Test in schools can help pupils if right approach is adopted

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 December, 2015, 4:54pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 December, 2015, 4:54pm

With the public jumping on the bandwagon against the Territory-wide System Assessment (TSA), it has attracted undue attention.

Critics tend to blame the government for exerting pressure on schools and students. However, it does not make sense to just criticise the administration without realising that the way the TSA is administered has departed from its intended policy objectives.

Assessments of different types are geared for different purposes and a one-size-fits-all perception to assessments could mean leapfrogging some important issues such as the purposes of different tests. There is a distinction between tests intended for streaming, admission, selection and performance evaluation.

A look at the curriculum document will help put things into better perspective. According to the Education Bureau, the TSA is intended to facilitate assessment for learning by “providing schools with objective data on students’ performances in the three subjects of Chinese language, English language and mathematics”.

The assessment reports are crucial to informing schools of their students’ strengths and weaknesses against specific basic competencies laid down. With this information, teachers can enhance their plans on learning and teaching in a pedagogically sustainable manner.

The territory-wide data also helps the government to review policies and to provide focused support to schools. With improved learning outcomes of students in mind, we should have no qualms about knowing where we are and where we are heading. Without any concrete data in hand, room for improvement could be mere guesswork.

It is understandable that schools are concerned that their school performance is constantly being watched. The government should seek to make its policy objectives transparent and consistent. What has to be reviewed, though, is how the government communicates expectations to schools in such a way that misunderstanding can be avoided and a difference in expectations is bridged.

With a competitive education system, the TSA, albeit well-intentioned, may inadvertently add to the stress of students. However, with the nature of TSA being largely, if not solely, evaluative, not much extra work should be done. Over-drilling adopted in some schools could mean tweaking the results, which will no longer be reflective of the true ability of students.

TSA is not harmful if it is administered strategically. Practices have to be informed by results and TSA is a way of doing that.

Borromeo Li Ka-kit, Happy Valley