can and cannot do in terms of opportunities. Somewhere there are some things that are OK about it. For example, in secondary schools now students can take subjects from different streams even if they are from a ‘lower’ stream (subject-based banding). Despite that, I feel the label, especially if they’re in NA or NT (Normal Technical), is still there – some students will be affected by it and some won’t. What bothers me more is the whole streaming and determining where kids go (and labelling them) at such a young age. There has to be a better way.

It’s very tough for parents. You want the best for your kids, and the best is often academic. It is important at the end of the day and you want your kids to do well academically. But at some point we have to surrender too. You have to weigh out how important it really is for your child to go into a good school, or go into express stream (which is often preferred). The cut-off points for the school that you want could be this, but you look at your child’s performance and you know it’s just not possible for them.

It was hard for me in the beginning and I panicked when I found out my daughter couldn’t cope with math as well as I did when I was in school. But then I realised my kids’ happiness is not dependant on their grades. Of course it’ll help give them more options in life, but even that is debatable – can you say that just because a child is more creative instead of academic, it means they’ll have less options? What about if they’re better at communicating or happen to be more entrepreneurial? Do they also have less options then? So academic ability is just one factor to feel fulfilled in life. I’ve accepted the fact that my daughter may not get into the secondary school that I dream of, but I’ve had to ask myself, “What is that dream really linked to? The dream of them going to an ‘elite’ school or a ‘good’ school… What hole is it really filling in me? Sometimes it’s because us parents want to fill up our own gaps that we put so much pressure on our kids.”

mother hugging her youngest child starting school

In closing…

We know how important it is to do academically well in Singapore, but it’s worth prioritising your child’s mental and physical health above all else. Give them your support and assure them that you’re with them every step of the way. Expose them to the many different paths they can take to succeed, including in the arts, media, entrepreneurship and the many other industries that don’t necessarily require academic excellence in order to achieve their own definition of success. There are ways to get onboard with a more respectful approach to parenting, plus it might help to hear from mamas who’ve gone through PSLE with their kids (and why you really shouldn’t freak out!).

Want to share your thoughts? Send me an email at [email protected]!

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Image #1, #2, #3 and #4 all sourced via Ministry of Education; image #5 sourced via Getty

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