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New PSLE scoring system: 5 questions about cut-off points for secondary schools

SINGAPORE – The Ministry of Education (MOE) on Friday (Nov 6) released indicative cut-off entry scores for three different school types – government and government-aided, autonomous, and independent schools.

This year’s Primary 5 cohort will be graded next year using a new PSLE scoring system – first announced in 2016 – that assesses them on the basis of their individual performance in subjects, regardless of how their peers have done.

Pupils will be given Achievement Levels (AL) 1 to 8 for each subject, instead of grades like A* to E. A pupil’s total PSLE score will be the sum of the AL of each of the four subjects.

At a briefing on Friday, the MOE said it generated indicative AL cut-off point ranges for different school types, based on last year’s Primary 6 pupils’ PSLE results and school choice patterns.

MOE provided answers to some frequently asked questions.

1. How were the indicative AL cut-off point ranges for school types derived?

The ranges for the different school types were derived based on the 2019 Primary 6 cohort’s PSLE results and school choices.

The ministry first simulated each pupil’s individual subject score in AL terms, based on their raw subject scores.

Then, it added the AL scores for each PSLE subject to form a pupil’s total PSLE score.

Using these simulated PSLE scores and pupils’ school choices, MOE simulated their posting outcomes based on the new Secondary 1 posting system and tie-breakers such as citizenship, order of school choices, and computerised balloting.

Then, the indicative AL cut-off point for each school was determined by the PSLE score of the last student admitted.

Finally, based on the score of the last student admitted, MOE took the lowest and the highest indicative AL cut-off points of schools within each school type (government and government-aided, autonomous, and independent) to obtain the range of points.

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MOE said the simulation is purely indicative and the actual AL cut-off point for a school is likely to vary from year to year, depending on the PSLE results and school choice patterns of each Primary 6 cohort.

2. Why is MOE releasing indicative AL cut-off point ranges by school types now, and the indicative AL cut-off points for all secondary schools only next year?

MOE is providing information in phases to better support and familiarise the first batch of students and their parents with the new scoring system as they progress in their primary school journey, leading up to the PSLE and Secondary 1 posting.

In 2016, the ministry laid out the overall scoring and posting changes.

In 2019, it released information on Foundation-level subject scoring to help students and parents with their Primary 5 and Primary 6 subject choices. Foundation subjects are taken by pupils who are academically weaker.

The first batch of pupils under the new system will soon receive their Primary 5 end-of-year examination results in the AL format. The ministry said releasing indicative AL cut-off point ranges by school types would provide a broad sense of secondary schools and where they possibly stand in order to “contextualise pupils’ results”.

The indicative AL cut-off points for individual secondary schools will be released in the first half of 2021. Cut-off points are determined by PSLE results and school choice patterns for that year’s Secondary 1 posting exercise. Thus, this year’s PSLE cohort will provide the Primary 6 batch next year with the most recent information to refer to.

3. How can parents make use of the indicative AL cut-off point ranges by school types to familiarise themselves with the new Secondary 1 posting system?

The information released on Friday is meant to help parents and students have a broad sense of secondary schools’ possible cut-off points under the AL scoring system, in order to put in context their Primary 5 end-of-year examination results.

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Besides the AL cut-off points, parents are encouraged to consider factors such as the secondary school’s distinctive programmes, location, ethos and culture to choose a school that would best fit the educational needs of their child.

4. Will several schools have the same AL cut-off points? How do parents make school choices when the indicative AL cut-off points for many schools are the same?

The AL bands, on the whole, have been deliberately designed to be wider, therefore more schools will likely have the same AL cut-off point, said MOE.

Parents and students are encouraged to look beyond the schools’ cut-off points when choosing a secondary school, MOE said, and choose schools that would best suit the student overall.

They should consider the student’s learning needs, interests, strengths and aspirations, and how the school’s culture, environment, ethos, and programmes can support the student’s development.

Parents are also encouraged to find out more about the schools’ distinctive programmes, co-curricular activities, culture and proximity to their home when making their school choices. To find out more, parents can look at school websites or the MOE portal.

MOE added that parents and students should pick their selected schools bearing in mind that order of choice for schools will be a tie-breaker from 2021 onwards.

They should also give careful thought to the choices that they indicate on the Secondary 1 Option Form, and choose schools with a range of cut-off points that can best meet the learning needs of the child, said the ministry.

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Schools will continue to strengthen education and career guidance efforts to guide parents and students in making informed school choices.

5. How did MOE come up with the Subject-Based Banding (Secondary) eligibility criteria?

The criteria aims to identify students who are stronger in specific subjects, and who are likely to benefit from taking these subjects at a more demanding level so that they can further build on their strengths.

The AL 5 or better eligibility requirement for students to take a subject at the Express level is consistent with the course placement criteria under the new scoring system, and indicates that a student is likely to be able to cope with the subject at a more demanding level.

A student who achieves a PSLE score of 20 – an average of AL 5 for each subject – would qualify for the Express course, where the student would take all subjects at the Express-level by default. Therefore, AL 5 is used as the qualifying grade to assess if students from other courses are ready to take the subject at the Express level.

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The same principle applies to the AL 6 eligibility requirement for a student placed in the Normal (Technical) course to take subjects at the Normal (Academic) level.

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