Students have been let down by local exam that is far too difficult

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 June, 2015, 3:59pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 June, 2015, 3:59pm

I refer to the letters by Cheung Wai-yu ("Students of English have few excuses", June 7) and Henry Wong ("Reading is key to language learning", May 4) in reply to my letter ("DSE English paper asks too much of local students", April 29).

Both correspondents mistakenly diverted the focus of the controversial reading paper of the Diploma of Secondary Education exams to English teachers' teaching methods.

Firstly, my question on the paper's quality is based on my 28 years of teaching, including the Hong Kong Certificate of Education and Use of English exams, and my past personal exam experiences such as exams of the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority (HKEAA), Benchmark for English teachers and International English Language Testing System (Ielts). I also did the reading paper before writing my letter.

The DSE is a local exam for secondary students. If it is set at as high a standard as Ielts, an international exam for tertiary students, is this fair to our students?

Mastering the levels of target candidates is a basic step when setting an exam paper. The HKEAA has failed us in this regard.

Secondly, evaluating an exam paper has to be independent of evaluating English teachers' teaching methods.

There is nothing wrong with exposing the flaws of the reading paper. Your correspondents suggest it is teachers who are at fault in the way they teach reading, and I think this is unfair.

In fact, when teaching social issues, we always encourage our students to read English newspapers and access online material.

For example, I alluded to different points of view on the Occupy Central movement, including articles from Time magazine, to help develop students' reading and critical thinking abilities. The point I was trying to make was that my students were not fairly assessed by a poorly-set exam paper this year.

Finally, if the reading paper were as reasonable as other English papers in the DSE, why have other correspondents written agreeing with me, including a native English-speaking teacher, Marieann Keenan ("English paper setters are far from realistic", May 22)?

We wrote these letters because we want justice for our students. We are not making a mountain out of a molehill, nor are we trying to shirk our professional duties.

It is time for the HKEAA to address immediately the setting and moderation of the DSE reading paper.

Kendra Ip, To Kwa Wan