Ensuring quality yardsticks in schools

Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia (PAGE) chairman Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim

Calling on the Education Ministry to have standards and benchmarks which students are required to achieve before they elevate to the next level, Parent Action Group for Education (Page) chairman Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim cited the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), which is a yardstick for the English language used in schools, as a “fine example” of what needs to be done to address grade inflation in schools.

Grade inflation, she claimed, was evident in the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) 2020 examination, which was held during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The SPM results that came out that year were the best in five years. Many parents, students and teachers felt that the results were unbelievable considering that the cohort had spent the entire year doing online learning. Many students struggled,” she said.

Dismissing claims of manipulation, then examinations syndicate director Datuk Pkharuddin Ghazali told Astro Awani on June 13, 2021, that the SPM 2020 results followed a normal distribution pattern.

Describing it as a “stable change”, Pkharuddin, who is the current Education director-general, said the improvement in the national average grade (GPN) was very small.The GPN went up to 4.80 in 2020 compared to 4.86 in 2019.

He said the 0.06 points was only a 1.23% increase, and that only changes of 3% and above were considered a significant change in results.

A lower GPN number means a better score.

Pkharuddin also explained that the SPM 2020 GPN was due to the candidates being more prepared for the exams as they had prepared for it three times due to it being postponed thrice.

The SPM 2020 cohort fared better in the national exams although they sat for it during a pandemic and had to answer more higher order thinking skills (HOTS) questions compared to previous years, then education minister Datuk Dr Radzi said when announcing the exam results.

More candidates also qualified for the SPM certificate, from 86.72% in 2019 to 88.68% in 2020, while the number of special needs candidates who qualified for the certificate increased by 6.88% to 68.22%.

According to the SPM 2020 Results Analysis Report, 2.46% (9,411 candidates) achieved all As for their exams in 2020 whereas in 2019, 2.28% (8,876 candidates) obtained straight As.

There was also a smaller gap in the average grade between urban and rural candidates.

Addressing quality concerns of the students and the standard of the SPM, Radzi explained that the SPM 2020 was benchmarked and its quality was assured by two international bodies – Cambridge Assessment International Education and Pearson United Kingdom.

Weighing in on grade inflation, Melaka Action Group for Parents in Education (Magpie) chairman Mak Chee Kin said the abolishment of the Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR) and the Pentaksiran Tingkatan Tiga (PT3) marked a step forward in addressing the problem.

Scrapping the Year Six and Form Three exams at the primary and lower secondary school levels in 2021 and in 2022, respectively, took away the focus on As, he said.

“Teaching and learning is now more focused on projects, teamwork and presentations of student work.

“It is no longer just based on pen-and-paper exams with students now being assessed in all aspects, which include physical, sports and cocurricular, and psychometric assessments, along with classroom-based (PBD) assessments.

“By abolishing these two big exams, students could learn more happily and teachers were able to teach without worrying about the pressure of completing the syllabus in time so that students could sit for the exams.

“Teaching and learning just for the sake of getting good grades is bad. A combination of various assessments is better than relying solely on exam results, especially if we want to address grade inflation,” Mak concluded.

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