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Changes to controversial Hong Kong primary school assessments set to be announced, sources say

The Post learns committee will suggest random sampling for tests in effort to reduce unnecessary drilling

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 March, 2018, 9:06pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 March, 2018, 11:20pm

A committee tasked to review an unpopular competency assessment for Hong Kong’s young primary pupils will recommend tests continue this year but be conducted using a random sampling method and in a way that schools’ results could not be identified and lead to unnecessary drilling, sources have said.

The revelation on Thursday came a day ahead of a scheduled meeting of the government-appointed Coordinating Committee on Basic Competency Assessment and Assessment Literacy.

Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung will also meet the media after the meeting on Friday, and is expected to announce what steps his bureau would take with the test for Primary Three pupils, beginning in about two months’ time, should it continue.

A source close to the committee told the Post that it would submit a report to the Education Bureau after the meeting, recommending the controversial Basic Competency Assessment (BCA) be conducted by random sampling and for authorities to not issue reports to individual schools, so the results of specific institutions could not be identified.

Ditch ‘stressful’ competency exams for 8-year-old pupils once and for all, Hong Kong parents demand

The source said the aim was to reduce the motivation to put Primary Three pupils through stressful drilling exercises.

Widely regarded as a rebranded version of the Primary Three Territory-wide System Assessment – which gauged pupils’ English, Chinese and maths ability – the BCA is notoriously associated with teachers drilling pupils amid a widespread belief that the bureau used data to rank schools.

The bureau has denied such claims.

While the BCA was considered less demanding than the TSA, as it was simpler and shorter, critics said the motivation to drill still existed.

One source said the committee was still discussing whether it was the schools that would go through the random sampling or the students.

But another source said the committee had already decided that all schools would be taking part in the BCA, with a certain percentage of students being selected using random sampling to be tested. He said that the committee was still waiting for experts to determine the percentage.

This source also said that since the assessment would be conducted via random sampling, it was unlikely for the Examinations and Assessment Authority to issue reports for individual schools with only a small percentage taking the test, hence not being representative.

Annie Cheung Yim-shuen, a spokeswoman for Parents United, questioned why the government took so long to adopt proposals floated by parents a few years ago.

She added the devil is in the details: “It depends on whether the random sampling is done on the schools or students.

“If there is only 10 per cent taking the BCA in a school, I believe the school will not find it worthwhile to drill students, but if it is the whole school taking it, there might be the motivation to drill.”

The second source said the new format is likely to be a more permanent arrangement, rather than research studies, which were carried out in the last two years.

What do similar results between BCA and TSA show about Hong Kong pupils and teaching system?

The group has been pressing for the government to cancel this year’s BCA and instead conduct discussions on whether to continue with the test in the long run. Twenty-nine lawmakers across the political spectrum had signed their petition last month.

Legislator Michael Tien Puk-sun said Thursday he had proposed carrying out the assessment via random sampling and without identifying the results of students and schools since 2015, adding he would ensure that the government implement such a scheme properly.

Yeung said last month that the bureau was likely to make a decision this month on whether to hold the BCA after it received the recommendations from the committee.

If the tests went ahead, they would likely be held in May and June.