Posted by: Principal/Editor | October 11, 2010

High-Stakes Testing – An Invitation for Reflection on a Deeply-Embedded School Practice

High-Stakes testing is defined as the “use of large-scale achievement tests as instruments of educational policy”. These tests are used by states and educational bodies (i.e. districts and departments) “in making high-stakes decisions with important consequences for individual students.”[1] In Singapore, high-stakes testing is an essential feature of the educational system. From primary school all the way to post-secondary school levels, the performance of an individual student is determined to a great extent by the outcome from such high-stakes tests.

High-stakes testing continues as a contentious and a much debated key issue in education policy and practice. On the one hand, there are scholars and practitioners who claim that targeted high-stakes testing produces some limited rewards.[2] On the other hand, there are others who argue that high-stakes testing offers little or no rewards in terms of learning and motivation[3] and actually become sources of corruption.[4]

For experienced school teachers and school leaders, high-stakes testing is an inescapable reality faced in a Singapore context. In view of eliciting deep reflection, it would be interesting for seasoned teaching professionals to ponder upon these questions:

1.      Do high-stakes tests assist schools particularly experienced teachers and leaders in allowing to measure learning and motivation of individual students?

2.      From the perspective of experienced teachers and school leaders, do high-stakes tests promote a culture of authentic learning (where teachers and students jointly explore learning facilitated by high-stakes tests) or a culture of accountability (where teachers and students compete in order to perform well via high-stakes tests)?

For beginning teachers and novice leaders, high-stakes testing emerges as a dominant discourse that one has to continually grapple with and make sense of. In view of achieving reflection, it may be worthwhile for teaching professionals about to embark on new beginnings to ask these questions:

1.      What does high-stakes testing actually mean to me? Do I see it as an opportunity for me to learn new teaching skills in order to help my future students score well in high-stakes tests? Or do I see high-stakes tests as an unnecessary practice in schools?

2.      Given the reality that high-stakes testing is an essential feature of the Singapore educational system, how do I negotiate my practices and beliefs to accommodate this reality?

[1] Heubert, P., & Hauser, R. (Eds.). (2000). High Stakes: testing for tracking, promotion and graduation. Washington, D.C. : National Academy Press., p.1

[2] Bishop, J., Moriarty, J., & Mane, F. (1997). Diplomas for Learning, not Seat Time: The Impacts of New York Regents Examinations (Vol. Working Paper Series 97, pp. 1-29). Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies: Cornell University.

[3] Amrein, A., & Berliner, D. (2003). The Effects of High-Stakes Testing on Student Motivation and Learning. Educational Leadership, 32-38.

[4] Nichols, S., & Berliner, D. (2005). The Inevitable Corruption of Indicators and Educators Through High-Stakes Testing (pp. 187). East Lansing, MI: The Great Lakes Center for Education Research & Practice.


  1. I still remember our discussion in one of the recent seminar in regards to the high stakes tests.I think personally I do find it contradicting.As a beginner teacher, we’re drilled to squeeze out engaging and interesting lessons for these students to learn but my question is when it comes to high stakes test,these students aren’t test according to the ‘engaging’ lessons that they learn or skills that we try to embed in their lessons. So why do we have all these policies such as the TLLM and the incorporating the dimensions of meaningful learning when these high stakes tests completely opposes all the initial values is seen as one of the major measurements in schools.If schools is about a place where students acquire life skills and knowledge, then something has to be done to these high stakes tests.

  2. It’s about time someone brought up the effectiveness of high stakes examinations.
    Schools ought to prepare students for the workforce. Schools ought to equip students with the necessary skills for the workforce.
    HIgh stakes examinations do not offer such opportunities. They merely transfer head knowledge to students, without any connection to the outside world and real-life.
    Students often lose motivation to study due to this. As I was preparing for my “O” Levels, I thought to myself, what would by solving algebraic and arithmetic equations help me for the future?…It doesn’t! Not unless I was aiming to be a mathematician or an occupation dealing with numbers. Not likely that I would face algebra ever again, if I were to be say a fashion designer.
    Hence, while I see the importance in examinations to promote students to the next level of education, it can be done differently. Perhaps, high stakes examinations should not carry such heavy weightage. But rather include coursework and groupwork.
    Also, this brings in another thought for consideration. How authentic are assessments? Assessments should provide feedback on student’s understanding and ultimately, check on their connections and relations between their head knowledge and real life.
    Are “O” Levels and PSLE doing that? I think not.

    Course Name: DED200
    TG GRP / DAY: TG13 / THUR
    Tutor : Dr Leslie Sharpe

    My Viewpoint

    Besides, the serious disputes on high-stakes testing, my million-dollar question is if it will help students or hurt them? Just like the X-files TV-series drama claims the truth is out there. Read further.

    Well, we must first meditate on its definition in my layman terms that actually high-stakes testing is to ‘impose’ on students to be accountable for their test performance. With reference to the above thought-provoking question. Ultimately, teachers are builders of the nation but students are the future of the nation. Students with disabilities and with low-medium abilities will be at the red risky zone for high-stakes testing does not measure a student’s full range of educational competencies.

    Moreover, in the arena of Science and Mathematics, the Asian countries are the highest scorers as compared to other non-Asian countries like USA for instance. As such, Singapore is well-known to be called as the first-class education hub in Asia with focus on the mastery of the subject. Further, scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in America, a highly regarded nationally administered examination, showed little or no improvement in student learning(Heubert, 2002).

    In short, I stand firm in agreement with Mr Ronnie Earle on ‘High-Stakes Testing’ (YouTube Video URL: that there is too much testing and not enough teaching done together with disparities of students learning needs like disabilities.

    It is indeed perceived as an unnecessary practice in schools. Recently, there is an education policy change that students can bypass ‘Normal level (N-Level)’ exams to study in Polytechnics instead. Thus, I beg to differ that though given the reality that high-stakes testing is an essential feature of the Singapore educational system, there will be a significant change and we can see some improvements made to this system as highlighted above.

    So, I would put into practice Assessment for learning philosophy than Assessment of learning in class. Its a win-win situation for learning to take place that no child is left behind as our education system is already testament to this paradigm shift from ‘High-Stakes Testing’ which paves way for life-long skills and creative learning as clearly echoed by bloggers like Sarah and Naomi.


    Heubert, J. P. (2002). High-stakes testing: opportunities and risks for students of color, English-Language Learners, and students with disabilities. Wakefield, MA: National Center on Accessing the General Curriculum.

  4. I look upon high-stakes tests as just one form of assessing a student’s abilities and intellect. It is a summative assessment – a competitive and pressurizing one. I say this because high-stakes tests, as the name suggests, carries much weightage and influence in a student’s life. If he does well, it usually marks a successful career ahead. If he does not do well, however, he falls into the category of mediocrity or even inferiority and faces a social stigma for the most part of his life. There are exceptions, but this is the general view of society today.

    Yes, high-stakes tests can be one of the ways in which I can learn new teaching skills to help my students score well. It enables me to push them to score better and motivate them through results. However, it is only one of the many ways to help students.

    I believe that high-stakes tests necessary. Many have achieved much through studying hard for these tests. One cannot say that high-stakes tests has done no good to our students. It is also human nature to need a form of motivation and competitiveness to push ourselves to greater heights. On the other hand, are high-stakes tests the only necessary form of assesment? This applies to the other group of students who have not adapted well to this style of testing. Many students have lost confidence in themselves because of their poor results from these high-stakes tests, and many have been unable to display their talents in these tests. Some students do not excel in academics, and some are unable to perform their best in such pressurizng conditions. Does this mean that they are less able to succeed? I do not think so. Hence, high-stakes tests are necessary because they do bring out the potential in some of our students. However, it should not be the only form of assessment since a large number of students are obviously not achieving their best because of certain limitations of high-stakes tests.

    As a teacher, I can only encourage my students by believing in them, whatever their strengths may be. I will prepare them as best as I can for the mandatory high-stakes tests, but always emphasizing that they need to realise where their strengths and passion lie. I will support them even if they do better in subjects which are not tested in high-stakes tests by showing my care and interest in what they do well in, instead of chucking it aside and forcing them to think that “it’s the end” if they don’t score well. I feel that it is also my role to let my students understand that high-stakes tests do not mark their final level of intellect, and that it just a way to assess one aspect of themselves.

    In conclusion, I believe that our education system should not force students to have a “one track” mind. We encourage creativity, but we emphasize the need to do well in that one exam, in that one way, in that sort of thinking, in that sort of writing. Having high-stakes tests as the only form of assessment is equivalent to giving a car only one road to travel on. It does not work that way, that’s why we have many different roads that lead to one destination. Even in tiny little Singapore, we need many roads and ways of travelling. Every one has their own road to travel, so why should we force one on them?


  5. I believe like many others, I entered teaching because I wanted to spread the love of my subject, to help students realise their full potential and to make a difference to the students’ lives. However, when I went into school, I was caught up in a never ending race to prepare lessons, marking of assignments and endless drilling sessions to prepare students for the high-stake tests at the end of their 4 to 5 years with the school.

    I guess as long as we are in the education sector in Singapore, there is no running away from the obssession with the high-stake exams. After all, one of the key objectives of education is to prepare the students for their role in the economy. Doing well in the high-stake exams is necessary for the students to get on to the next stage of education so that they will be employable in future. If I am able to help the stduents to achieve good results in the exams thus providing them with more opportunities, am I not helping them to realise their full potential?

    Many times, we tend to separate what we do in schools into academic and charater development. I choose to see these two areas as inter-related. For example, when I teach students topics on development and poverty, I incorporate elements of social-emotional learning like teaching them the importance of empathy.

    As teachers, we must remember that although it is important to teach the subject (e.g: Geography, Social Studies), what is more crucial is that we must always have our subjects (students) in mind.

  6. As a student in school, I did not enjoy high-stakes tests, especially when it got too difficult for me. As a teacher, I have to admit that I enjoy preparing my students for high-stake tests. The higher the stakes, the better. I am always the first to volunteer to teach a graduating class. It must have something to do with the camaraderie we form as a class as we move towards a common goal, the adrenaline rush we get from all the holiday cramming and the joy and the tears we share through successes and failures.

    Who says high-stakes testing offers little or no rewards in terms of learning and motivation? In fact, they offer the most in terms of learning and motivation – if processes are right. Instead of running away from these tests, why not embrace it since they are here to stay? Here’s a suggestion to make these tests more bearable:

    Focus on the learning, not the outcome. Results will come naturally if we focus on pupils’ learning. Contrary to what many may think, high-stake tests do prepare our pupils for the work place. Let’s take our eyes off the content of the subjects and look at the some of the 21st century skills we can hone in our pupils – critical and inventive thinking, global awareness, communication skills, resilience and the list goes on. If our pupils have these skills, they can conquer any mountain when they join the work force. And who says content knowledge of subjects are useless? Learning History has enabled me to understand current affairs better. During my training years in NIE, I had to do a full module on Mathematics (i dislike Maths) and I thought it was utterly useless. Today, I still refer to my notes when I need to explain standard deviations, means and what nots of examinations to parents.

    What about authentic learning? This lies in the hands of us, teachers. We are the professionals and we are to make learning meaningful for our pupils in class. We can do that, even with high-stake tests in place.

    I agree that some pupils are late bloomers and early high-stake examinations are to their disadvantage. That is why we need to keep the other 21st century skills in mind when we teach. We need to teach our pupils that examinations are not the end but a beginning to something that suits them better. I have pupils who have gone on to the Normal academic stream in Sec school and they are doing extremely well. This not only boosts their confidence but provides them with a ‘package’ that suits their needs at that point of time.

  7. On hindsight, given the reality that high-stakes testing is an essential feature of the Singapore educational system, my practices and beliefs had been dominated by this reality when I was a beginning teacher. I attribute this partly to the subject I was chiefly teaching, namely Social Studies. It was a compulsory subject which all students taking the GCE O-Level examination have to take; yet as a humanities subject, it was a subject that most students (to use a strong word) loath to take as they perceive it as “hard to score”. (Here, students themselves reflect the reality of high-stakes testing.) In addition, Social Studies is a vehicle for National Education, and my students perceived it as “propaganda”. As a beginning teacher, I also grappled with the teaching of Social Studies as a “discipline”. My practices and beliefs were thus based on this reality for me then, as I impressed on students the high stakes of Social Studies in their GCE O-Level performance for their post-secondary pathway, and I took security in teaching to the content and skills for examination.

    On reflection, I ask myself some questions for which I have no answers. High-stakes testing has certain uses and implications for our education system, in particular for benchmarking purposes. This makes sense for the languages, mathematics, sciences, and (to an extent) humanities. However, what does students’ (aggregate) performance in Social Studies signify? For the education system, does it mean that our students have imbibed National Education successfully? Can this be meaningfully be benchmarked against other countries? For the individual student, what does it mean to be “better” in the Social Studies examination than other students? What is it testing, as distinct from the other subject disciplines? I continue to ponder.

  8. Personally, high-stakes testing has a place in our society. We are products of high-stakes testing. It provides a convenient way to assess one’s understanding and knowledge of the subject matter. As a student, I enjoyed high-stakes testing for subjects like Math and Science. Yet, I found it difficult for subjects like the languages and Humanities. How do you assess a child’s performance based on just an essay? Is it indicative enough of how knowledgeable or good the child is in the subject? As a Humanities teacher (I teach Geography & Social Studies), we teach and mark according to the different levels of response (LORMS). In the beginning, I found LORMS fascinating as I thought that finally, we have an assessment that can differentiate the academically strong students from those who are less so. The rigour of teaching and assessing through LORMS struck me as being a good way to seive out the better students. A few years down the road, I have mixed feelings about LORMS because I now find that you can actually prepare students to write good essays yet without having them really understanding the topic – a product of drill and practice; modelling; an ability of how teachers teach to the test??? I come from a neighbourhood school with a good number of international students who come in at different times of the year. To have international students come in at Sec 3 and encounter a subject like that of Combined Humanities is not at all easy. One way to go about it is to get these students to learn from modelling. While there are pros and cons of modelling, it is hard to determine if these students really understand what they have learnt. I know it’s pure memorisation and rote learning when the question is tweaked and students fall through the cracks. My personal opinion is that there must be a peaceful co-existence of high-stakes testing and alternative assessment modes to cater to the diverse profiles of our students so that our students can be assessed in a more holistic way.

  9. With the advent of the IB (International Bachelorette) programme, integrated programme and the emergence of schools which cater to nurturing different talents in Singapore, there seems to be a conscious shift in placing emphasis on the education journey rather than the high stakes testing towards the end of the journey. In other words, the learning process in a student’s academic journey plays an augmented role in such schools.

    No doubt students still sit for significant milestone examinations, they are not rigidly bound by the syllabus. Instead, their learning process is a multi-faceted one where acquisition of skills, knowledge and abilities in various fields is done via diverse modes. Thus, students who are in this category seem not to be overly constrained by the high stakes assessment. The same can be said of teachers who teach pupils of such high caliber, for they enthuse their students to venture and progress beyond what is prescribed in the syllabus to pursue authentic learning beyond.

    But teachers who are teaching the masses may feel a greater need to prepare their students more rigorously for the high stakes tests, as these students may require greater scaffolding. Coverage of content and reinforcement of concepts remain a priority. Time and effort dedicated to it may result in pedagogy very much geared towards the examinations.

    Thus, it appears that various stratas of teachers and students may experience differential impact of high stakes testing in Singapore.

  10. Would it be possible for Singapore teaching that strives for authentic learning to be “de-coupled” from perceived limitations brought about by high-stakes tests

    Dear Sirs,

    It is interesting to note that the discussion on teaching in a transformative way, ie developing creativity in students, allowing for critical thinking and reflection in class is being seen being as a zero-sum game against the backdrop of high stakes national examinations. Many teachers I met, in person and online, firmly believe that when preparing students for national examinations we cannot achieve the true ideals of education in terms of exciting the learners towards the joy of discovery. Its either ‘we do one or the other’ but never both. This zero sum mentality towards TLLM versus the high stakes exam has a profound impact on the teacher’s beliefs and this ultimately affects what the teacher does in class with his or her students. Lets probe further into these sources of beliefs.

    All of us know that the results for PSLE, O-Levels and other national examinations determine the future of the child under our care. We also know that teacher’s performance and performance bonuses are also pegged largely to how well their students fare under them. In fact the entire school’s ranking as seen by MOE and in the parents’ eyes depend on the achievement of each and succeeding cohort of students. Being placed on the national ranking table accentuates this problem even deeper as when a school does not achieve its expected key performance indicator, there will be a scramble and a renewed emphasis on teaching to the test in the following year. The cycle continues and this creates a stressful working environment on teachers.

    Teachers being an intelligent and pragmatic lot, will teach the necessary content and complete the syllabus a good 6 months before the national examinations. Most will leave out the optional topics and complicated sections and would zero in the compulsory themes. Some may even not teach whole units as it has appeared in last years examination. The repertoire of pedagogy in class remains limited. Clicking 50-60 powerpoint slides to deliver content is being seen as an IT lesson and also an effective way to download large gigabytes of information. Differentiated instruction, group work, field trips, constructivist IT lessons and collaboration among classmates, were sacrificed in favour of frontal teaching and frequent tests and homework and going through these tests. Model answers were printed out and students forced to remember the better aspects of these answers. Instead of learning the subject, students were taught how to deconstruct exam questions and provide what the examiners wanted in as a quick amount of time as possible. A formulaic approach to answering questions allows the Singaporean student to ‘machine gun’ down questions in the national exams and this is seen as a criteria towards achieving academic success.

    On the day of reckoning (results collection day), the child is elated, so are his parents and grandparents, his HOD if the cohort does well, his Principal if the school improves upon last year’s performance and the Cluster Superintendent if the school manages to improve upon its national ranking.

    Such behaviour where teachers are rewarded and ‘punished’ plays an important role in producing a conservative approach towards teaching in the classroom. Drill and practice, a tried and tested approach is always being preferred as compared to esoteric, transformative modes of teaching, which are time consuming in terms of preparation and yield marginal or even nil returns in terms of improving students’ test scores. When queried on the limitedness of the pedagogy and as to whether they are shortchanging their students in not equipping them for the 21st century workplace, the teachers would blush and point fingers at all the exorbitant demands imposed on them in delivering the quantifiable deliverables- grades. The end result? Helplessness and despair, as what gets measured and rewarded may not be in the best interest to both student and teachers in the long term. Over a period of time, the highly enthusiastic teacher may face burn out and lose passion into what he or she set out to do when they entered the teaching force ; teaching students for the test of life instead of teaching them for a life of tests exact a heavy price on both teachers and students.
    On the other end of the spectrum of the zero sum game, on teaching creatively, the investment in thinking and preparing of authentic lesson resources for an and the amount of time to implement them, vis the 30 min period structure in a school serves to limit what teachers could and would want to do with their students. I do not think for once that any teacher would not want to teach in an dis-engaging way. However teachers being pragmatic, will not commit to fanciful pedagogies if the investment in time and energy is high and returns negligible in ensuring a good grade in the exam for their students. Often we hear the lament that ‘if it is not going to appear in the exams, why bother?’ And being successful in preparing students for exams through a tried and tested method, teachers would be more inclined to continue the drill and practise and avoid transformational classroom practices.

    As long as teachers are stuck with these zero-sum thinking, the aim of education in terms of preparing students for the 21st century works place will not materialize as higher order skills that are not easily tested in national exams will not be taught. The loss will be felt keenly by our students as their cheaper counterparts in India and China, with their low salaries and high skill sets will move in very quickly to take over their future jobs. The Singaporean student and the future Singaporean worker has to justify the premium that employers have to pay when they recruit them, and wages do not look that they are going down anytime now or in the future. What is then the way out of this conundrum? How can we effectively ‘decouple’ creative teaching from the limitations imposed by high stake testings?

    In 1956 Herbert Simon introduced the notion of ‘satisficing’ or ‘bounded rationality’. He said that human beings, lack the cognitive resources to maximize the relevant probabilities of outcomes and in the context of education, human beings are comfortable thinking of ‘creative thinking’ only in its purest form. Authentic learning is only authentic if it uses real world data, has IT infused in it, is highly sophisticated and has the ‘wow’ factor to impress anyone. By concentrating on the form of teaching we are missing the substance of the pedagogy. Simon argues that it is impossible to reach all outcomes with sufficient precision. A more realistic approach is to take into account these limitations.

    In education it means; can we get students to think deeper?, at a higher level?, scaffold instructions that leads to ‘AHA!’ moments in class where students not only learn a particular topic but see the relationship between topics and its practical applications without resorting to ‘Gee’ ‘Wiz’ fanciful pedagogical styles? It may be authentic learning today, alternative learning tomorrow, but short of another fanciful title, if chalk and frontal teaching could lead students nearer to the goal of stretching their minds and developing higher order competencies, then the question is ‘why not?’. I am proposing that ‘Satisficing’ means we do not have to wait for the perfect environment, resources and moment to carry out what we think is right, we make the best of the limitations and imperfections to come up with things that are practical. This means the teacher has to have the macro concepts of what is taught and has to preserve the essence of the discipline without being simplistic. He or she may not even achieve 98% of the coverage of the topic or the higher order thinking skills that ‘true blue authentic’ learning espouses but manages only 70% of the intended outcome. Wouldn’t that be an excellent accomplishment considering the many limitations?

    This requires a reframing of expectation as to what constitute practical, achievable authentic assessments and this can be achieve if teachers work together, collaborate and share successful lesson plans and resources and optimize available support and funding made available to them.

    A second approach in achieving excellence in assessment and in providing a transformational learning experience, would require teachers, principals and superintendents to let go with the preoccupation with school achievements. I am not suggesting we do away with ranking. We are ultimately held accountable to the parents and stakeholders, however we can do less in this area. If a school has been achieving above expectations results continuously for many years, wouldn’t it be desirable to insert 2 weeks of experiential learning or additional non-gradable electives during the graduating year or other enriching activities that prepares the learner for learning outcomes that the normal syllabuses is unable to achieve?
    IN such a probable scenario, exam results may drop. But if a school starts from a vantage point of having ‘exceeding expectation’ results, the drop may be down to ‘meeting expectations’. However in the context of being able to have innovative pedagogies a school ought to be lauded and commended if national examination results are at the ‘meeting expectations’ level.

    In the real world, this requires a certain amount of temerity and daringness. Reality dictates that very few principals would want to achieve only at a ‘meeting expectation’ level. As principals themselves are ranked with each other in terms of school’s performance (among other criteria), there is a determination to push school’s results to a higher level of achievement to attain MOE master plan awards.

    I would also like to qualify the above suggestion by saying that if a school has existing results that are below expectations, it is only prudent and wise if the management buckles down and concentrate on delivering a ‘no frills’ education.
    By being distracted in wanting to have innovative pedagogies and also chasing national examinations excellence without the knowledge, idea of standards of national examinations and having staff who have limited experience in preparing students for national examinations, it is only proper that such schools concentrate in fortifying its teaching and learning to meet the expectations imposed on them.

    Finally, being pragmatic is a virtue. Some would even go as far by saying that it is a Singaporean trait. It is safe and practical. It gets rewards and does not invite criticism. However rewards can be a form of punishment in the long term, if it is constantly being used to drive behaviors.

    Being bold and innovative, and risking excellent performance is considered naïve and can be seen as a foolish indulgent . However for the thousands of teachers who conduct ‘drill and practice’ as a bulk of their classroom practices, their sense of self worth as professionals would diminish over time. The zero sum game and the expectations onto them to produce results, cohorts after cohorts can reduce them to being automatons and detract them from the very reason that they chose teaching as a vocation of inspiring lives. Through a balanced approach of getting reasonable exam performance results and a ‘satisficing’ approach in conducting engaging, authentic lessons, teachers can realise their mission in unraveling the joys of leading the learner in a truly meaningful exercise or self-growth and discovery.

    The battle is lost, if teachers see themselves as victims, with little choice but to conform to a ‘factory line’ approach to education. In order to prevent burn out and to be an effective classroom teacher, one has to take a tangential path into the road less travelled. It would be good to have some support along this path. However the first step is always in the mind of the teacher. The time to what is right cannot wait for the external conditions to be right. It begins now …

  11. High stakes testing has given great emphasis because education in Singapore does not exist in a vacuum. Rather, education exist in a environment that emphasizes meritocracy. Therefore, for the families in the lower income bracket, education is seen as a leveller to overcome economic and social inequality. Families in the middle class strata and to some extent the rich, education can be seen as a tool for them to stay in this bracket or move even higher up the income ladder. Education in Singapore has become more than an literacy issue for children, it has become high stakes for all stakeholders concerned. The complexity of this issue is what education system has not yet learn to managed.

    While education is accessible to all Singaporeans and Permanent Residents, the playing field is not equal for all. For example, families with cultural capital can help significantly with their child to ensure that the child can not only cope in school but excel. While another child from a low income family will not have the financial means to help a child, totally depending on public assistance and the character traits of perservance to succeed in school. I think collectively as a system, we have to think through how exactly do we want to do to ensure that education is indeed meritocratic.

    On a practical level, in this political and education system that promotes education as an equaliser, middle managers and teachers have to very discerning. For example, the basic duty of the IP head is to ensure that good teaching goes on in the class and the teacher has to teach well. While we may think that it is a basic duty, however in the thick of things, teachers may not have the time to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of the lesson and HoDs not only have to put in reflective practices that allow for reflective teaching to take place.

    I think it may be time to rethink what exactly we mean by education in Singapore and how is is meritocratic to all students, and not only let our thinking be confined by high stakes testing.

  12. High stakes tests today may be the necessary evil. The society today is achievement oriented and generally this builds minds away from status derived from ascription. Thus with equal rights and oppourtunity what better way can there be then a high stake test that showcases an individual’s capability.

    It is great to suggest assignments and or other means to determine achievement but that ignores the very rampant feild of “ghost writing” today. Perhaps the advancement in information technology then serves to be a double edged sword here.

    In the private education sector, high stake test are both a motivation and a tool of manipulation. Why? Lecturers there have performance as their evaluation points, many private insitutions run on a core ring organization basis and staff in the outer ring are fighting hard today to maintain their contracts. The pie has been cut into less than a half due to the recent policy change that has spurred many inistutions into a shut down. Since many of the programmes are leading tracks into degree programs the high stake test are set and marked by the lecturers. Evidence can suggest that many will use this high stake test to prove their popularity among students and or use it to upscale the evaluations. Information on coverage is uncontroled making this high stake test a lip service in some circumstances

    I believe we cannot eradicate high stake test completely. Perhaps a balance is needed to ensure that a single tool doesnt decide someones fate. It will however be worthwhile to note what will be the employers take on Graduates who GRADUATE without such high stake test. Will you employ the?

  13. In Singapore, high stakes tests such as PSLE are norm-based and not criterion based because these tests are used primarily for placement. Placement is done in a meritocractic fashion whereby a student with the highest PSLE aggregate score gets to his choice of school before the student with the next highest score.
    Norm-baseds test give little information on the learning and motivation of individual students. Analysis reports on pupils ability given for PSLE for instance by SEAB provide insufficient information for measurement of learning as the analysis is for the cohort which had just taken the examinations. There is no third party to follow up on the analysis as well as on how the cohort could be better supported as they flow from the primary section to the secondary section.
    The approach to testing in Singapore is therefore a zero-sum game. One person is above the 50th percentile while the other must therefore be below it.
    However, there are world-wide tests such as the International Competitions and Assessments for Schools by University of New South Wales, which gives very good details of individual pupil skill-set with comparison across the cohort of candidates.
    Unfortunately, the emphasis in Singapore is more placement than measurement. Over the years, PSLE data on pupils’ performance of each question for different cohorts have been collected. The development of a database and the facility/difficult index of PSLE questions to measure learning could be developed to assist school leaders and teachers in the measurement of learning especially in relation to specific test-items.
    There are pros and cons of high stakes national examinations. It is a main feature in examination systems to allocate scarce resources. However, does Singapore need to reconsider how and when such high stakes tests are being administered ?

    Compared to Finland (which attained similar PISA scores as Singapore), Finnish students have relatively less homework, face less anxiety in school and spend their off-curriculum time pursuing their own interests in Sports, Clubs or CCAs. Finland has their first high-stakes exam at Grade 9 (or Sec 3), reflecting the need for citizens to receive as much education as possible before specialisation to prepare for the requirements of the new global economy. Legally, they have backed this up with legislation requiring schools to accept students upon application at Grade 6.

    Some quarters have suggested a national ballot for Secondary School administration and doing away at least with PSLE. Unfortunately, this requires bold initiatives and political persuasion to do away with this ‘sacred rite’.

    There is little need to elaborate on negotiation of practices and beliefs. Teachers, SHs/LHs, Heads of Department, Vice-Principals and Principals develop ways to work around the system. The school as a Learning Organisation also develops its coping mechanisms and changes to its structure and activities.
    The educational system and educational reform is increasingly dictated by administrators. Increasingly, front-line educators feel less and less empowered to make critical decisions based on pedagogy and child development.

    However, will these coping mechanisms come too little too late to address long-term issues such as:
    * the need for longer formal education for a Knowledge-based economy
    * lifelong and authentic passion for learning and re-learning
    * growing economic disparity leading eventually to educational disparity within society
    * low education levels, educational wastage and under-employment

    Perhaps, it is time to re-visit the assessment system and reconsider a total revamp of the education system for a 21st century.

  14. This is my view point.

    I somehow believe that high stake standardized testing is a necessary element of the education system. Like human nature, students and schools can only rise in their achievement only with real rewards and recognition. In fact the American Federation of teachers argues that student motivation is the driving force for high stakes testing. As examinations are required for promotion and graduation, students see a real motivation to work hard and excel academically.

    High stakes examination is also a measure of comparison. Let’s ask ourselves how we can compare a school from another one? With standardized testing, parents can only rely on word of mouth and rumours to gauge the standard of school. School will be labeled as good or bad based on student or parent perception of the school and the quality of education it provides. High stakes tests thus allows the public a means of comparing schools. Not only that, such testing has a large implication in terms of educational responsibility. By allowing high stake testing as a means to expose disparities, more assistance can be rendered to the weaker performing schools, and more importantly, their students. By providing increased support and leveling up the achievement of these schools, the country as a whole benefits as overall competency of its future workers will increase.

  15. High stakes testing is a form of summative assessment whereby it is the final goal of an educational curriculum package. As teacher-leaders, test results would be used by us for data analysis to evaluate our teaching materials, pedagogy and mode of lesson delivery. The test results can be used as criteria for students’ eligibility for selection in future higher level courses of learning. One may argue that high stakes testing may not measure true learning and it encourages rote and superficial learning. On the other hand, it does provide us with a summation of what the student has learnt in our school system.

    High stake testing may form comparative judgment perceived by students as fulfilling competitive purposes rather than for self-improvement. Wherever possible testing should be designed to raise students’ self-esteem as it can enhance students’ learning experience enabling students to set their individual targets and create their success criteria. High stakes testing being a measurement of an individual student’s motivation is dependent on the individual student as some will be highly motivated to work hard for an important test whereas some may experience extreme stress and/or become less motivated.

    High stakes test measures the culminating performance of our students. As teachers, we are responsible for the learning process of our students. Our curriculum design and teaching will determine if a culture of authentic learning is embraced in our school. High stakes test may reduce our time available for exploration of learning, nevertheless we can still infuse activities for authentic learning into our curriculum. It is only the intensity of the experiential and exploration of learning that will vary. The aspect of learning that may suffer are in the area of non-core subjects ( national education, civics and moral education) when teachers focus on the high stakes tested subjects which serves as a culture of accountability to parents and stakeholders that learning has taken place in schools. As a result, the ideal goals of having a ‘balanced curriculum’ in our school system become increasingly difficult to achieve.

  16. When I reflect on my personal journey enduring high-stakes testing, that is one reason why I am where I am. As a student, I had somewhat succeeded in the high-stakes testing world and I was passionate to share that with others especially children. I am so into learning and making improvement so as to get it right. I could still vividly recall the great feeling, the good hormone rush when I achieved the expected result after persistent hard work then. So I became a teacher. However, what was crucial in my journey was that there was no expectation, as long as I finished school and became gainfully employed. There was no pressure. It was an innate consciousness that I could and would want to do more at every level.

    So, the question is how about my charges now that I am a teaching professional. Sharing my passion and inviting others to do their best alone may not be sufficient in this world of immense distractions and “time stealers”. The intrinsic motivation to be equipped with the knowledge and skills to face the world may not be there because the expectations of the world are fluid. That knowledge and skills are embedded in the high-stakes tests, so there is a need to strike a balance between portraying meaningful and authentic knowledge and skills in high-stakes tests to meet the demands of the society and the positioning of high-stake tests themselves. Just because high-stakes tests may seemed to encourage rote learning, does not mean that we should discard them altogether. We do not want to be in a situation where we throw the baby with the bath water.

    I feel that high-stakes testing is here to stay in our education system. The challenge is to strike a balance between promoting authentic learning and accountability as we move seamlessly in this ever changing world. At the same time, we could let the stakeholders own their level of pressure so we could have many among us who are intrinsically contented with their areas of passion.

  17. High-stakes testing is one of the reasons that had propelled our education system to one that is world-class. It is centrally featured in the accountability systems of many states and educational bodies. Test results form the basis to reward or sanction schools, educators, and students. It hinges on the motivational power of incentives to impel individuals to improve.
    High-stakes testing gives greater coherence to the education system by stating clearly the expectations of students’ performance. More importantly it holds students and educators accountable to the challenging standards.
    Students are motivated to learn and work harder when they take high-stakes tests. Similarly teachers are more focused to producing good results when tests have consequences.

    High-stakes testing is a contentious subject. Many argue that high-stakes testing encourages teachers to simply teach to the test, resulting in superficial learning.

    However the impact of high-stakes testing on instruction is not so straightforward. It is dangerous if educators continue to use high-stakes testing to justify the delivery of superficial teaching. Our national exams are very responsive to the changing education landscape. Increasingly national exams test the understanding of complex concepts and extended reasoning. Should this not call for the need for stimulating instruction and authentic learning?

  18. There are obvious merits to high-stake testing. It has proven to be an efficient and convenient way of measuring students’ learning in schools. It provides a measure of accountability towards the school stakeholders on the effectiveness of teaching. It also promotes transparency in the education system by enabling tests scores to be compared between schools and students.
    Although I have ‘generally’ benefited from the high-stakes testing system in Singapore, as an educator now, I believe that we could learn from other systems which deemphasize or eliminate high-stakes testing especially at the early stages of the education system.
    I would like to list below some of the limitations and criticisms of high-stakes testing:
    • It does not comprehensively assess students’ learning. While high-stakes testing can capture students’ academic abilities in covering the curriculum, other important aspects of learning cannot be tested or are usually ignored in such tests. Important life skills such as presentation skills, leadership skills, group problem solving skills, interpersonal skills and other ‘soft skills’ are not tested.
    • Teachers spend large portion of classroom time preparing for tests. Contrary to MOE’s policy of teach less learn more, many teachers in schools are compelled to teach more and test more. Teachers are constantly under pressure by parents and the management to ensure that the students perform well in high-stakes exams.
    • Impedes creativity and experimentation. High-stakes testing creates a culture that rewards perfection and deplore making mistake. As result, teachers and students avoid engaging in activities that promote innovation, creativity and experimentation. Teachers would rather take a safe route of drill and practice and teach to the test rather than experimenting with new teaching techniques such as in ICT. Students would also spend a lot of time drilling past-year questions rather than engaging in enriching activities (such as Arts and Music) which have low relevance to their tests.
    • Bias towards students who are late developers and from the lower socioeconomic background. High-stakes exams early in the education system have a danger of penalizing students who are ‘late-developers’. Due to the streaming of students according to academic ability early in the system, ‘late-developers’ are systematically left out of educational opportunities. For example, the gifted education program in Singapore selects students for the elite program at primary three and the academic streaming starts at P4.

  19. I wondered if educators could take a holistic approach to testing, including high-stake tests. We could probably want to align our objectives in creating/ doing the tests, e.g. what is the role and the purpose of high-stake tests?

    I assume the role of high-stake tests, e.g. PSLE, GCE O, GCE N etc. to perform a more HR function with an administrative purpose – posting of pupils to the next suitable higher institute of learning. Beyond that, what could the other functions be?

    Then, I would want to unpack what goes into the high-stake test – is it a measurement of learning of the centrally prescribed curriculum and syllabus. If so, shouldn’t the teachers be already working at helping pupils learn the information and acquire the knowledge?

    Hence, the focus could be redirected to teachers’ understanding and opinion of high-stake testings. It is common to see many would switch to the “drill and practice” mode and pile pupils with past years papers. This is not necessary a bad thing to do, if the focus was for the pupils to be familar with the authencity and familiarity of content and application, then this spells cheers and happiness for the pupils. It just need a re-shaping of perspectives.

    However, if the perception of the high-stake test is about grades, and the past years papers were being passed down to practice and practice to get the answers right, then the pressure and tension would be present.

    Having presented this aspect, perhaps I would like to throw open the thinking of “student-centric” assessment. In our tests and assessments, are we measuring what we want to measure or are we concern about grades. Our perspectives direct how we design the assessment and test papers while our concerned outcomes, e.g. grades vs progress of learning, would drive our practices in classroom.

    In summary, Singapore has developed a system with many entrances and exit points, to cater to different and diverse profiles of pupils. Hence, probably we need to take a different approach in perspective to encourage our pupils to do their best and we continue to do our best in providing authentic and meaningful learning to them, and let the high-stake tests be a measure while running its administrative role.

    Easier said than done, but achieveable over time.

  20. We have many times given high stake testing a bad name. We all know the intent of high stake testing but it is very easier to confuse high stake testing with formative testing. It is common to link high stake testing to learning, but really the two are not linked. High stake testing is a summative assessment intended to differentiate the performance of students. The assessment that should be linked to motivation and learning is formative assessment. Formative assesment should be focussing on providing feedback to students about their learning based on the curriculum syllabus and not the high stake assessment syllabus. The two syllabuses are different; one focussed on what should be learned and the other focussed on what will be assessed. Though the two are inter-related, but it becomes a sticky issue when educators focussed on learning and presented learning to students based on what will be assessed. My take is that the sticky issue is really not an issue with the high stake testing system but the sticky issue is with human nature, the fear and the greed. We as educators know the problem with teaching to the test and one of the best method to employ is ‘drill and practice’ but why are we still doing it? We often blame it on the system but what really is at stake here? Is it the promotional opportunities for students at stake or the promotional opportunities of schools and individual educators at stake here? If it is the former, then it is really an assumption we make that students will not do well in high stake testing if we teach the ‘student-centred’ way.

    Of course, one other contention about high stake testing is that, is it a good indicator of performance and what performance should high stake testing be measuring? We do see how high stake testing is evolving in assessing performance such as use of school-based coursework as a form of high stake testing. Subjects such as Design & Technology has a school-based coursework assessment component which forms 70% of the entire high stake testing for the subject. Coursework assessment addresses the issue of testing within a short time as the assessment is based on the students’ performance over a period of two to three terms. The School-based Science Practical Assessment (SPA) which constitutes 20% of the overall marks is also an assessment of students’ performance overtime. However, this form of assessent is even more stressful for students as their stress level is now stretched overtime.

    Beside, the question on what performance should high stake testing be measuring should be a question on how should the result from high stake testing be interpreted and acted upon. We have made some good progress here. Secondary schools and junior colleges have the autonomy to admit a certain percentage of students based on other merits apart from high stake testing scores under the Direct School Admission (DSA) Scheme. Higher institute of learnings such as the polytechnics have also embraced a similar scheme, called the Direct Polytechnic Admission. Perhaps by increasing the number of students allowed for admission under the schemes and extending the schemes to more institutions, we may be able to tackle some of the issues originated from high stake testing.

  21. Would it be possible for teacher empowerment to exist alongside a culture of high-stakes testing?
    The answer lies strongly with the school leaders. How much trust and support is provided in the process of exploring alternative modes of assessment and formative assessment.

    In some elementary and junior high schools in Sweden, teachers have the freedom of how they would like to guide and monitor their students’ learning as the school leaders have decided that evaluation would be based on specific development programme for each student. The students will chart their own pace and scope of learning with their homeroom teacher, with no school-based examination to interfere in their learning process. (National exams came only after 10 years in education.) The students kept a “Weekly book” in which they wrote down their reflections and ideas about the weekly assignments they will embark on. The teacher would then read the books the following week and write comments. Their parents also followed their children’s work by participating in parent-teacher discussions and writing comments on their child’s achievements in their child’s planning folder. Then both teacher and student will evaluate the work on theme-based projects by writing comments on their learning progress.

    In Singapore, schools are also subjected to high-stakes testing at the end of the primary, secondary and post-secondary education. Schools are increasingly having the autonomy to decide different formative assessments, based on what the teachers deem fit, although the rigour in national exam preparation would kick in at the final year in the school. Ultimately, students need to be trained to take responsibility for their assessment of learning.

  22. Assessment drives instruction. One can argue that high stakes testing has led to teaching to the test. Whether it makes us a better teacher or whether high-stakes testing/exams improved teaching and learning at our schools remain to be seen. Does high-stakes testing allow us to cater our teaching to students’ needs? Teachers have to prepare students to sit for the standardised testing. But each child learns differently. How can we be good teachers when we can’t therefore teach to each student’s needs? What’s appropriate and inappropriate teaching to the test has been the subject of debate in schools. Some have suggested that undesirable narrowing of instruction is one likely consequence of high-stakes testing. Another school of thought argue that focusing on the content of the test/exam is desirable, as long as teachers also focus on broad areas of knowledge and skills measured by the test rather than on content specific to the test question. But can we be certain that there aren’t teachers who teach content specific to test question? After all, it is often said that we want students to do well in exam for whatever reason and it is also true that teachers are very resourceful as they study the trend of questions in exams to guide the students further.

  23. Diane Ravitch (2010) [in “The Death and Life of the Great American School System”] argues that a student’s score is based on so many other factors, apart from the student’s aptitude and learning in school – these include parental engagement, student’s state of mind, distractions, motivation level etc. The results vary randomly in ways that have little to do with achievement. But it is not so easy to say “Let’s then scrap those early high stakes exams and replace with a more egalitarian model because it isn’t fair.” Many have posted reasons why streaming and standardized high stakes exams are needed. (e.g. to provide differentiated teaching and learning for students of different abilities, most convenient way of ranking.) Many have also posted on the disadvantages to this.
    I think the biggest disadvantage is the zero-sum game and late bloomer factor (both are related); and the 2nd is the possible effect on young children. Some might suffer from the stigma of being put into ‘lesser ability’ streams/schools; others might become arrogant and develop the wrong notion of real learning. But the question is whether these can be or are being addressed?
    Yes, in part by policy, in part by life itself. I think that the Singapore “system” does not just reward academic success – that is only one type of merit. Policy-wise: 1. it has been a great move to promote polytechnics and ITEs as alternative paths of talent-development. 2. success stories of many late bloomers. We have seen from the news and among our circle of friends how talented and hardworking people who excel later in life will still be rewarded. I know teachers lower-ability streams are doing a lot to foster confidence in their kids. Kudos to them. It also helps to know that many successful local entrepreneurs and businessmen also took a longer route than the usual to get their certs. This has helped to some extent to open horizons for students who don’t excel academically. There is no zero sum game for people who are late bloomers. Life rewards those who work hard, seize opportunities and are humble enough to learn from others. We see it very clearly, and are constantly reminded that the old system of “get a university degree and get security for life” is no longer valid today. The rules of the game have been redefined by information technology and innovation enterprise. Really, unless if you want to enter the public sector at a management or executive level, having a strong degree is not necessary. Just anecdotally, of my 3 of my cousins who entered the “N level” stream, one started work with an MNC and has worked her way up to MD, the other 2 are now in NTU. For me, they are examples of people bloomed late, but had encouraging teachers, worked hard and pursued lifelong learning. Assuming that everyone wants to excel in life, I think the cards are stacked against someone only if:
    1. They do not wish to work hard;
    2. Do not want to pursue lifelong learning.

  24. As a produce and producer from an Education system that is marked by its high-stake examinations, it is really tough to critique on the necessity of these examinations. I will make reference to the fact that Singapore is a meritocratic society and by virtue of this system, there must be a fair and standardized way to allocate merits to each individual member of the society. To suggest that we do away with high stake examinations is to move away from meritocracy as well. In a country with a small population, it seems inevitable to adopt meritocracy for a fair distribution of wealth and resources. If we were a big country where resources and wealth are abundance, then perhaps it is easy for us to forgo meritocracy and pursue more “idealistic” way of managing the country. Since we are unable to dispute the “inevitable” then the alternative would be to explore possibilities of modifying high-stake examinations so that it trickles down to a more open form of education system. Open in the sense that we can accommodate a greater variety of talents and develop them. Open enough to sustain the economy and beyond the projected future. I would critically state that the nature of an exam has a greater impact on the learners than the stake of the exam.

  25. When much emphasis is given to the high-stake examination, the purpose of assessment might be neglected and this can result in teachers teaching 40% of the curriculum but assigning 60% homework as revision, especially in Primary 6. The teachers teach with an examination driven mindset and ultimately teach only for enduring pupils’ understanding to cope with the high-stake examination. Teachers may claim that they want the pupils to be resilient in preparation for the high-stake examination. Yet, tons of homework as revision may give the adverse effect and it kills the pupils’ motivation and strength before the high-stake examination is to come.
    In my view, this is the backwash effect and it is quite real in education. The backwash effect short-changed the pupils’ learning because they only learn for examination. In reality, if the pupils did not master the learning outcomes in Primary 4, and they continue to move up to Primary 6 and get ready for the high-stake examiantion, they are facing the problem of neglected learning outcomes among the intended ones when they were in Primary 4.

  26. High stakes testing will be the mainstay of our “uniquely meritocratic” Singapore.
    Let me, however, propose some changes that I feel will be of benefit.

    Gifted-ness should be measured on a broader front to include non-academic subjects such as PE, Music and Art.. These subjects should be part of the national exams, and tested as early as PSLE. Although critics might cite increase in stress for pupils, I think that a broader front in assessment will support student-centered education by giving educators insight into the inherent talents and abilities of each child. The messaging to parents would also be “don’t just focus on academics; there is much more your child can do”. Should a child pass through the education system, and obtain “F”s throughout, that would imply he/she is a “good for nothing” and the system would have failed. Conversely so, should the test (on a broad front) reveal certain areas of talent, then it would have succeeded.

    My dream for our system is that “every child will find his/her talent, and grow in it”

    In line with the above, the spread of scholarships should be expanded. Whichever the end-point (JC, Poly, ITE), there should be a scholarship awaiting the individual. Why is it only the top JC students get overseas scholarships? Shouldn’t those who have been streamed at the various stages also be accorded equal opportunities? I believe this helps to reinforce the the other side of meritocracy: the willingness to work hard; for too long, meritocracy has been all about grades.

    High stakes testing should follow the developmental pace of the student. Student centeredness implies that student’s development in a linear-progression may not be an accurate assumption. Students are not just digits who are born just to study; most of them (if not all) go through ups and downs in life, including family and adolescent issues. Some of them may need that flexibility to progress at their own pace. Can the system accommodate this?

    Should assessment find a broader front, spread of scholarships and other opportunities be given to Polys and ITEs and pupils given the autonomy to progress and be assessed at their own pace and readiness, I do believe the objectives of high stakes testing will be realised in our uniquely meritocratic Singapore.

  27. While I agree that high-stake testings could possibly be the only way to maintain meritocracy in our country, I do believe that there should be alternative approaches to such testing in order to bring out the best in every pupil with diverse backgrounds, talents and different levels and nature of ability. A lot of times, when the issue of PSLE is discussed, I would hear comments about how we should understand that such a national examination is necessary as it serves a placement purpose to channel pupils to the various secondary schools according to their academic ability. Such an understanding or appreciation of the assessment policy does not necessarily eliminate the tension it produces on stakeholders. Even as the system attempts to take away the focus on academic performance through the introduction of DSA, we now see parents sending their children for prep-courses to train them to do well in interviews or enroll them in various sports academy like soccer academy etc just so that their children have a chance to get through DSA. Where then is the true meaning of learning?

    So, in our country, learning becomes a pragmatic undertaking rather than a scholarly one. Yet, in schools, we are told to make learning more engaging by making it meaningful and relevant. At least, for me, this is a constant struggle. For example, when rolling out a teaching package on reading comprehension which focuses on analytical and critical thinking skills, we faced with a lot of resistance from parents who questioned the relevance of these skills in the exams. After a few years running, we found ourselves adapting the pedagogy to ensure alignment with assessment and going back to square one all over again but this time, with a little bit of variation. But essentially, we still let assessment determine our teaching and students’ learning. Hence, as long as high-stake testings are here to stay, we will always find ourselves fighting a losing battle.

    But what could possibly be the alternatives to testing? Can through-train programme or IP for primary school students be the answer? If such a programme eliminates the need to sit for the O levels, can it also take away the PSLE? While the through-train programme is more for the high-ability students, can we explore its potential to level up the playing field for all other students?

  28. In Singapore, high-stakes examinations have been an integral part of our education system and should remain so in the near future. As a product of such examinations, I feel that it is a fair way to award merit to every individual. Take myself for example; I was an average student scoring average mark in an average school. I went to a polytechnic and graduated with a diploma. At that time, only the elites from the polytechnics could be offered a place into the local universities, so I had to consider going overseas to obtain my degree, in which I did. No regrets from me though; I thoroughly enjoyed myself while pursuing my studies overseas. In fact, I never felt that study could be so much fun. Though I enjoyed my study overseas, somehow I still believed that our education system has taught me well, not just in terms of academics but also in terms of citizenship. I know deep in my heart that I am a Singaporean which explains why I am here, as a teacher, championing National Education in my school.

    Maybe one thing I find ridiculous in high-stakes examinations is what was reported in a news report recently. It was reported that a new breed of students had emerged in our tuition industry and they were none other than the parents of school-going students. They joined these tuition classes for parents so that they can learn how to support their children in the latter’s learning. Perhaps this is the stress created by high-stakes examinations in our education system.

    Though many may disagree that high-stakes examinations have many benefits, it is without a doubt that they have served us well over the decades be it PSLE, GCE”N”, “O” or “A” levels. They will be here to stay, at least for another decade or so.

  29. Dear Everybody,

    I would like to do my part to inject some positive vibes into this thread, whose theme inevitably leads to rather bleak lamenting.

    The assessment formats for both Lower and Upper Sec Geography / History / Social Studies will undergo massive changes in 2013-4. In a nutshell, here are the salient (to me, and possibly a thousand other Humanities teachers – posivite) changes:

    1. reduction in syllabus content, and content assessed
    2. weightage reduction in assessment components focusing on information retrieval.
    3. new assessment components for Group Investigation and performance tasks
    4. increased differentiation between N(A) and EXP streams

    All the above changes serve to address the drawbacks of traditional assessment (cf. being an impediment to engaged learning) and to increase the likelihood of engaged learning.

    Kudos to CPDD Humanities Br.

    Is it possible for similar steps to be taken for other subject areas in Sec sch?

    [I avoid bringing in Pri sch into this discussion because I too feel the monolith which the PSLE is – and its streaming + placement function – is here to stay for a while yet]


  30. There has been a lot of talk of late about whether or not high stakes examinations such as the PSLE will and should be abolished. In my opinion, although PSLE does give a lot of stress to schools, teachers, parents and pupils, it does play a very important role as a national standardised testing that streams students to the next level of education according to their academic abilities. These are done with the intention of sorting the high achievers to the different peaks of excellence, thereby catering to the varied talents, interests and aptitudes of pupils, and providing multiple pathways for the underachievers. Having said all these, MOE and schools have to be mindful of the possibility of overlooking and disadvantaging the late bloomers or pupils who may have come from disadvantaged families. Are we ‘labeling’ a child too early in his schooling years? Are we inadvertently ‘moulding’ the mindset of the child and people around him/her that he/she belongs to a particular ‘mould’ and can only go down particular educational or vocational routes? Are we contributing to their self-fulfilling prophecies?

  31. I feel that high-stakes tests such as the PSLE should stay as there is a need for a national standardised test to bring the foundational years of education to a close in preparation for the next phase of secondary education.

    However, there is a need to relook the format and content of the PSLE as I agree with Lih Lin that its current form does overlook and marginalise “late bloomers or pupils who may have come from disadvantaged families”.

    I feel strongly about this as my Primary 1 son is actually a Special Needs case – his ADHD has caused him to fall very much behind his peers academically through no fault of his own. Being ADHD does not necessarily warrant him a place in a Special Needs school but in remaining in a mainstream school in his condition, his PSLE results at the end of 6 years may turn out to be unthinkably bad. As such, am I to prepare him now for a technical or vocational education after Primary 6 as the current PSLE model determines it to be so?

    Going back to the question on whether high-stakes tests assist schools particularly experienced teachers and leaders in allowing to measure learning and motivation of individual students, I have this to say.

    It is actually up to the school to determine how they would want their learning and motivation of individual students to be measured. Most schools do measure success in learning through the results of high-stakes tests. However, the true measurement of learning is holistic in nature and is not determined by academic results alone. It is heartening to know that more and more schools are looking into holistic assessment to measure learning and along with this holistic assessment, motivation can also be measured. Some examples of measurement in holistic assessment is through qualitative analyses such as students’ feedback via surveys, journal reflections and collated points from focused group discussions.

  32. High-stake tests such as PSLE should stay. Only through such high-stake tests, it would assess students’ educational standards fairly and provides a gauge for students to decide their secondary education pathway. For instance, the PSLE plays a crucial role in distinguishing the varying academic abilities of the primary six students so that they would be admitted into a school that would pitch to their learning aptitude and intellectual capacity. If secondary schools were to use special talent or distance from home as indicators as admission criteria, it would simply cause more discrepancies in the placement of students. After all, PSLE does serve its purposes in motivating students to excel academically and also prepare them for the rigor in higher education and workforce. However, instead of heavy reliance on summative assessments like PSLE as a means for assessing learning, assessment should also place emphasis on the process of teaching and learning. Activating students as owners of their learning is at the heart of the shift from assessment that measures learning to assessment that promotes learning. With the focus shifting towards 21st competencies, the challenge for teachers today is not just to impart knowledge, but also to create opportunities for students to show how well they have understood the concepts. The challenge is how to achieve a more positive relationship between both the formative and summative assessment.

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