The Star Malaysia
To test or not to test
Public exams are an integral part of the Malaysian education system, but how crucial are they to the learning process?
M UCH interest has been generated since the proposal to abolish the Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR) and Penilaian Menengah Rendah (PMR) was made.
Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said on June 20 that the two examinations could be abolished to remove the pressure of an exam-oriented education system on students.
He said the ministry was studying the change and urged scholars, educationists and various stakeholders to provide input.
Newspapers have been inundated with letters to the editor with suggestions on whether these two examinations should be maintained or abolished.
One called for a referendum to be held among interested parties since the issue was of national interest while another felt it was necessary to maintain the UPSR, but not the PMR.
There have also been calls to look into how many public examinations students should sit for, once they are in the school system and whether examinations were necessary.
Former education director-general Tan Sri Dr Wan Zahid Mohd Noordin said there was a need to understand the UPSR and PMR. “Both are about evaluation. “The ministry does not call the instruments examination and they are very clear about the technical difference between evaluation and examination,” he said in an interview.
Dr Wan Zahid said there was a technical reason why the PMR replaced the SRP (Peperiksaan Sijil Rendah Pelajaran) and LCE (Lower Certificate of Education Examination).
“This is because examination is summative in its nature (an assessment given at a particular point of time to gauge the person’s knowledge up to a certain point), while evaluation is formative so that remedial measures can still be taken.
“PMR was changed from SRP to make the assessment formative in general, so that remedial measures can be taken.
“It should be such because SRP is no longer terminal,” he explained.
The PMR assessment should thus provide critical feedback to the school for remedial or enrichment purposes.
“This is because after sitting for the PMR, students automatically proceed to Form Four while previously the SRP was terminal, meaning that nothing could be done if students failed,” he said.
Dr Wan Zahid felt that unfortunately “we have not been able to completely achieve the formative function of the two assessments so they become summative and normative.”
He suggested injecting some criterion-referenced test (CRT) components into UPSR and PMR.
Giving the Fardhu Ain assessment as an example, he said 17 items were considered a must knowledge for all Muslims.
“There is no grade ... only completed or not completed, so if you get 16 correct out of 17, it means you have not completed Fardhu Ain.
“In normative assessment, you will get an A but in CRT you have not completed it,” he explained.
Dr Wan Zahid urged that UPSR and PMR be retained.
“The fault is not with the instrument. It is how we use it.
“Just like if we misuse a knife for killing people, it does not mean we should ban knives but instead enforce its proper use,” he added.
“We should avoid throwing the baby along with the bathwater,” he said.
In terms of policy planning, Dr Wan Zahid said it was important for the Education Ministry to obtain feedback on the efficiency of the system.
“When assessment is standardised, you can make an evaluation of the system, but a school-based system will not allow you to do this because the value of an A can vary from one school to another.
“This is not to say that a school-based assessment has no place in the scheme of things as it is crucial in terms of formative evaluation,” he explained.
Class tests after every lesson are formative in nature because the teacher needs immediate feedback with regards to what has been taught, he added.
Former education director-general Tan Sri Dr Abdul Rahman Arshad welcomed the proposal to abolish the exams but said the alternative must be better.
He said the ministry must be able to spell out a curriculum on what needs to be achieved.
“The curriculum must state what students should be able to achieve at each level, and include the necessary components to ensure their physical, intellectual and moral development,” he explained in an interview.
Once a curriculum has been designed, Dr Abdul Rahman suggested that the ministry decide what each child has to attain at each level through a set of guidelines for the school.
“As an example, by Year Two , the guidelines must ensure that each child can read, write and count.
“Schools are very different so the ministry must be able to spell out what the minimum standards are, and ensure students are not
deprived of further learning,” he said.
Teachers need to be trained so that any child who does not meet the minimum standards, could be pulled aside and given the remedial assistance required.
“It is important that schools have enough remedial teachers to do so,” he added.
He said teachers also need to ask themselves if they have taught their students to the best of their ability.
Dr Abdul Rahman said the success of any programme at the school level depends to a large extent on the quality of leadership there.
“By this, I mean the school head must know the target to be achieved, motivate his teachers, work as a team leader and not just as a boss.
“He or she should also be an inspiration to the students and be professionally able,” he explained.
Dr Abdul Rahman who is also Clusters of Excellence Advisory Board chairman, said the board had presented to then Education Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein in 2008, a report containing 75 recommendations to ensure how cluster schools could be more effective.
Among the proposals forwarded were the school-based assessment, the abolition of the UPSR and PMR, laptops for all schoolchildren, single-session schools and smaller class sizes.
“Perhaps the ministry can look at the recommendations as a starting point to review the whole education system,” he said.
Retired super principal Datuk Mary Yap said the Education Ministry’s proposal to abolish UPSR and PMR is part of an educational reform that is set to bring about greater improvements for the country.
“I think that school-based assessments can be a viable option in place of the nationalbased exams as the assessment system will be presumably designed by the Malaysian Examinations Syndicate (MES).”
She said that under such a system, the full range of students’ achievements will be assessed and recognised at a level equivalent to the present UPSR and PMR standards.
“In other words, the ministry will certainly make references to the existing standards of UPSR and PMR and school-based assessments will not lower the existing standards of these two public examinations,” she opined.
Yap, who now freelances as a training expert and senior consultant in educational innovations and school transformation, said a proper understanding of the line of demarcation between the teacher’s role in guiding the students in school-based assessments and his role in assessing the student’s achievement, is needed.
This is to avoid improper action on the part of the teachers and to allay the concerns of the parents and community about it.
One of the advantages of school-based assessment, she added, is that it provides a more comprehensive assessment on students’ overall performance and has both a formative and summative assessment component.
“Formative assessment involves the collection of evidence about the progress being made by students and using this evidence as feedback to improve teaching and learning,” she explained.
The design of school-based assessment is an inseparable part of the process of curriculum planning, classroom delivery and assessment and it helps teachers capture the students’ learning progress in the form of daily activities.
“It is not new as it has been practised in the technical and vocational schools to assess the skills’ subjects with proven records that the students have fared well,” she said.
Yap said school-based assessments have been adopted by most examination bodies in the Western countries over the past 20 years to further enhance the quality of learning.
For example, she said in Hong Kong, the United Kingdom and Australia the weightage given to school-based assessment is about 50% with Canada giving it 100%.
Asked what would happen if there was no standardised scoring, Yap was sure the MES would provide detailed marking criteria and samples of students’ work to illustrate the standards at each level to ensure the consistency of standard in marking.
“This has already been done for the practical examinations of the vocational and technical subjects, Bahasa Malaysia and English oral exams.
“Statistical moderation can be used to eliminate inconsistency in marking among schools as moderation of the marks awarded by teachers for school-based assessments is often cited as a means of addressing the issues of equity and fairness by making adjustments, where necessary, to bring marks or grades back in line with the standards of the MES,” she explained.
Yap said the moderation exercise usually involves the use of an appointed moderator to re-mark a sample of students’ work previously marked by the class teacher.
The marks of the moderator are compared with those of the teacher and the relationship between the two sets of marks are then statistically established.
If the results are not satisfactory, an adjustment is made to all marks awarded by the teachers to bring them in line to the UPSR and PMR standards.
Yap said she was sure the ministry would also organise professional development programmes on school-based assessments for the teachers to strengthen their understand-