Calm Parents Aren’t Stressing Out Over The New PSLE Scoring System: Here’s How You Can Be Like Them

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Did you miss the Ministry of Education’s November 6 announcement about the indicative Achievement Level (AL) scores for different secondary school types in 2021, and the Subject-Based Banding Eligibility (SBB) criteria?

For full details, you can read the MOE’s press release on our website. 

But if you haven’t been following PSLE 2021 developments and need a quick recap, what’s captured the attention of many parents is this: a preliminary guide to secondary school cut-off points in 2021 has been released, to help students and parents transition to the new AL scoring system next year.

Some parents find the guide’s score tables confusing. Remember: these tables list a range of cut-off points — i.e. the “worst” scores that a student can use to qualify for a school — and not a range of entry scores. For instance, you may look at the scores listed under “Autonomous Schools” and wonder why 17 to 21 are not listed. This is because the cut-off point for the Express (O-Level) stream in an autonomous school is expected to be at 16 points. Those who score 17 to 21 points can apply for the Express O-Level stream in government and government-aided schools. Or they may also be eligible for the Normal (Academic) Stream, where the cut-off point begins at 22. (There will be more clarity next year when the new system kicks in.) It’s for this same reason that you don’t see 4 points listed in the guide — 4 is the best possible score, and it’s unlikely that any school would set this as a cut-off point.

Parents may also wonder about the differences between the listed school types, and here’s the MOE’s interpretation:

  • Government & Government-aided Schools: These schools are the mainstay of our education system, providing quality education at standardised fees. They offer a range of electives, applied subjects, and student development programmes.
  • Autonomous Schools: These schools are a subset of Government or Government-aided schools. They follow the national syllabus, but offer a wider range of programmes that enhance students’ learning experience.
  • Independent Schools: These schools have the flexibility to develop their curriculum and programmes to cater for their students’ diverse learning needs.

You can view a list of local secondary schools (including school type details) on Wikipedia, but note that the information may not be current. For the most accurate information on school type, refer to the MOE’s secondary schools information booklet, available for download here.

On our KSP forum, we have an active discussion thread on the AL achievement scores, and naturally, our members have responded to the latest information. Some parents were disappointed with the level of detail in the score tables — they were hoping to get an idea of what each school’s AL entry score might be. (This information will be available next year, and it will be based on this year’s PSLE results and school choices.)

Some KSP members have even been trying to map schools, especially Integrated Programme schools, to AL scores, while others are speculating if the indicative cut-off scores for the Integrated Programme will change (i.e. be harder to attain) in 2021.

Parents with children in affiliated schools are also concerned about what cut-off scores will look like in 2021 — the MOE addresses this question on its website, saying that affiliated schools will continue to set their minimum requirements for affiliated students.

There’s still a lot of uncertainty about how things will play out in 2021, and as one KSP member pointed out, different parents will have different interests and concerns. Uncertainty and worry tend to go hand-in-hand, but we hope parents will take it a step at a time, and look towards helping their children become better learners. Here’s what we can focus on instead:

Ask: What’s Within Your Control?

Speculating about what may or may not happen next year can be fun, and it can also be anxiety inducing. At the same time, fretting about what you can’t change won’t help matters either.

Instead, why not turn your attention to what you know for sure, to see how you can help your child grow under the new system? For starters, if you’re still not sure about how the new PSLE grades will differ from existing scores, refer to our infographics to compare the difference.

There have been complaints about why the AL2 to 4 bands (75–89 points) consist of narrow 5-mark ranges, as well as worries that the AL6 and 7 bands (20–64 points) are too wide. But before you even think about the PSLE, it’s better to assess how your child is doing in school currently, and set reasonable goals based on his or her school results.

Some educators advise that as a rule of thumb, children can aim for a 10% increase in the skill that they’re working on — how you intend to quantify this is up to you. But say your child is currently in the AL4 band on average, you could set a big goal of aiming for AL2 grades eventually, with the smaller goal of moving up a grade band for the upcoming term. More importantly, the steps needed to make the goal happen must be clearly mapped out, and you can get ideas from this list of exam-savvy revision strategies.

Get To Know More Schools

One objective of revamping the PSLE score system is to encourage students (and parents) to move away from selecting schools based purely on one’s PSLE results. Instead, the MOE hopes that students will begin to consider other factors about a school, such as its programmes, co-curricular activities, and values. Even if we parents disagree with the execution, we can’t fault these intentions, and we need to do our bit to shift perceptions and change mindsets, to hopefully benefit our children and future generations.

Instead of thinking about local schooling as an ultra-competitive environment where “market forces” will prevail, it’s a good time to reevaluate the sort of education that we want for our kids. We can use this time to think about our personal definition of school culture, which can be about:

  • a school’s definition of “success” and its academic and co-curricular track record
  • student life (school facilities, enrichment activities, and other opportunities for connection and growth)
  • the general behaviour of students
  • the calibre of teachers
  • the principal’s experience and reputation
  • the core values of the school
  • the strength of the school’s alumni network

As many schools are holding e-open houses this year, it’s an opportune time to find out more about schools that may be lesser known, but no less worthy.

Remember: Your Parenting Makes A Difference

No matter which secondary school your child attends, it’s what you do at home that will have the greatest impact. You are the one who can help your child work towards self-motivation, and it’s well within your power to expose your child to new ideas and new experiences. This can range from taking the time and effort to have engaging discussions with your child, letting other trusted adults in your circle act as mentors to your child (especially in areas that you are less well-versed in), and helping to ensure a smooth relationship between your child and his or her teachers.

Bear in mind that your goal is to raise a child who can make the most of his or her potential to lead a fulfilling life. The choice of secondary school can be influential in your child’s future path, but it won’t make or break your child’s journey, especially if your efforts at home are intentional, consistent, and sustained.