A teacher’s viewpoints of the new PSLE grading system in 2021

Many websites have written about it, netizens have criticised it, but of course, some defended it as well. As a teacher of 14 years and a private educator of 3 years, I would like to present the changes and the impact it might have on children, their parents and the industry from a teacher’s point of view.

Everyone knows, every child is unique. Each of them have their own learning preferences, cognitive ability and achievement motivation etc. To analyse the new PSLE grading system, I will broadly categorise the children into 3 groups: The High Ability (HA), Middle Ability (MA) and Low Ability (LA). (Every teacher who has been through NIE will find these terms extremely familiar 😉 ).

From 2021 onwards, “pupils’ scores will not be benchmarked against their peers. Instead, they just have to do the best they can in each subject. Their marks will be converted according to the new scoring bands of Achievement Level (AL) 1- AL8.” (Straits Times, 13 Jul 2016)

AL-Range-768x434.jpg(Source: MOE Press Release)

My analysis:

HA (AL1-2)

Before 2021, in order to get into a good school like Raffles Institution with cut-off point of 264 in 2015, a HA student can afford to get 85-89 raw score in any two of the subjects (given an average cohort score of 65, a standard deviation of 20 and that the other two subjects are 90 and above) and safely qualify for entry into RI.

After 2021, assuming RI’s cut-off maintains at the same standard which is around 6 (AL1 + AL1 + AL2 + AL2), the child will still need to work extra hard to score that 90 marks.

Conclusion: No difference for the HAs.

Discussion: In fact, the usual gauge parents use to determine if their child is doing well is usually their performance in school, which is not measured using T-scores. Many parents do not know the details of the calculation of T-scores and hardly talks about how the school cohort is performing compared to their own child because such information is not readily available. Therefore, to say that parents are pushing their kids for that one extra mark because T-scores are used is not accurate in my experience. Rather, parents are pushing their kids because they want their HA kids to safely land a spot in the best school and not risk a borderline performance. Thus, removing the T-score would not make a difference to the HA kids and their parents.


MA (AL3-5)

Before 2021, children who are scoring 65-84 are considered ‘A’ and ‘B’ grades in school and are usually treated as potentials for entry into good schools. All they need is a little pushing and they might just fall into the ‘A’ or ‘A*’ category, thus, these are usually the kids who are sent for tuition.

After 2021, these children will no longer be ‘A’ or ‘B’ but AL3, AL4 and AL5. Let’s say they wanted to go into Victoria School (2015 cut-off was 247), if they maintain the standard, and assuming the new established cut-off becomes 8 (using the same assumption as the calculation above for consistency), students scoring 84 will no longer stand a chance to enter schools such as ACS (I), Cedar Girls’, Anderson, Nan Hua, River Valley etc. Because at 84, they are merely an AL3. If they get AL3 for all subjects, they are only a 12, they would have missed the cut-off point by a lot. Unless they can score an AL 1 for 2 subjects and AL3 for the other 2 (=8), they could still make it. Of course, there are many possible combinations that can be tabled, but the point is, an average score of 84 for all subjects will not get you into Victoria under the new system.

Conclusion: More stressful times ahead for the MAs.

Discussion: But what about the lower MAs (those scoring 65-74)? They will be choosing schools with previous cut-offs of around 200 and postings will be based on order of choice rather than by their aggregate score. They were previously at least able to choose schools of a higher cut-off (around 218).

Yes, the range of choice has increased for these lower MAs so in a way it’s a good news and parents can indeed relax a bit if their kids are in this category. However, from the parents whom I have spoken to, “kiasu” and “non-kiasu” ones, the one common thing they talk about is to give their children the best that they can afford. Still holding the mindset that a good secondary school makes a whole lot of difference to the child, none of the parents I know will say “It’s ok, just maintain at this level will do, no need to work so hard.”

Therefore, the group of parents that the new changes are targeted at might just end up giving their children more help by sending them to more tuitions, buy more assessment books etc.


LA (AL 6-7)

Before 2021, scoring 60 would fetch the child a ‘B’ and a T-score of 190 (assuming the same is scored for all 4 subjects with the same calculation assumptions as above). The child is still eligible for Express Stream in 45 schools (according to 2015 cut-off points).

After 2021, scoring 60 would fetch the child an AL6. Assuming the same for all subjects, the child would have accumulated a total of AL24, thus failing the criteria of a minimum of AL22 for the Express Stream in the new system.

Conclusion: An average score of 60-64 will land you in Normal Academic in 2021

Discussion: To some parents, going to the Normal stream is unacceptable. They will do everything they can to prevent that from happening. Without any other changes to the current education system, they will simply have to resort to what had worked for most students in the past, tuition, tuition and more tuition…
*There is no change to the old system for students scoring below 20. Therefore it is not included in the analysis above.

As a caveat, a lot of assumptions had to be made for the analysis above. For e.g., in order to calculate the T-scores and it’s aggregate, the cohort average is assumed to be at 65, the standard deviation is 20. Many other combinations of these numbers can easily fetch many different outcomes.

The above analysis is purely subjective. They are based on my experience as an educator (both government and private) and my day-to-day interactions with parents. Everyone has their rights to their own opinions and do feel free to leave your comments below if you feel otherwise.

Ultimately, it is really up to the parents to decide what is the next best course of action for their children but I personally feel that knowledge is what allows everyone to make informed and wise decisions. Even if tuition is the way forward for at least another 5 years till 2021, please make sure it is a center/tutor that knows how to motivate your child, knows how to bring out the love for learning in your child, and knows how to keep you informed of their progress for your decision-making. Tuition, can make or break your child’s future, just like the school that he/she attends.

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