Public education on Public Education: National Transition Exams- publish raw scores or T-Scores?

David Moinina Sengbeh

But that’s maybe not the fundamental question. While I am so pleased that everyone today speaks about education in one way or another, what’s more important is that we understand the vision and ideas behind the policies. So what is the point of a primary school transition exam anyway as some have asked? Trust me, we still ask this in the sector.

This is a critical question because the government guarantees free public education to all children. In the Constitution Review Committee, which I was honored to serve on, the Government Technical White Paper further expanded the government’s commitment to provide education to all children through secondary school- that is 13 years of education (1 year pre-primary; 6 years primary; 3 years junior secondary; and 3 years senior secondary). So shouldn’t we just allow all students to use continuous assessment right through JSS 3?

The National Primary School Examination (NPSE) is the transition exam taken at the end of primary before kids enter junior secondary.

It marks the end of primary education.

It isn’t an IQ test to show the smartest class 6 student in school or the country. It is a standardized test. So what is the point? Why still have it now? Why standardize and not just keep as raw scores? Why do parents stress ourselves and our kids about it? Here are some thoughts.

Firstly, raw scores in schools really tell us is how well students do with regards to the content they are learning in class. This is evident in their class exams year after year. This depends on their teachers and their schools. This is also why their continuous assessment accounts for only 10% of their final NPSE score. We value in-class assessments and we also want to see how kids are learning what’s in the curriculum.
These in-class assessments and continuous assessments which measure cognitive, affective/social and physchomotor/physical variables are critically important. These are used by Junior Secondary schools during interviews and admission processes too. I encourage parents to flip the school report card and see how their kids’ physical and affective performance is… not just their cognitive.

Secondly and very importantly, the NPSE is a system evaluation test. It helps us policymakers understand the level of learning across the country and the variance between learners. For the given curriculum, how are people learning across the country? This is why we analyze across regions, districts, schools, gender, school ownership, school approval etc. Yes, it can also tell us who the brilliant students are based on their test performances- that is how they order and rank (and not based on how high their aggregate scores are) but that’s not the primary goal.

The Aggregate T-Scores ARE NOT out of 500!

  1. The NPSE is a transition test. The NPSE is not strictly speaking a pass/fail exam and our ultimate goal is to get everyone starting Primary 1 to proceed to secondary schooling and complete basic education as a minimum. The pass mark currently set at a cut-off of T-Score 230 allows for us to transition students that can be accommodated in JSS1.
    By using T-scores and a specific aggregate t-score (230), when we know the number of candidates that sit the exam, we can have in advance an approximate idea of the number of places we can accommodate and create space for at JSS1. There’s a future where every child in Class 6 can have a seat in JSS 1. I have said that my vision is 100 in 10. That is, 100% transition in 10 years. This requires investments in classrooms, teachers, and good policy and learning environments.

Additionally, the T-score allows us to make comparison between the specific cohort of candidates that sit the exam only. T-scores of individuals from different cohorts (years) are not comparable. This means getting 330 in 2021 IS NOT comparable to getting 330 in 2022 and again, it IS NOT out of 500.

Thirdly, the NPSE is a placement test. There are more primary schools than secondary. There are fewer seats in the different schools. How do you determine who gets a place in a school of choice? They indicate their preference and then depending on the test score, you place them there.

This is why the test is standardized and the T-Score is the best statistical tool to achieve this. The T-Score allows for objectivity in determining who gets a place in a school of choice, particularly in those that are oversubscribed. Note that parents say the “low score” means their children won’t get into the best schools. I want to assure all parents that the order of kids do not change. In fact, children scoring above 300 are in the 99th percentile. Your child’s position does not change and her marks were not “reduced”.

As policy makers, what do we learn about Falaba and Bonthe who had 90% pass rates? It is not that everyone in Falaba got 90% in the exams. It is that the level of education in Falaba is such that there’s consistency. We need to learn from Falaba, Koinadugu and Bonthe to see what they are doing right. More learners seem to be performing above a certain threshold and ‘passing’ the exam.

As policy makers, when we look at the pass rate (the number of people above the cut-off score out of those who sat the exam), we learn that there are two things happening. The average national performance, in terms of pass rate, is going up and the variance- the gap between the really good students or should we say those with more opportunities, remains wide between the students who don’t have same opportunities.

This is why we continue to expand educational services across the country.

This is why we are transforming education. And this is why I believe in the power of public education on Public Education.

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