Territory-wide System Assessment for Learning, not Drilling
Dr Catherine KK Chan
Deputy Secretary for Education
Recently, there have been voices casting doubts over the purposes and value of the Territory-wide System Assessment (TSA). Let us take a close look at the TSA and you will understand why Hong Kong needs one.
No ranking of schools and pressure on students and parents
The TSA is a low-stakes assessment on the basic competencies (BCs) in Chinese Language, English Language and Mathematics of students at the end of Primary 3 (P3), Primary 6 (P6) and Secondary 3 (S3). As each student is only required to attempt some of the assessment questions, the TSA does not and cannot assess individual students. As the data is neither used to select students nor to rank or classify schools, the TSA should not exert pressure on schools and teachers to compete for ranking and resources, inducing indirect pressure on students and parents.
No need to drill. Leaving space for learning
BCs indicate the minimally acceptable knowledge and skill level necessary for learners at P3, P6 and S3 to progress to the next key stage without extra learning support. Therefore, students should have acquired the BCs through daily learning, and neither excessive drilling for the test nor purchasing additional TSA practice papers (some of which actually go beyond the requirements of BCs) is necessary. Instead, students should be motivated and be given space to learn more effectively in appropriate ways such as reading.
To help alleviate the excessive drilling practices in schools, the Education Bureau announced in April 2014 that the attainment rates of BCs in the TSA would no longer be released to individual primary schools. Schools should have no special incentive to drill their students but make fuller use of the TSA Item Analysis Reports to understand the students' strengths and weaknesses so as to provide tailored learning support.
Reliable data for learning in schools
Since its introduction in 2004, the TSA has served the function of promoting Assessment for Learning by providing quality and reliable data and information annually to schools which helps teachers formulate plans to improve the effectiveness of learning and teaching based on the assessment data and their own development needs.
The Education Bureau had collected views from teachers and parents in 2011 and 2013, in addition to a questionnaire survey conducted by the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority (HKEAA) in 2008 in which 96% of the responding schools confirmed that their teachers had made reference to the TSA data in enhancing their teaching plans. Most teachers found the school reports useful and agreed that the TSA could provide an objective system context for schools to especially diagnose overall student abilities at primary levels so that early intervention to provide relevant learning support could be made.
The territory-wide data help the Government review policies and provide focused support to schools on an overall basis. Every year the Education Bureau and the HKEAA hold seminars for teachers to facilitate the use of the updated and objective data. The Education Bureau also provides a range of school-based support services and sharing networks to build teachers' capacity in analysing assessment data, developing school-based curricula, learning and teaching, and planning assessment strategies.
Not unique to Hong Kong
Assessments of similar nature for young students are conducted in a number of countries, e.g. Australia, Canada, the US, and even in some developing countries. Abolishing the TSA would represent a regression in this respect.
Practices in effective schools
Effective schools do not treat the TSA data as the only indicator of students' performance or make superficial ranking or comparison within or among schools. These schools make fuller use of the TSA Item Analysis Reports and other available assessment information in schools to understand their students' strengths and weaknesses in various learning dimensions, thereby improving learning and teaching.
We appeal to schools to attach importance to maintaining students' interest in learning when preparing for the TSA, so as to avoid putting them under unnecessary pressure and affecting the effectiveness of learning.
The Education Bureau will continue to maintain close communication with the school sector and parents through various channels and gauge the views of schools and parents on the TSA. Key messages to dispel misconceptions towards the TSA will also be disseminated through seminars, video clips (www.bca.hkeaa.edu.hk/web/TSA/en/Introduction.html), leaflets and other appropriate channels.
We have confidence that, with time, schools would gradually adjust their excessive drilling practices in a professional manner, bringing about a positive change to the assessment culture in schools.
25 June 2015