Primary 6 pupils vying for a place next year in six popular secondary schools through the direct school admissions (DSA) will not have to take general academic ability tests.
Catholic High School, CHIJ St Nicholas Girls’ School, Singapore Chinese Girls’ School, Nanyang Girls’ High, Raffles Girls’ School and Raffles Institution (RI), which all offer the Integrated Programme (IP), have done away with the tests.
Hwa Chong Institution (HCI) has also not been using the general ability test for several years.
The Ministry of Education (MOE) had announced in March that from next year, schools will no longer use tests that evaluate general academic abilities in the DSA. These tests assess general reasoning and problem-solving skills.
In line with ministry efforts, some schools, such as St Joseph’s Institution (SJI), this year only allowed pupils to apply through DSA with a specific talent rather than overall academic grades.
The DSA, introduced in 2004, has been criticised for deviating from its original intent of recognising pupils’ non-academic talents such as in sports and the arts.
About 2,800 pupils were successful in getting a place last year via the DSA, about half of whom were admitted into the IP, which allows students to skip the O levels.
Over the years, the DSA scheme has become a route for academically bright pupils to reserve places in IP schools before sitting the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE). An RI spokesman said the general ability test was a tool to help the school assess pupils’ ability to cope with its academic rigour.
“However, it has never been the only measure, as we also consider the pupil’s performance in his primary school, and where applicable, his performance in the interview.”
She added that RI “has always taken in pupils with talents beyond academic (areas)” and assesses pupils’ talents through selection trials and track records.
A spokesman for HCI said its selection process is “sufficient to identify pupils’ talents in different niche areas”. HCI added: “We are committed to helping these pupils thrive in their areas of interest and strength when they join us.”
This year’s DSA exercise is ongoing. Parents contacted said they are glad that schools are moving away from assessing pupils based on academic strength in the DSA.
“Those with top grades would be able to use their PSLE scores anyway,” said engineer Lie Sui Hui. The 43-year-old’s son is applying through mathematics to HCI.
Madam Clarissa Choh, 42, whose son is applying through judo to RI this year, said: “We have already submitted Primary 4 to 6 results. I think that’s a good gauge of academic ability.”
The business owner added: “The test puts extra stress on children. Every single form of assessment makes parents feel the need to prepare their kids.”
Madam Christina Ho, 44, whose son is applying through the leadership category to SJI, said, this year, students had to be assessed in categories such as music, leadership and innovation.
National Institute of Education don Jason Tan said parents with children in the Gifted Education Programme or who are planning to use their academic scores will be disappointed with the changes. “But a majority of them will do well enough to get into the top schools.”
Without the general ability test, schools may have to conduct more auditions and trials, and use more targeted assessment, he said, adding that parents in future cohorts may “restrategise” to find a specific talent for their children.
Prof Tan added: “Schools can help to identify talent in children whose parents lack the resources and… networks, and help them develop and build a portfolio. Otherwise, their talents may remain undiscovered.”
A version of this article first appeared in The Straits Times
(Photos: The Straits Times)