Quantity over quality: Too many assessments for students in a year

THE Ministry of Education (MoE) introduced the Student Assessment Tracker (SAT) exams for Years 1 to 8 last year.

It was mentioned recently that these assessments may extend to the ‘O’ Levels in the coming years.

This is in addition to the current assessments undertaken by students such as the Primary School Assessment (PSR) in Year 6 and Students’ Progress Examination (SPE) in Year 8.

Assessments have doubled for these students over the last year.

With this, I believe MoE has embraced ‘quantity over quality’.

The SAT exams were introduced by the Centralised Assessment Unit (CAU) and were meant to “measure students’ competencies in Literacy and Numeracy … to strengthen pedagogy and improve students’ learning”. (Quoted from CAU documentation on SAT)

However, a number of concerns have been highlighted regarding the quality of these assessments therefore calling into question the SAT’s ability to fulfil the ‘strengthening’ and ‘improving’ aims mentioned earlier.

For example, in Year 6’s SAT literacy exam, most of it was copied directly from the 2017 Year 8 SPE reading paper!

There are two main issues with this.

How can an assessment be valid if large parts of the exam are available to students and teachers before the exam is held?

Secondly, the vocabulary used in the SPE exam is specifically tailored for Year 8 students using what is known as the Flesch–Kincaid Grade Level with the vocabulary appropriately challenging for Year 8 students.

It is not surprising that most Year 6 students struggled to understand what they were reading as the vocabulary level was 2.5 years beyond most Year 6 students’ reading capabilities!

The Year 8 Literacy SAT exam was not much better.

The major flaw with this was that the wrong instructions were printed on the front of the writing paper.

There were no indication of time, word count or how many topics the students were supposed to write on.

Most students wrote on two topics when only one topic was needed.

Schools struggled to administer this examination fairly because the correct instructions on the front of the student exam paper were not provided by the CAU.

Furthermore, the marking scheme given to teachers was different to the SPE one requiring a different emphasis in the students’ writing.

As the marking rubric was handed to teachers at the time of the examination there was no time during the year to be able to teach students the CAU’s narrow interpretation of ‘Narrative Writing’ which penalised a lot of students.

At least with the SPE rubric there was greater flexibility to reward students on what they can actually write.

The final set of SAT’s to be administered were for Year 7 in November 2018, however again they suffered from the same lack of quality as the Years 6 and 8.

The CAU asked for teacher feedback after each assessment, so why didn’t they listen to teachers who clearly pointed out all the faults in the Years 6 and 8 SAT so they could get it right for Year 7?

Large parts of the Year 7 SAT exams were again copied from the previous SPE papers.

Again, if an exam is available to teachers and students beforehand, how can it be a fair assessment?

When material not copied from the SPE were used, the questions were often poorly worded and grammatically incorrect.

How can you examine the nation’s students on the English Language when the English used in the paper has numerous errors?

Who proofreads the papers?

Who is responsible for checking that the basic instructions are correct such as those on the front cover?

Where is the quality control?

It is a shame that the MoE embraced the idea of quantity over quality.

Had the different divisions within MoE worked together, maybe the CAU and the Department of Schools (JSS), who produces the SPE papers) could have produced a quality paper that meets the aims of both.

After all, if the exam is mainly an SPE exam with poorly made tweaks then surely the JSS and CAU can benefit from sharing their ‘best practice’?

This year we can see SPE students sitting for at least 12 formal assessments with SBA (school based assessment) SAT and SPE.

Students will spend most of the year being assessed – valuable teaching time has now been lost to endless assessment.

What we need is quality, not quantity.

– A concerned citizen