I have moved the petition to here. Here is the Facebook Page. People complain that we are a tuition/enrichment nation without evaluating the reasons for it. We are a tuition nation because PSLE standards behave like a runaway train that even MOE’s teachers cannot cope with, thus students need tuition.
BELL CURVE GRADING CARRIED TO THE EXTREME
It has become accepted truth that when the population is large enough, people fall along a normal distribution curve (or bell curve) in just about every phenomenon. Fat-to-skinny people. Tall-to-short people. Smart-to-stupid people. High academic scores to low academic scores. Very few are at the very top, and very few at the very bottom. Most people are average. Click the following link to see how the RED LINE denotes the bell curve (or standard normal distribution) – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Normal_distribution .
In educational testing (as well as in employee performance management) people force fit the grades into a bell curve – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bell_curve_grading because the assumption is that every population, if large enough would fit a normal distribution curve (i.e., a bell curve).
Is this true?
One innovative HR Director (trained as an engineer and with a tendancy to question/challenge consultants) told me bluntly one day. "If I recruit well and have a conducive environment for high performance, why should my staff performance grades fall along a normal distribution curve? Why should I force fit my people so that I can pay bonuses along a bell curve? Here, in this company, about 50% of my people can get A performance grade because they are both smart (we recruited well) and hardworking (we have a conducive environment). In this company we do not shy away from paying people the bonuses they deserve. If I recruit well and manage well, my performance bell curve should be skewed. The normal distribution curve works with random events. In here, performance is not random. It is managed."
Singaporean students often end up top of the heap in top end educational institutions abroad. We win the Angus Ross prize every year. Singaporeans graduate valedictorians in Ivy League universities. Singaporeans competed with Americans and became the first non-American (not first Singaporean) to top the cohort or win some prize or other. Are we genetically smarter? Probably not. Are we better educated? Probably yes.The MOE of the past decades TAUGHT well. Singapore education is a managed environment. Parents, teachers, tutors manage the education so well that our students breeze through alternative education systems without breaking stride.
Let’s use the exact words of my HR Director friend to argue for why we should not be doing bell curve grading in the PSLE.
"If I TEACH well and have a conducive environment for LEARNING, why should my STUDENTS’ grades fall along a normal distribution curve? Why should I force fit my STUDENTS so that I can pop them into the right educational institutions? Here, in this COUNTRY, about 80% of my people can get A performance grade because we TEACH well and STUDENTS are hardworking. In this COUNTRY, we do not shy away from giving students the opportunities they deserve. If I TEACH well and STUDENTS study hard, my performance bell curve should be skewed. The normal distribution curve works with random events. In this COUNTRY, STUDENT performance is not random. It is managed."
The PSLE gets more and more difficult because no one dares to question the tyranny of the bell curve. If, in this year’s PSLE, the bell curve is skewed, the exam is considered poorly set because it is too easy. Next year’s exam gets harder… so that the bell curve’s belly goes back to closer to the middle (i.e., curve looks more like a normal distribution one). Then guess what, the schools push the students harder to do better. More classes, tougher homework, more homework. Thanks to parent and school hothousing, the kids rise to the occasion and the bell curve is skewed again. So the following year’s PSLE gets a little bit harder. More hothousing follows as people try to catch up with the bell curve. More enrichment. More tuition. Loving parents these days teach students to read thick books in TWO languages before Primary 1 in order to give their children a headstart. Others are exposing two year olds to Primary 1 Math concepts. When these babies grow up to PSLE age, the bell curve would have moved ahead of them… and parents may well find that despite all their trouble, their kids may still be behind the curve, simply because the system chases the bell curve and standards WILL move. And they would have sacrificed their entire toddlerhood running hard only to find that they are still in the same place.
Let’s give back to our children their lost childhoods.
Unfortunately too, many bright kids from underprivileged homes do not have the benefit (or misfortune) of being taught thus from such an early age. These will fall far behind. Carried to the extreme, bell curve grading DOES NOT make for equal opportunity because exams get harder and harder… and eventually those who make it, do so only because their parents have the wherewithal to coach and buy tuition.
What makes the Singapore educational system even more competitive is that we categorize and pigeonhole our students by their position on the bell curve (i.e., the PSLE t-score). Depending on the PSLE t-score, our kids are pigeon-holed into top schools or bottom schools. If you get into a top school, the world is your oyster. You travel to Germany and Canada to take part in research conferences and international camps. You study from enhanced syllabuses. You get the best teachers… some of them with doctorates. I know because my daughter went to a top school. If you get into a bottom school, then your learning is defined by gangs. I know because some acquaintances are Principals in bottom schools.
The t-score combined with the pigeonhole (top school… bottom school) is a lethal combination that leads to frenzied competition for the top positions along the bell curve. The only pity is that the child’s own ability matters less and less, whilst his/her access to enrichment resources matters more and more. People complain that we are a tuition/enrichment nation without evaluating the reasons for it. We are a tuition nation because grading along the bell curve has allowed PSLE standards to behave like a runaway train that even MOE’s teachers cannot cope with. Hence, parents turn to enrichment centres.
Our educational system is a train going frenziedly faster past its destination called "Genius Standards", and it keeps on going. Meanwhile, our children are exhausted and hothoused so much they work hours that are illegal under many countries’ employment laws.
Is the PSLE cut-off point the only way to distribute student talent? Why can’t we pick a number of secondary schools and call them GOOD schools? Then distribute resources equally amongst these schools, without overly concentrating resources at only the top 4 schools. Put students in these GOOD schools RANDOMLY who range from 240 to 280 in the PSLE t-score. This way, it may be less precise but it is still possible to teach compared to a range that stretches from 180 to 280. This way too, secondary students evolve with classmates of varying abilities. They make friends. Elitism does not get a chance to take root. Delinquents aren’t concentrated in any one school either. Mixed ability teaching teaches many life lessons which our best and brightest should learn – empathy, compassion, helping friends, loving (not competing).
CLASSES ARE TOO LARGE
In 2008, Ng Eng Hen publicly unveiled plans to move the educational system towards greater individual attention (i.e., student-centric). See link here for original report. This would mean smaller classes, and with smaller classes and individualized attention, mixed ability classes would have been possible. Today in 2011, class sizes have little changed.
How do you give individual attention in a class of 40+?
Last year, my son was a 90+ student in all his subjects except Chinese. This year, he was streamed into the 2nd best class where he is taught like he was an 80+ student for all subjects. In Math, he is getting masses of easy worksheets and no practice at all to tackle the 4 most difficult questions in every paper. The 40 students in the best class skip all the easy worksheets and go straight for the challenging type questions. Little Boy has the potential to handle the challenging questions but since he was not getting taught in school (since he is not in the best class), he will not learn to handle them if I don’t teach him at home. If there is individual attention, it comes from me.
To help him cope with the most difficult questions in his Math exam, I have to teach him concepts that his Teacher does not teach. You see, Teachers also don’t teach everything the exams test if you are in the wrong class. PSLE standards are now so high that there is too much to teach and too much for the textbook to document. Hence, Teachers must choose what to teach to whom, and textbooks don’t contain much of what exams test. The problem is that they teach the same thing to a group of children regardless of the individual strengths and weaknesses profile. Too bad if you are streamed into a class that under-teaches to your ability in some subjects, and over teaches to your ability in others. You won’t be well prepared for the most difficult questions in the PSLE.
7 short years ago, I hardly helped The Daughter through her PSLE. She had no tuition and was just about literate only in Primary 1. She managed on her own without enrichment, and still got into a top school. I realize that seven years on, Little Boy cannot even pass exams without external enrichment. The system has become completely over-geared in 7 short years.What will happen to high IQ students who don’t have a Mother like me, able to take time off work to coach them? Or those whose parents cannot afford tuition? Or those who weren’t taught Primary 1 Math from age 2? Or those who didn’t learn to read thick books in two languages before Primary 1?
Fast forward 20 years hence. Some high IQ kids with their progress blocked by lack of tuition and parental coaching would be adult. They ARE high IQ remember? Their only failure was that they didn’t have rich and educated parents who could afford tuition (or who were educated enough to teach them). These underprivileged children with high IQ will be young adults… full of drive and hunger to succeed? If the legitimate avenues to success are blocked, they will turn to illegitimate avenues. One cannot underestimate the human drive to succeed. We would have top class criminal minds pitted against a civil service that is bureaucratic and tired. By then, what can we do? Turn the clock back?
Thanks to bell curve grading, PSLE standards are a runaway train that even MOE’s teachers can’t cope with, so kids NEED tuition, which poorer homes cannot afford. If this post resonates with you, please support the petition here – http://www.petitiononline.com/SgEd2011/petition.html.