The real problem with the teacher performance appraisal system is that it is “subjective” and the teacher’s fate depends on “how much your RO [reporting officer] likes you”, said a teacher who claimed of having been in the teaching service for “quite a few years now”.
Activist group Wake Up, Singapore put up a post on Sunday (5 Sep) highlighting how there is “something deeply wrong” with the way teachers are being assessed and graded in Singapore.
It also uploaded screenshots of tweets by @ToxicConsort in the post, who tweeted about how he was graded C during his first year working as a teacher.
“During my first year as a teacher, I received a lot of positive reviews from senior colleagues. My mentor, my HOD and even this VP who was said to be ultra strict with the quality of teaching in her school. Yet, I was given a Grade C,” said the Twitter user.
The teacher was simply told by his superior, “Oh, bcos [you are] first year. Cannot get B or A.”
During my first year as a teacher, I received a lot of positive reviews from senior colleagues. My mentor, my HOD and even this VP who was said to be ultra strict with the quality of teaching in her school.
Yet I was given a Grade C.
“Oh bcos u r first year. Cannot get B or A” https://t.co/D6geN9dhxY
— PALACE MAID OF SCREAMAPORE (@ToxicConsort) September 5, 2021
The Twitter user also cited CNA’s report on 5 Sep that some teachers indicated the performance appraisal and ranking system as one of the factors that affected their mental health.
A secondary school teacher for four years, who was only identified as Timothy, shared to CNA that he gets anxious when he does not know what exactly he needed to do to perform better or maintain his grade.
“I’d keep doing more to try to fill that gap, and then the disappointment is when [even though] I keep doing more, I’m not performing [better] than another teacher in another school.
“They’re getting a B; I’m getting a C-plus. But I’m doing more than them, and they always tell me that I’m doing way more than them. So how is this fair?” he said.
Speaking to CNA, the deputy director-general of education (professional development) from the Ministry of Education (MOE), Mrs Chua-Lim Yen Ching noted the grades that teachers obtain should not be a surprise, given that work review sessions happen “two times a year at least”.
Mrs Chua-Lim learnt from the teachers’ experiences that when it comes to the actual implementation, “there are gaps” that may need to be plugged.
“Now that we know there are gaps, we’ll then make sure that we plug the gaps,” she remarked, adding that the MOE needs to work with the reporting officers.
For instance, there is a workshop called “managing difficult conversations” in their training, which guides them on how to say what they have to say, said Mrs Chua-Lim.
“So that at the end of the day, I may give you a grade, you may not be happy, but you can accept it,” she added.
Another secondary school teacher, who was only identified as Paul, told CNA that teachers faced expectations that they “demonstrably show” that they can deliver beyond their basic teaching duties to obtain better grades.
“This is where people are pressured to stage projects and events that have little relevance to teaching and learning,” said Paul.
In another post on Monday, Wake Up, Singapore posted screenshots of text messages sent by two civil servants.
The activist group also wrote in the post: “How much your superior or reporting officer (we really need to get rid of these military terms) likes you should not play a part in these processes.”
One of the civil servants, who wished to remain anonymous, highlighted that first-year teachers have “a vastly reduced workload” as compared to other more experienced staff, which is meant to help them acclimatize to the school.
Being in the teaching service for “quite a few years now”, the teacher said that even though first-year teachers perform well, when weighed against the much heavier workloads of people just one or two grades above them, it “makes sense” why the officer would be at a C grade.
“For that matter, a C grade is defined as a good performance (and pays 1.5mths salary as a bonus). It’s not the ‘just-pass’ grade that we’ve come to associate a C with.
“The real problem with the ranking system is that it is subjective and your fate rests with how much your RO actually likes you. There are insufficient checks and balances to address that especially because the system is not transparent at all,” said the teacher.
Another civil servant, who also wished to remain anonymous, shared that such appraisal and ranking systems also happen in statutory boards too.
“Bright, efficient colleagues are promoted and usually this ties in with opportunities of rotation to other depts in bid to keep them in the organization for longer.
“But on the first year of your new grade (after promotion), no matter how great you are you’ll get a C performance grade. This means that we actively try to do the minimal as it we know putting in effort wouldn’t reap results (performance grade and bonus),” said the civil servant.
MP Louis Ng called for more transparency, less punitive approach in teachers’ performance appraisal system
Nee Soon GRC Member of Parliament (MP) Louis Ng has earlier called for the Government to standardise the performance management system of stack ranking to make it more “transparent, fair, and formative” for teachers.
In his speech in Parliament on 25 Feb, Mr Ng said that it is “contradictory” for teachers to tell their students that students are no longer ranked and compared relative to their peers, “while they themselves are ranked and compared relative to other teachers”.
He said this as he was calling for the quota system for performance grading of teachers to be abolished.
Mr Ng said on 3 Mar that feedback from the ground expressed that ranking is not the best method of appraising all jobholders.
“There are differences and limitations across schools and there is a need for a more standardised system,” he explained.
He also noted the need for more transparency in the system — recounting feedback that many do not feel that the process of ranking is made transparent to all teachers — and to remotely complete the grades of C-, D, and D.
In his earlier speech, Mr Ng had explained how the quota system required that five per cent of teachers in each school had to be given grades of C-, D, and E, illustrating the need to abolish the quota system in performance grading.
“We should remove the punitive implications of getting a lower grade,” he urged, adding, “We should create a more nurturing environment for our teachers.”
On that note, Mr Ng went on to ask if the MOE would strengthen procedures for teachers to seek feedback on their performance, as the current system only channels feedback after the actual grade has been issued.
On the issue of feedback, Mr Ng also asked if the MOE would consider incorporating the 360-degree feedback tool into the appraisal process and link it to the performance grade.
He noted, “There is strong support for implementing a 360-degree feedback to assess the effectiveness of Reporting Officers at all substantive grades.”
In response, then-Education Minister Lawrence Wong reiterated that the performance management system currently in place supports teachers in Singapore.
Mr Wong added that the MOE will continue to review how the appraisal system can be more effective and supportive of teachers.
“The system is aligned with the rest of the civil service, so we will have to do this together with the civil service,” he said.