Changes to school assessment: What you need to know

Changes to school assessment: What you need to know

The aim of adjusting the school-based assessment structures is to reduce the overemphasis on academic results.
The aim of adjusting the school-based assessment structures is to reduce the overemphasis on academic results. PHOTO: ST FILE

Schools will cut down on examinations across different levels, in an effort to move away from an overemphasis on academic results.

From next year, all exams and weighted assessments that count towards a final grade for Primary 1 and 2 pupils will be removed, and mid-year exams at the Primary 3 and 5 as well as Secondary 1 and 3 levels – which are key transition years – will be scrapped.

1. What is the difference between weighted assessments and non-weighted assessments?

Assessment is the process of gathering and analysing evidence about student learning to enhance teaching and learning, and to inform educational decision-making.

Both weighted and non-weighted assessments are conducted to check for understanding and to use the information to support students in achieving the intended learning outcomes. Teachers conduct these assessments to find out what students have learnt, provide them with feedback on learning gaps and their mastery of concepts, and improve teaching and learning. Information from these assessments also serves to provide a gauge of students’ academic competencies and readiness for the next level of education.

The difference is that the score from a weighted assessment counts towards a student’s overall result in a subject for the semester or the year.

2. What are the key transition stages for students in primary and secondary education and why do we need to pay attention to the transition?

Students move through various transition stages from lower, to middle and upper primary, and then from upper primary to lower secondary, and upper secondary. During these transition years, students may offer new subjects or take up more subjects as part of progression to the next level of learning. For example, at Primary 3, students learn science as a subject for the first time and at Sec 1, students offer more subjects compared to the primary level, including new subjects such as history and design and technology.

At these key transition stages, we want to provide students with adequate time and space to adjust to the increased curriculum demands. This can help them to manage this transition more smoothly and with greater confidence, and not feel rushed into being exam-ready just half way through the transition year.

3. With the mid-year exams removed for Primary 3, Primary 5, Sec 1 and Sec 3 – will this raise the stakes of the year-end examination?

School-based assessments, including the year-end exam, are platforms to inform and enhance teaching and learning. They are not high-stake in nature.

While the mid-year exam is removed in the transition years, schools can still conduct weighted assessments such as class tests, projects and presentations at suitable junctures in the academic year.

Schools will be guided on how to assign appropriate weightings for the different assessments.

4. There are some schools that have already done away with continual assessments and mid-year exams for all levels. Will these schools be asked to review their existing school-based assessment structures, to align with MOE’s focus on implementing these measures only at the transition levels?

The aim of adjusting the school-based assessment structures is to reduce the overemphasis on academic results and to nurture a stronger intrinsic motivation to learn in our students. The changes are meant to establish a minimum threshold on the recalibration of the assessment load. Schools that have made more reduction to the assessment load than this minimum threshold are not required to reverse their reduction.

For instance, a secondary school that has removed mid-year exams for Sec 1 to Sec 3 need not reinstate the exam in Sec 2.

5. At Primary 1, 2, 3, 5 and Sec 1 and 3 – what will schools put in place to replace mid-year exams and weighted assessments?

The removal of mid-year exams will free up to about three weeks of curriculum time for each two-year block (that is, Primary 3 and Primary 4, Primary 5 and Primary 6, Sec 1 and 2, Sec 3 and 4). Schools are encouraged to use the time and space freed up for quality teaching and learning.

Schools can use this time to pace out teaching and learning and adopt varied pedagogies to deepen students’ learning. For example, schools could leverage applied and inquiry based teaching and learning approaches to encourage students to observe, investigate, reflect, and create knowledge as part of their learning processes. This will further enrich our students’ learning experiences and enable them to learn deeply and develop holistically, especially in 21st century competencies.

Schools will also continue to use non-weighted assessments to support students’ learning, inform their learning progress and address learning gaps.

6. Will students’ readiness for the national exams be reduced?

To provide students with timely and specific feedback and address any learning gaps that they might have, teachers will regularly gather information about students’ understanding and content mastery through checkpoints such as reviewing students’ homework, class work and tests.

The other exam points, such as the year-end exam and the mid-year exams in other academic years, will continue to provide adequate opportunities to assess students’ ability to apply their learning across a range of topics or subjects, and familiarise them with the national exam requirements

7. How will a student’s academic progress be measured if there are completely no exams and weighted assessments at Primary 1 and 2?  

With the removal of all exams and weighted assessments at Primary 1 and 2, schools will continue to use non-weighted assessments to support students’ learning, inform their learning progress and address learning gaps.

Schools will continue with their current practices to gather information about students’ learning through checkpoints such as class discussions, class work, homework and bite-sized tests. The change is that these assessments no longer count towards an overall result.

Instead of using marks and grades, schools will now use qualitative descriptors to report students’ learning progress in the Holistic Development Profile (HDP).

8. Will the removal of all weighted assessments for Primary 1 and 2 students risk over-correcting the school-based assessment load?

Learning at the early stages, particularly at the lower primary levels, should focus on building students’ confidence and intrinsic motivation to learn, and avoid conditioning them to be extrinsically motivated from a young age.

Feedback from students, teachers, school leaders, and parents on the removal of year-end exam in Primary 1 and mid-year exam at both Primary 1 and 2 since 2010 has been positive.

Schools have observed that students have more time to learn, and experience more joy in their learning. Teachers use the freed-up lesson time to focus on enhancing content mastery, and academic rigour has not been affected.

While all weighted assessments will be removed for Primary 1 and 2 students, schools will continue to conduct non-weighted assessments regularly to gauge students’ mastery of learning outcomes. Students will also be provided with opportunities to demonstrate their understanding of the concepts taught.

9. How will schools ensure the quality of teaching and learning?

Exams serve only as periodic points to gather information on teaching and learning practices. Above and beyond exams, schools have been adopting and will continue to adopt practices that ensure quality teaching and learning, such as through lesson observations, monitoring of students’ daily assignments, mentoring of teachers and engaging them in professional discussions.

10. What kind of support will MOE/schools be rendering to parents to help them better understand the changes to school-based assessments?

Parents’ support and partnership are crucial in making the changes impactful to our students. Schools, with the support from MOE, will be communicating these changes to parents next year, to help them better understand the rationale behind the changes and how they impact their children.

Schools will also be gathering parents’ feedback and addressing their concerns through regular updates and touchpoints, such as Meet-the-Parents sessions.

Amit Rai

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