Abolishment of PT3: The potential implications

Introduction

On the 2nd of June 2022, Malaysia’s education minister announced the abolishment of the Pentaksiran Tingkatan 3 (Form 3 Assessment) or ‘PT3’ for short. PT3 was created to move away from the PMR’s sole focus on exams and to place less attention on “ranking” and “number of A’s.” Regrettably, PT3 was still regarded as ‘the PMR’. Despite being presented as a school-based assessment, it was still considered a high-stakes exam because the education district and education state departments still kept tabs on the school grade averages. Therefore, the practice of ranking schools was still prevalent based on PT3 results. With the abolishment of PT3, PBS is said to place more emphasis on holistic assessment which includes PAJSK (assesses sports and co-curricular activities) and PPsi (Psychometric assessment), apart from the academic aspects which involve formative and summative assessments through PBD (Pentaksiran Bilik Darjah – Classroom-based assessment) [1]. With this recent development, this article will elaborate on the potential implications of the abolishment of PT3 on the Malaysian education system.

Implication on Students

With the abolishment of PT3, assessments for lower-form students will no longer be high stakes. High-stakes testing has been reported to increase the stress levels of students [2] & [3] and students’ suicidal ideation [4]. In Malaysia alone, there have been cases where students committed suicide just because they did not meet their personal or family’s expectations regarding the result of their exams or due to pressure in preparing for them [5] & [6]. So the shifting of PT3 from a high stakes exam to low stakes one could improve student mental health.

As for the effects of high-stakes testing on student learning, it has been reported that it does not encourage students to genuinely love learning and gain content mastery. Students tend to focus on studying for grades rather than genuinely learning and mastering the content. On top of that, when the stakes are high, teachers stop encouraging students to investigate concepts and subjects that they are interested in. Attaching stakes to tests appears to hinder students’ progress toward becoming lifelong, self-directed learners, as well as disconnect students from their own school experiences [7].

I was reminded of a time when I asked one of my students if they remember anything about what they learned in History class when they were in Form 3. She honestly responded that she had forgotten what she learned as soon as she stepped into Form 4. This indicates that she only studied to pass exams, and not genuinely to master the content because if she did she would have remembered what she learned. So, with the abolishment of PT3, it is with hopes that students can get more room to learn about the subject content more meaningfully rather than superficially. However, this will depend on how the teacher goes about delivering the content even when assessments are no longer in the form of high-stakes examinations.

Implication on Teachers

Upon the abolishment of the exam, the Ministry noted that they will develop a centralized Question Bank (QB) which teachers will be given access to from time to time that would enable them to select potential questions for their students’ summative assessment. The purpose of the centralized question bank is to maintain uniformity in what is being tested among students. 

While the Ministry of Education aims to decentralize the education system by shifting away from centralized assessments, the establishment of a centralized question bank for teachers and students defeats this purpose. This is because the centralized question bank would eventually influence what happens in the classroom. This would also have a pedagogical implication as teachers would devise lessons based on what is being tested. Thus, in order for classroom-based assessment to really manifest, having a centralized question bank would negatively impact this. 

Moving on, the centralized question bank, which is most likely devised by teachers, would have a negative impact collectively on teachers. While a select group of teachers is engaged to build questions, a large number of teachers are excluded. Collectively, this further erodes the trust of teachers and their ability to construct questions according to their educational context. Teachers all over Malaysia are posted to different kinds of demographics and geographical locations with different cultural, social, and socioeconomic settings. Ideally, it is best if the student assessment is built according to these different factors. However, a centralized question bank further disempowers and ultimately disengages teachers to perform their duties. 

Conclusion 

To conclude, while we are taking a step in the right direction of moving away from meaningless high-stakes examinations, it is also important to contextualize policy reforms according to one’s own culture and history. Examinations are synonymous in the Malaysian culture and of course the larger Asian culture, which takes exams seriously. This is because the purpose of examinations is used to indicate learning progress. Therefore, in order for the Ministry to abolish smaller exams like PT3 and UPSR, there needs to be a better mechanism in place to gauge learning. The current Classroom-Based Assessment has been gaining a lot of negative attention because teachers are forced to give a certain band or risk being reprimanded. Unless we have a transparent and accountable education system that does not diminish teacher autonomy, PBS would never achieve its target. Thus, in such a situation, the examination would be more applicable.  

Co-authored with Pravin Balakrishnan

Reference:

[1] Sidang media khas Dr. Radzi Jidin 02 Jun 2022

[2] Högberg, B., & Horn, D. (2022). National high-stakes testing, gender, and school stress in Europe: A difference-in-differences analysis. European Sociological Review. https://doi.org/10.1093/esr/jcac009 

[3] Wang, L. C. (2015). The effect of high-stakes testing on suicidal ideation of teenagers with reference-dependent preferences. Journal of Population Economics, 29(2), 345–364. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00148-015-0575-7 

[4] Kexin Wang (2022). Test-Based Accountability: Can Testing Children Tell Us Anything Significant About The Performance of Schools?. Education, Sustainability & Society, 5(2): 38-43

[5] https://www.nst.com.my/news/crime-courts/2018/04/352814/depressed-student-allegedly-commits-suicide-seremban-cites-academic

[6] https://ohbulan.com/saya-dah-berusaha-yang-terbaik-bunuh-diri-sebab-ayah-keputusan-peperiksaan-pelajar-ini-buat-kami-terkejut-sayangnya

[7] Sheldon, K. M., & Biddle, B. J. (1998). Standards, accountability, and school reform: Perils and pitfalls. Teachers College Record, 100(1), 164–180.

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