Parents raise questions if SAEB have adequate checks on new digital marking system in light of anomalies

SINGAPORE — 11 parents wrote a forum letter to express their disappointment toward Singapore Examination and Assessment Board(SEAB) which discouraged their appeal to review their kids’ Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) mathematics paper.

The group of parents of graduating Primary 6 students from Nan Hua Primary School trust the quality of the marking by qualified, independent markers and reviewers.

But they doubt if adequate checks are in place for the new digital system as too many anomalies have been reported.

In a reply to parents’ letter, SEAB claimed it had “rigorous processes” in place to ensure that the PSLE papers are set according to the syllabus at “appropriate standards”.

Parents shocked to find their children scored below previous achievement

Earlier this month(1 December), a letter written by a group of parents and published by Lianhe Zaobao,  said their children had always scored 95 marks and above for their maths exams in school, or the equivalent of Achievement Level (AL) 1.

But for this year’s PSLE maths paper, they were shocked to find that their children had scored AL 3, AL 4 or AL 5.

“If a single child’s carelessness caused them to stumble on the exam, we have nothing to say. ”

“But when almost a third of the students in the class have a similar score gap, it’s hard not to be puzzled,” parents expressed their doubt in the letter.

Parents were told success rate of past appeals was “almost zero”

When appealed to the Ministry of Education (MOE) and SEAB to review the exam papers, parents were told that the success rate of past appeals was almost zero.

In which the parents feel it might be implied that SEAB strongly discourages parents from appealing as the system has “never gone wrong”.

“At the same time, we were also told that parents can only see whether the sum of the scores of each part of the appeal subject test paper is correct, but cannot see the answer sheet of the student’s test paper.”

Hence, there is no way to verify whether factors such as card reader failure or stains on the answer sheet could lead to the supposed discrepancy.

“If SEAB ignores parents’ calls to check the answer sheets and simply dismisses it with an excuse that the system is always accurate, this kind of operation without transparency may not be convincing to people.”

SEAB started using digital marking for all PSLE subjects this year

In another article, Zaobao noted that this is the first year SEAB started using digital marking for math subject test papers.

Students answer the question via pencil, and the test paper will be digitalised for teachers to score the paper.

Some parents raised their concerns that if there are possible errors arising from this new process and whether the scoring system had been thoroughly inspected.

Lee Yi, one of the parents who endorsed in the complaint letter, told Zaobao that her daughter was confident in the math exam but shocked when learned that she only got AL 3.

Ms Lee later learned that other math-savvy students were also puzzled about their results.

She said parents have no intention to judge the marking procedure, but they are worried that the scanning system might have non-human errors since this is the first year SEAB is using the digital marking process.

SEAB: panel ensure that there is a consistent balance of easy, average and difficult math questions

Responding to queries from Channel News Asia on 8 December regarding the parent’s complaint, SEAB said the performance in the 2022 PSLE maths examination is similar to that of 2021 across the ALs.

SEAB said the panel of exam reviewers also includes experienced teachers and specialists from MOE and SEAB, and they ensure that there is a consistent balance of easy, average and difficult questions across the years.

“Candidates can submit their appeals for subject grades through their schools to SEAB, ” the board added that there are established appeal processes for candidates who think their grades do not reflect their expected achievements.

“During the review of results, an independent senior marker conducts a thorough review of the marking and checks the accuracy of mark entries, ” the board said.

For the math paper, SEAB stressed that full credit will be given to any solution used in the PSLE maths paper if it demonstrates the correct application of concepts, specifying that this included the use of algebra to solve problems.

However, SEAB’s response to CNA of the similar performance in the 2021 and 2022 maths examinations made parents are wondering if the scores are moderated as everyone recalls last year’s paper is a lot more challenging.

Parents and kids upset over tough PSLE maths last year

While SEAB claimed that performance in the 2022 PSLE maths examination is similar to that of 2021, some parents and students might still recall that last year PSLE maths was a lot more challenging.

One parent even shared that she received a tearful call from her daughter after the test, saying it was more difficult than she had expected.

One of the parents, Mrs Tan, told Strait Times last year that the new PSLE Achievement Levels (AL) scoring system had mounted pressure on pupils sitting difficult exams.

Madam Gina Teo also shared that her daughter returned home saying she had given up on entering the school of her dreams as the paper was the toughest she had ever encountered.

“All my friends were left speechless after hearing how hard the paper was from their children and that many were unable to complete their papers. We knew that the PSLE mathematics paper would be hard but they should have set the difficulty at the same level as last year’s paper, ” she said.

Regarding the challenging maths question, SAEB said last year that all examinations have a range of questions with “varying difficulty” that cater to the wide range of abilities of our students.

“We would like to encourage all students to stay the course and be reassured that having done their best, there will be multiple pathways of success.”

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