Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Why Does My Child's Score Drop Suddenly in Primary 5?

A parent shared her concern with me recently. Her daughter did well in Primary 1 to 4, scoring above 90% in her examinations. She has been coaching her daughter all these years. In her recent SA1 (mid-year examination) in Primary 5, her score dropped "incredibly to just 62%". In a mock test for CA2, she got "just 56%". The parents said she is "scared stiff" and is "perplexed as to how this can happen".

Maybe an explanation of examination structure will shed some light. Up to Primary 4, the proportion of extended problem solving where the tasks tend to be complex, multi-step or novel and students need to show their steps is relatively small. Typically, up to Primary 4, many schools' examination papers allocate 40% of the score for MCQs, another 40% for short-answer questions and 20% for long-answer tasks, the type that tend to be complex, multi-step and sometimes, novel. In upper primary the proportion changes to 20% MCQs, 30% short-answer questions and 50% long-answer questions.
The student concerned is presently scoring about 60%. This means her foundation is strong. This is clear from the fact that in earlier grades her scores had been about 90%. She is capable of problem solving but the type that is now common in upper primary is still a challenge to her. She like many primary five students are still developing this capacity.
My advice is to give her confidence by guiding her through such problems. Ask her scaffold questions so that she can she the intermediate steps that are not obvious to her now. Perhaps in the problems that she uses the model method, the models are more complex now and require strong visualization skills.
Whatever it is do not be overly anxious (I know this is hard for most parents to do) because the anxiety will transfer over to the child and this will not help. Get her to see that her basics are strong. This is probably evident from her test papers. Let her see that the problems she cannot handle are actually rather challenging. Then start her with the simpler ones first. Move to the more challenging ones. Try this and see if you can move her to about 70%. A score of 70% to 80% indicates that a child is within the A grade at the PSLE. Students capable of complex problem solving will move into the 90% range. If I am not wrong the national average for number of students who score A and A* (i.e. above 75%) is about 45%.