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PSLE AL Score: Parents' Guide to the New Scoring System

Updated: Jan 24



Image from The Straits Times


Navigating the new PSLE scoring system and choosing the best secondary school for your child can be a daunting task.


In 2021, a new PSLE scoring system was introduced, ushering in a significant shift in the evaluation process. Primarily, each PSLE subject will be evaluated using 8 ALs (Achievement Levels), grouping students with similar performances into the same AL for each subject. This new system replaces the traditional PSLE T-Score with these broader AL scoring bands.


The Ministry of Education (MOE) has articulated two main objectives for these changes to the PSLE scoring system:


  • To reduce the fine differentiation (evident in the old scoring system) at a young age (Figure 1 below)

  • To recognise children’s level of achievement, regardless of how their peers have done


Despite these scoring changes, MOE assures that there will be no impact on the curriculum, the subjects tested, the assessment standards, or the PSLE's overall demands on students.



Figure 1: Reducing fine differentiation in scores of students



Differences between the new and old PSLE scoring systems at a glance



Curiously, I tabled the old and the new scoring systems side-by-side (Table 1 below), just to view the differences between the 2 systems at a glance. Below are some observations and thoughts I gathered and actionable steps I would suggest to us parent-educators to support our PSLE-bound children at home.


Table 1: The new and old PSLE scoring systems


1) Gone are days of ‘As’…


Observations:


Though there seem to be corresponding ALs and PSLE grades on both ends of the spectrum, the similarity ends there.


Generating the most buzz among teachers and parents is how an A-grade in the old system will become more ‘transparent’ from 2021 onwards. That is, an AL2 will merit a student who obtains a range of 85 to 89 marks, while an AL4 goes to one who scores between 75 and 79 marks for a subject at the PSLE.

With the prestige of an A grade in the old system that will soon give way to a more differentiated but less impressive AL band, chief on the minds of parents must be: doesn’t this new AL scoring system mean that a good grade, like an AL1 or AL2, is even more beyond my child’s reach from now on?



Suggested Actionable Steps:





For parents, this necessitates guiding their PSLE-bound children to set realistic goals and systematically pace their preparation across subjects. Creating a simple progress chart can be an effective tool for visualizing and achieving targeted PSLE scores.


Reviewing each goal by crossing out reached milestones can help boost his/ her morale and make concrete action plans for the next target to aim for and work on. This nurtures the spirit of excellence and focussed discipline in a child. Celebrating little victories is as crucial as reflecting on blind spots or working on persistent errors and weaknesses.



2) ‘Bs’-ness, no longer as us ual…


Observations:


The broadening of scoring bands from AL5 (65-74 marks) to partly AL6 (45-64 marks) indicates a significant shift, particularly for students who previously hovered around B grades. This change might affect their combined AL score and subsequently, their options for secondary school admissions.


Suggested Actionable Steps:



In this evolving PSLE scoring system, it's crucial for parents to realistically evaluate their child's capabilities and make informed decisions about school choices.


Traditionally, a child scoring a bag of As and Bs tends to score along the range of lower 200s up till 2020. If the child is in an affiliated school, then the choice is clear: stay the course and be in the affiliated school. For students not enrolled in an affiliated school, there's still potential to work towards achieving a more favourable subject combination by the end of Secondary 2


MOE has started a new scheme in secondary schools called Subject-Based Banding (SBB). This scheme aims to offer a more dynamic range of subjects and rigour for students gifted in some subjects than others. Hence, for students who score a grade B or C, an equivalent of AL 5 or 6 at the PSLE and are assigned to do a subject at the N(A) level, they can strive to take the subject at the Express level when he/ she performs well.




3) ‘Cs’ to exist, no more…



Observations:


In place of the aggregate T-score that PSLE students up to the 2020 cohort have been banded by, the 2021 batch and beyond will be banded by a combined score of the awarded AL bands for the 4 subjects they sit for the PSLE. This could range from 4 (being the best) to 32. (See Table 2 below)


This system resembles the GCE ‘O’ level points system, sans the alphabetic grades.


Table 2: Indicative AL cut-off point (COP) Range for different school types (for 2019 PSLE)

Big on the minds of parents is the question: is it harder to qualify for the Express course under the new system? According to the MOE website, under the new standards-referenced scoring system, if more students demonstrate the requisite level of achievement to cope with and benefit from a more demanding course, more of them will be eligible for that course.


Understandably, MOE aims to fulfil the objective of ensuring that the PSLE will help every child focus on their learning instead of how they compare to others.



Suggested Actionable Steps:



In light of this shift towards a more absolute rather than a relative assessment of PSLE students with the new scoring system, parents should start talking to their children about their learning styles, strengths and weaknesses.


When it comes to choosing the school for your child, remember that it will be the child and not the parent who is attending the school. Hence, it is critical that the child has a major say in the discussion of the selection of schools post-release of the PSLE results. To find a school that would help the child learn and thrive best, do consider the following:


  • Values: What is the school’s culture and ethos? One that resonates with your values is important for the teenage years.

  • Learning environment: Is the school’s learning environment right for the child? Consider visiting the school during Open House season and talking to the seniors and teachers.

  • Distinctive programmes and CCAs: Can the school support and develop the child’s interests and talents? A happy learner is one who enjoys a holistic environment in his/ her growing years.

  • Location: Is it too far from home? How will the child get to school? The daily commute should be a key consideration for a child when a full school and CCA day packs his/ her schedule to the fullest several days in a week for the season.



Furthermore, the choice of schools will matter more now as the new AL scoring scheme will mean that students will be posted to a secondary school based on academic merit, ie., overall PSLE score. If two or more students with the same PSLE score vie for the last remaining place in a school, tie-breakers will be used in the following order:


1. Citizenship

2. Choice order of schools

3. Computerised balloting


In conclusion, as the PSLE AL score system evolves, it becomes increasingly important for parents to be the support and guide their children need during this pivotal year of their educational journey.



FAQ:

1. What do AL scores signify in the PSLE?

AL scores, short for Aggregate Scores in the PSLE, represent the cumulative score obtained by adding up the individual scores from the four subjects in the Primary School Leaving Examination.

2. When can one expect the announcement of PSLE results?

The release of PSLE results usually takes place in November or December, approximately six weeks after the conclusion of the exams. The specific date is annually disclosed by the Ministry of Education.


The results for this year's PSLE are scheduled to be released on November 22, 2023.

3. Why do the AL bands in PSLE have different mark ranges?

The PSLE allows students to showcase their abilities. With approximately half of students scoring 75 and above, expanding the upper AL bands would result in too many students with the same score, necessitating more tie-breaking for secondary school placements.


Learning follows a pattern where initial progress is substantial, but as proficiency increases, improvements become incremental. The ALs and mark ranges mirror this learning reality.




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