by Sheridan Mahavera
The Malaysian Insider
March 20, 2014
The new exam system that will replace the PMR for Form Three students this year is open to bias and abuse, and could jeopardise the future of children from poorer families, said an education activist today.
Mohd Noor Izzat Mohd Johari said that unlike the old system, where the Form Three exam is produced and graded by an independent body outside the school, the new one, PT3 or Form Three Assessment, will be done by the teachers of each individual schools.
Since PT3 results are used by students to apply to elite schools such as residential schools and the MARA junior science colleges, richer, more well off parents could pressure teachers into giving their children better grades.
“This is the situation that we are afraid will happen. When parents come to school and ask that teachers ‘take care’ of their kids,” said Mohd Noor Izzat who teaches art at a secondary school in Pahang.
Noor Izzat said this was a big worry for teachers after the PT3 was announced yesterday by the Education Ministry as part of its improvements to the school based assessment system (PBS).
The PT3 would replace the PMR (Lower Secondary Assessment) exam which will be stopped this year after being used since 1993. The PMR was in itself a replacement for the old Sijil Rendah Pelajaran (SRP), introduced since 1978 for the first batch of students under the Bahasa Malaysia medium of instruction.
Under the old system, the PMR exam is produced, administered and graded by the ministry’s examination board.
Graders and checkers are typically teachers from other districts and the information on which school a batch of papers comes from is kept secret.
In the PT3 that was announced on March 18, only the questions would be prepared by the examination board. According to media reports, the questions would be classified as easy, medium and hard, and placed in a central bank from which teachers can then choose from.
However, grading and administering the tests would be done at the school based on standardised guidelines by the examination board, said Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.
Muhyiddin also said the board and a team of outside assessors would verify the results to ensure students get the marks “they deserved”.
Noor Izzat said the fear is that well-connected parents will be able to influence teachers and their school, leaving students from poorer families at a disadvantage.
While some improvements to the SBA, such as the reduced workload for teachers have been welcomed, Noor Izzat said some of the changes did not solve some of the system’s others weaknesses. Most notably how to ensure students actually understand what is being taught them.
The main problem Noor Izzat insisted again, is class size and the teacher to student ratio, which is normally one teacher to 40 students.
Large classes make it difficult to achieve the aims of SBA which is to ensure that teachers pay extra attention to students so they understand what is being taught and that weak students don’t get left behind.
So even with improvements such as a simplified DSP (document to track student’s academic performance), teachers will still rush through daily lessons rather than ensuring all their students truly understand what is being taught, said Noor Izzat.
“Each class is one hour long. Teachers are supposed to spend 30 minutes presenting the lesson. The other half is to ensure students understand what was taught. This includes assessing them.
“We are supposed to spend one to two minutes assessing each student to ensure he understands the lesson.
“But with 40 students, teachers are scrambling to fill in their DSPs. This is where weak students get left behind.”
Under the SBA, there are no annual exams. Students’ understanding is graded by a six-level band ranging from the lowest (band one) to highest (band six).
Teachers have complained that the criteria for grading students in these bands is vague. Students have complained to teachers that the system does not motivate them to achieve better scores.
Another common complaint is that students are easily bored by the non-competitive nature of the SBA where the emphasis is not on getting as many straight As as possible.
Nor Izzat, however, defended the SBA’s noble aim of ensuring that every student, regardless of family background and academic ability, is given the attention they need to understand and apply what they learn in school to real life.
“The SBA is a very good system and its aims are very noble. It’s good that we are implementing it but we are not tailoring it to our local context,” he added. – March 20, 2014.