You are on page 1of 14

PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLE

This article was downloaded by: [Monash University]
On: 8 February 2010
Access details: Access Details: [subscription number 907465088]
Publisher Routledge
Informa Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-
41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK
Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice
Publication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:
http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/title~content=t713404048
Assessment profile of Malaysia: high-stakes external examinations
dominate
Saw Lan Ong
a
a
Malaysia Science University (USM),
Online publication date: 04 February 2010
To cite this Article Lan Ong, Saw(2010) 'Assessment profile of Malaysia: high-stakes external examinations dominate',
Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 17: 1, 91 — 103
To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/09695940903319752
URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09695940903319752
Full terms and conditions of use: http://www.informaworld.com/terms-and-conditions-of-access.pdf
This article may be used for research, teaching and private study purposes. Any substantial or
systematic reproduction, re-distribution, re-selling, loan or sub-licensing, systematic supply or
distribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden.
The publisher does not give any warranty express or implied or make any representation that the contents
will be complete or accurate or up to date. The accuracy of any instructions, formulae and drug doses
should be independently verified with primary sources. The publisher shall not be liable for any loss,
actions, claims, proceedings, demand or costs or damages whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directly
or indirectly in connection with or arising out of the use of this material.
Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice
Vol. 17, No. 1, February 2010, 91–103
ISSN 0969-594X print/ISSN 1465-329X online
© 2010 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/09695940903319752
http://www.informaworld.com
PROFILES OF EDUCATION ASSESSMENT SYSTEMS
WORLDWIDE
Assessment profile of Malaysia: high-stakes external examinations
dominate
Saw Lan Ong*
Malaysia Science University (USM)
Taylor and Francis CAIE_A_432149.sgm 10.1080/09695940903319752 Assessment in Education 0969-594X (print)/1465-329X (online) Original Article 2009 Taylor & Francis 16 3000000November 2009 Ong SawLan osl@usm.my
Malaysia is a federation of 13 states located in South-east Asia. The country consists
of two geographical regions; Peninsular Malaysia (also known as West Malaysia) and
Malaysian Borneo (also known as East Malaysia) separated by the South China Sea.
The Portuguese, the Dutch, and later the British established themselves as colonial
masters in this region from the sixteenth century. In the nineteenth century, there was
an influx of Chinese and Indian immigrants into the country as a result of the European
colonisers opening tin mines and rubber estates. This historical background has
resulted in a nation with diverse ethnicities, cultures, and religions. In 1957, Malaya
obtained its independence from British colonial rule. The population as of 2006 was
26.6 million, comprising 52% Malays, 30% Chinese, 8% Indians, about 7% indigenous
groups in Sabah and Sarawak, and 3% others (Ministry of Education 2006a).
A historical review of public education development
Prior to attaining independence, there were separate schools with different media of
instruction, curricula, methods, and standards of education for the three dominant
ethnic groups, that is, the Malays, Chinese and Indians (Ministry of Education 2001).
In addition to the three types of vernacular schools, there were also English-medium
schools established by the British colonial government, individuals and missionary
societies to provide a western education. Chinese and Tamil vernacular schools were
set up by their respective communities as fee-paying schools. Free education was
provided by the government only in Malay vernacular schools. Secondary schooling
was only available in the English-medium schools and the independent Chinese
schools. Malay-medium and Tamil-medium education were limited to the primary
level, so students from these schools continued their secondary and higher education
in English-medium schools.
After independence, the education policy consolidated the diverse school systems
into a single, cohesive national education system. The National Educational Policy
(Educational Act 1961) was based on the Razak Report (Federation of Malaya 1956)
and the Rahman Talib Report (Federation of Malaya 1960). These two reports empha-
sised national unity as the foundation of the national education system to ensure the
well-being and interests of the multiracial Malaysian society. All existing primary
schools were converted to either national or national-type schools, while English and
*Email: osl@usm.my
D
o
w
n
l
o
a
d
e
d

B
y
:

[
M
o
n
a
s
h

U
n
i
v
e
r
s
i
t
y
]

A
t
:

0
3
:
1
6

8

F
e
b
r
u
a
r
y

2
0
1
0
92 S.L. Ong
Chinese secondary schools were converted to national-type secondary schools. In
national schools the medium of instruction was Malay, while the media of instruction
in national-type primary schools were English and the various ethnic vernacular
languages respectively. Malay, the national language, was made a compulsory subject
in these national-type schools. In 1968, the English-medium national-type schools
were gradually converted into national Malay-medium schools. The conversion was
completed at the secondary level by 1980 when the Malaysian Certificate of Educa-
tion examination was conducted in Malay only. By 1983, Malay became the medium
of instruction for tertiary level education (Ministry of Education 1985).
Today Malay language is the medium of instruction in all national schools and a
compulsory subject in Chinese and Tamil primary schools. English is taught as a
second or additional language in all national and national-type schools. In 2003, the
government implemented a policy of teaching science and mathematics in English for
Primary one, Form 1 and Lower 6; previously, the delivery of mathematics and
science subjects had been in Malay. The decision to use English was based on the
rationale that mastery of English is regarded as an important mechanism for direct
acquisition of knowledge in the field of science and technology (Ainan Abdul Samad
2003). It was intended that in 2008, the language of instruction for subjects in science
and mathematics at all levels will be in English only (Kementerian Pelajaran Malaysia
(KPM) 2004b). In response to pressure from mother tongue language groups, the
Education Minister has reversed this policy to the use of Malay, Chinese and Tamil
for the teaching of science and mathematics in the primary schools in the year 2012
(The Star 2009). The impact of this innovation and its reversal is outside the scope of
this paper.
Educational administration
The educational administration in Malaysia is highly centralised with four hierarchical
levels; that is, federal, state, district and the lowest level, school. Major decision- and
policy-making take place at the federal level represented by the Ministry of Education
(MoE), which consists of the Curriculum Development Centre, the school division,
and the Malaysian Examination Syndicate (MES). However, the ultimate authority in
education is parliament; policy issues that have wider ramifications are referred to the
cabinet before final decision-making. At the state level, the 14 state education depart-
ments coordinate and monitor the implementation of national education programmes,
projects, and activities for the MoE. The district education offices serve as effective
links between the school and the state education department.
The Malaysian government is committed to providing education for all to the end
of upper secondary education. At the primary level, 90% of children attend govern-
ment and government-assisted education institutions (MoE 2006a). The MoE targets
further increases in educational participation, especially for children aged 6-11. The
participation rate decreases to 85% at the lower secondary level, where the children
are aged 12-14. At the same time, the participation rate for children aged 15-16 at
upper secondary level education is only 71%. This pattern of decline continues for
post-secondary and college education with 34% enrolment rate, and a mere 9% for
university. An important note about these figures is that they do not include attendance
at private educational institutions. The participation rate for each level would be
higher if enrolments at private education institutions were included. This especially
applies to the university level; many private universities were established in Malaysia
D
o
w
n
l
o
a
d
e
d

B
y
:

[
M
o
n
a
s
h

U
n
i
v
e
r
s
i
t
y
]

A
t
:

0
3
:
1
6

8

F
e
b
r
u
a
r
y

2
0
1
0
Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice 93
during the mid-1990s as a result of government efforts to expand access to tertiary
education.
The Malaysian education system
The current formal education system is based on the British schooling system. It
consists of four phases: six years of primary education, three years of lower secondary
education, two years of upper secondary education and another two years of pre-
university education (either Form 6 or matriculation). The pre-university level is
followed by higher education provided in two types of institutions – colleges and
universities. Since 1999, Malaysian children are assured 11 years of free compulsory
schooling and most students are promoted automatically to upper secondary schooling.
The 1996 Education Act that regulates the provision of pre-school, primary and
secondary education was reviewed in 2002 to ensure that every child in Malaysia has
the right to primary education. Apart from this Act, the education system is guided by
the National Education Philosophy which states:
Education in Malaysia is an on-going effort to produce Malaysian citizens who are
knowledgeable and competent, who possess high moral standards, and who are well
responsible and capable of achieving high level of personal well-being as well as being
able to contribute to the harmony and betterment of the family, the society and nation at
large. (MoE 2001, 16)
Most children between four and six years of age begin their education at
preschools which are set up by both government and non-government agencies, and
the private sector. Primary education begins at the age of seven years. There are two
types of primary school: the national primary school which uses Malay language as
the medium of instruction and the national-type primary school which uses either
Chinese or Tamil. The purpose of primary education is the acquisition of reading,
writing, and arithmetic skills. At the end of primary education, students take the Ujian
Penilaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR) [Primary School Achievement Test]. In line with
the aspirations of the government to provide a general education for at least nine years
to all children, students proceed to three years of lower secondary education (Form 1
to Form 3) after primary school. The UPSR results provide information regarding
students’ achievement at the end of primary education to the lower secondary schools.
At lower secondary level, all schools use Malay language as the medium of
instruction. English is a compulsory subject and has been the language of instruction
for science and mathematics since 2003. Lower secondary school offers a comprehen-
sive education programme where the curriculum comprises core subjects for all
pupils, plus a wide range of elective subjects. Electives include subjects from the arts,
sciences, and vocational and technical subjects. The varied curriculum aims at provid-
ing pupils with opportunities to pursue a variety of future occupational or educational
options in the tenth year of their education (Lee 2002). Pupils sit for the Penilaian
Menengah Rendah (PMR) [Lower Secondary Examination] at the end of the ninth
year of schooling.
As from 1999, all PMR students are promoted to Form 4 (first year of upper
secondary schooling, nominally aged 15). For example, 96% of the total number of
Form 3 pupils in 2004 were enrolled in Form 4 in 2005 (MoE 2006b). Based on choice
or lower secondary assessment performance, pupils enter Form 4 arts or science
streams. Some students are channelled into technical secondary schools, usually as a
D
o
w
n
l
o
a
d
e
d

B
y
:

[
M
o
n
a
s
h

U
n
i
v
e
r
s
i
t
y
]

A
t
:

0
3
:
1
6

8

F
e
b
r
u
a
r
y

2
0
1
0
94 S.L. Ong
result of PMR scores. In 2005, 50% of students were in arts or religious streams, 36%
in the science/technical stream, and 14% in the vocational/technology stream (MoE
2006b). Upper secondary education is conducted in the Malay language and concludes
at the end of two years with the Sijil Pelajaran Menengah (SPM) [Malaysian Certifi-
cate Examination].
Pupils are selected for the different post-secondary programmes by the MoE,
based on their academic achievement in the SPM. Students may be selected to post-
secondary levels consisting of Form 6, the matriculation programme, or college and
polytechnics programmes. For the Form 6 programme, students get offer letters from
the state education department based on their three best subjects in two main fields of
study (i.e., humanities or sciences). Those who are not selected for post-secondary
education will leave the school system and enter the job market.
At Form 6, all subjects are conducted in English for the science stream but Malay
language continues to be used as the medium of instruction for the humanities. The
percentage of pupils enrolled in Form 6 in 2005 was a mere 22% of the Form 5 popu-
lation in 2004. The majority of Malay students were selected to attend Matriculation
colleges, which are one-year pre-university courses. Matriculation colleges were set
up by the MoE to prepare rural indigenous and Malay students for the local public
tertiary institution studies after passing the SPM examination.
Public examinations
Like most Asian countries (e.g., Gang 1996; Lim and Tan 1999; Choi 1999); Malaysia
so far has focused on public examination results as important determinants of
students’ progression to higher levels of education or occupational opportunities
(Chiam 1984). In a study conducted by Marimuthu, Mukherjee and Jasbir (1984), the
examination-oriented education system governed the learning behaviour of nearly half
the students in their study. They reported that the primary function of schooling was
seen as a passport to employment and the certificates are seen as controlling entry into
privileged jobs. As a result, the emphasis by students, teachers and parents is on
performing well in public examinations, which are considered the only valid measures
of academic attainment. Other affective characteristics such as values and attitudes,
which are important elements in the development of a well-rounded individual with
respect to intellectual, emotional, spiritual, and physical development according to the
national philosophy of education, are irrelevant in this context.
The dominant form of assessment in the Malaysian education system is external
centralised public examinations. The Malaysian education system requires all students
to sit for public examinations at the end of each level of schooling. There are four public
examinations from primary to post-secondary education. These are the Primary School
Achievement Test (UPSR) at the end of six years of primary education, the Lower
Secondary Examination (PMR) at the end of another three years’ schooling,
the Malaysian Certificate of Education (SPM) at the end of 11 years of schooling, and
the Malaysian Higher School Certificate Examination (STPM) or the Higher Malaysian
Certificate for Religious Education (STAM) at the end of 13 years’ schooling (MoE
2004). Table 1 shows the four public examinations within the education system.
The UPSR, PMR, and SPM examinations are the responsibility of the MES, while
the STPM is under the jurisdiction of the Malaysian Examination Council (MEC). The
MES and MEC prepare, administer, score, and report test results for all public
examinations. Score reports from these examinations usually take months to generate
D
o
w
n
l
o
a
d
e
d

B
y
:

[
M
o
n
a
s
h

U
n
i
v
e
r
s
i
t
y
]

A
t
:

0
3
:
1
6

8

F
e
b
r
u
a
r
y

2
0
1
0
Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice 95
and usually contain only summary test scores in the form of grades. How examination
scores are converted to grades has not been made known to the public; nevertheless,
brief descriptions of the grade system for each examination are provided below. The
MES has confirmed recently that the main purposes of public examinations are for
selection of candidates for educational opportunities, employment and certification of
achievement (KPM 2007). Results from public examinations such as SPM and STPM
have been used as one of the important criteria in selection of staff into the govern-
ment services. For the last four years, the SPM examination results have been used for
the awards of federal government scholarships.
UPSR
The UPSR evaluates students’ performance in reading, mathematics, and science.
Pupils in national schools are tested for Malay Language, English Language,
Mathematics, and Science. Pupils in the Chinese and Tamil national-type schools sit
an additional Chinese or Tamil language examination. The UPSR tests consist of
multiple-choice and open-ended items. Results for UPSR are reported in the form of
grades indicating the levels of achievement. ‘A’ is for Excellent, ‘B’ means Good, ‘C’
indicates moderate achievement, ‘D’ is for Weak, while ‘E’ is for Very weak. The
science practical assessment reports four levels of skill as: ‘1’ for excellent use of
scientific skills; ‘2’ for being able to use scientific skills; ‘3’ for being able to use
scientific skills with teacher guidance; and ‘4’ for ability to use scientific skills only
with teacher help. The UPSR results from 2001–2005 (Table 2) show an increasing
percentage of students achieving the minimum competency level, that is, candidates
obtaining either A, B or C in all papers taken (five papers for students in national
schools and seven papers for national-type schools). By 2005, a third were still not
reaching minimum competency level (MoE 2006b).
Table 1. Public examination in the Malaysian education system*.
Year Public Examination Age
13
12
Malaysia Higher Education Certificate, STPM/ Malaysia Higher
Religious Certificate
Form 6
19
18
11
10
Malaysian Certificate of Education, SPM
Upper Secondary
Form 4 & 5
17
16
9
8
7
Lower Secondary Examination, PMR
Lower Secondary
Form 1, 2 & 3
15
14
13
6
5
4
3
2
1
Primary School Achievement Test-UPSR
Primary School Education
12
11
10
9
8
7
Pre-school education 6
5
*Table extracted from Malaysia Examination Syndicate 2006.
D
o
w
n
l
o
a
d
e
d

B
y
:

[
M
o
n
a
s
h

U
n
i
v
e
r
s
i
t
y
]

A
t
:

0
3
:
1
6

8

F
e
b
r
u
a
r
y

2
0
1
0
96 S.L. Ong
PMR
The purpose of the PMR is diagnostic evaluation of student learning. However, indi-
vidual results are reported as grades for subjects examined, with little diagnostic
power for lower or upper secondary teachers. Students are tested on eight core
subjects: Malay language, English language, History, Geography, Islamic Education
for the Muslim pupils and Moral Education for the non-Muslim students, Mathemat-
ics, Science, and Integrated Living Skills. The PMR is a combination of centralised
and school-based assessments. School-based assessment, in the form of course work,
is conducted in subjects such as Geography, History, Integrated Living Skills, and
practical science. Students’ performance is reported according to each subject
assessed with another grading system. Students’ performance in the practical exami-
nations is reported using five levels: Level 1 indicates ‘Good’, 2 ‘Satisfactory’, 3
‘Below minimum competency’, 4 that students are ‘Exempted from course work’, and
5 that students ‘Do not carry out course work’. The written PMR examinations report
using letter grades; that is, Grade ‘A’ is ‘Excellent’, ‘B’ is ‘Credit’, ‘C’ is ‘Good’, ‘D’
is ‘Meets minimum competency level’, and ‘E’ is ‘Below minimum competency
level’ (KPM 2004a). Table 3 shows that for the last five years, approximately 60% of
the pupils pass the PMR Examination (MoE 2006b). This means that about 40% did
not reach the minimum competency level (i.e., grade D) to proceed to upper secondary
schooling. Nevertheless, all students are promoted to Form 4 for the upper secondary
education (Lee 2002). However students with Grade E in all subjects are considered
non-academic and are channelled into Vocational and Technical secondary schools to
acquire employment skills.
SPM
All secondary schools, whether academic, technical, religious, or special education,
prepare students for SPM. The SPM was revised in 1988 to be an open certificate, in
which all candidates take six core subjects (i.e., Malay, English, Mathematics, Science,
History, and Islamic Studies or Moral Education). In addition, students take two or
more elective subjects (MES 2006). Students are not forced into traditional arts and
science streams and now receive a broad-based education that gives students more flex-
ibility to learn according to their individual capacity (Lee 2002). SPM examinations
Table 2. Primary School Achievement Test (UPSR) results.
2001 2002 2003 2004 2005
Number of candidates 436,628 464,228 468,129 488,953 499,632
% with minimum competency level 50.9 58.2 60.2 64.7 66.7
*Table extracted from Quick Facts: Malaysian Educational Statistics (MoE 2006b).
Table 3. Lower Secondary Examination (PMR) results.
2001 2002 2003 2004 2005
Number of candidates 395,578 388,622 406,306 383,935 413,358
% with minimum competency level 55.8 62.7 61.5 61.9 64.9
*Table extracted from Quick Facts: Malaysian Educational Statistics (MoE 2006b).
D
o
w
n
l
o
a
d
e
d

B
y
:

[
M
o
n
a
s
h

U
n
i
v
e
r
s
i
t
y
]

A
t
:

0
3
:
1
6

8

F
e
b
r
u
a
r
y

2
0
1
0
Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice 97
serve as the basis for selection of candidates into Form 6 and as a gateway examination
for various private institutions of higher learning. It became considerably high-stakes
five years ago when the federal government awarded scholarships to pupils who
performed well on SPM. Students who are successful with the SPM proceed to the post-
secondary education of Form 6 or matriculation.
The centralised examinations are normally written tests consisting of multiple-choice
items, short-answer constructed-response items, as well as essay items. In addition,
school-based assessments are conducted for subjects like Malay and English language
in the form of oral examinations, project work is conducted for moral education, and
science practical tests for science, physics, chemistry, and biology. In addition, modular-
and competency-based assessments have been adopted for vocational subjects at SPM
level to assist with skills acquisition relevant to the working world (MoE 2004). Compo-
nents include subject knowledge and related skills and attitudes to performing assigned
tasks according to MES-developed standards. Students’ performance is reported in the
form of modular certificates which indicate the number of modules completed. The SPM
Open Certificate Examination requires a student to pass only the Malay language paper
to obtain a certificate. The SPM certificate reports the grades of all subjects taken without
an overall aggregate and classification of candidates. According to the guidelines by
MES (2006), grades ‘1A’ and ‘2A’ are interpreted as excellent, ‘3B’, ‘4B’, ‘5C’ and
‘6C’ as credit, ‘7D’ and ‘8E’ as pass, and those who failed are given ‘9G’ (KPM 2008).
Science practicals and assessment of coursework are conducted by schools and the results
are reported by them in a separate certificate. Table 4 shows the SPM results reported
since the adoption of the open certificate. A high percentage of passes is recorded because
it is based on passing only the six core subjects.
Accommodations for special candidates
Children with special needs are allowed to sit the same public examinations described
above, with certain accommodations. For example, visually impaired candidates have
their examination papers in Braille and are given extended time to answer the questions
owing to the nature of Braille reading and writing. Such examinations are conducted
in special rooms and equipment provided includes Braille machines, magnifying
glasses, closed circuit television, voice activated calculators and Braille rulers.
Medium of examination
With the exception of science, mathematics and English language, Malay is used as
the language of assessment for UPSR in the national primary schools, and Tamil
language in the national-type Tamil primary schools, while Chinese is used in the
national-type Chinese primary schools. The PMR and SPM are conducted in Malay
for all subjects except English language. However, science and mathematics
Table 4. Malaysian Certificate of Education (SPM) results.
2001 2002 2003 2004 2005
Number of candidates 322,789 350,015 357,793 359,721 379,649
% of Passes 89.7 90.5 90.9 91.2 90.2
*Table extracted from Quick Facts: Malaysian Educational Statistics (MoE 2006b).
D
o
w
n
l
o
a
d
e
d

B
y
:

[
M
o
n
a
s
h

U
n
i
v
e
r
s
i
t
y
]

A
t
:

0
3
:
1
6

8

F
e
b
r
u
a
r
y

2
0
1
0
98 S.L. Ong
assessments at PMR and SPM have been conducted in dual-language format (i.e.,
English-Malay) since 2003. At UPSR, science and mathematics are also tested in
dual-language format; English-Malay for the national schools, English-Chinese for
the national-type Chinese schools, and English-Tamil for the national-type Tamil
schools. Candidates are given the choice of answering either wholly in one or both
languages (i.e., either English or Chinese/Tamil) (KPM 2004b).
Language accommodation
The use of dual-language science and mathematics test-booklets has been applied to
all students since the change in language policy. This accommodation strategy
initially was to continue only until 2007 after which the subjects would be assessed in
English only. In 2005, a survey conducted by the MES found that despite learning
science and mathematics in English for three years (from 2003–2005), only 33% of
the science candidates and 27% of the mathematics candidates used English when
answering the PMR lower secondary school examination questions. Most of the
candidates preferred to answer in either Malay or a mixture of both Malay and English
(The Star 2005). Those who answered in Malay, however, also used English mathe-
matics and scientific terms that they were familiar with after studying in English. In
December 2007 (The Star 2007b), the Education Ministry announced that the initial
plan to use English only as the language of assessment for science and mathematics
was being put on hold until a review was carried out. The Education Minister
announced that candidates would continue to have the choice of being examined in
mathematics and science in either English or Malay, or for primary schools’
candidates their vernacular language, as most students had yet to attain sufficient
proficiency in English. The reversal in the language policy will not affect students
who have learnt science and mathematics in English as they will be given dual-
language test papers and allowed to answer in English and Malay until 2016 (The Star
2009). From then onwards, the examinations will be in Malay only.
School-based assessments
School-based assessments do exist in Malaysia. Teachers design, administer, score,
and report results from their own assessments. The purpose of school-based assess-
ment is to monitor students’ overall growth, ability, progress, and achievement
according to the objectives of the integrated school curriculum and the national educa-
tion philosophy. Information gathered from the school-based assessment is used to
inform parents about students’ achievement as well as helping teachers adjust their
classroom instruction according to the learning needs of their students. During the last
10 years, schools in the country have implemented two modes of school-based assess-
ment. The first one is conducted by the teacher without reference to the official MES
standards; these include monthly or end-of-term assessments administered by the
school in the classroom. Furthermore all schools conduct trial, or mock examinations,
designed to prepare students for the high-stakes, centralised public examinations.
PKBS
Continuous schools-based assessments were introduced in 1997 and are carried out
under the strict instruction and standards set by the MES. These are the Penilaian
D
o
w
n
l
o
a
d
e
d

B
y
:

[
M
o
n
a
s
h

U
n
i
v
e
r
s
i
t
y
]

A
t
:

0
3
:
1
6

8

F
e
b
r
u
a
r
y

2
0
1
0
Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice 99
Kemajuan Berasaskan Sekolah (PKBS) [standardised common assessment tasks].
Examples include the science practical and the oral reading tests for Malay and
English languages. The tests are prepared by MES but conducted by school teachers
following the timetable set by MES during the teaching and learning process. Some
of the results are submitted to the MES for inclusion in the external examinations
grade calculation. At Form 3, PKBS includes project work for Geography, History,
Integrated Living Skills, practical work for Science, and oral tests in both Malay and
English languages. At Form 5, PKBS includes a pure science practical and oral
language tests for English and Malay. Grades for project work and science practicals
are reported on a separate certificate, while results for the oral test are added to the
written test to compute grades for English and Malay languages.
Assessment reform
Standardised national examinations such as UPSR, PMR and SPM are high-stakes
assessments; decisions such as placement in residential schools, attendance at
premiere science schools, and awards of scholarship are made based on them.
Successful SPM results open students to opportunities for further study and training
in the academic and professional fields. The high-stakes use of public examination
results can interfere with good instructional practice (Hamilton 2003). In Malaysia,
pressure on teachers to produce high test performance results in much teaching to the
test and the adoption of teaching methods designed to prepare students for the test so
as to achieve high test performance.
Results from the national examinations have been the sole yardstick of assessing
students’ achievement for many years. The national examination system has been crit-
icised for using examinations with too many subjects (KPM 2006). There has been
growing dissatisfaction over the shortcoming of the present examination system as it
is being seen as not able to give a realistic estimate of overall achievement. In addition,
the traditional way of presenting results in the form of single letter or number grades
as an overall estimate of an individual’s achievement cannot possibly provide necessary
information for all types of uses. The use of school-based assessments has not been
able to provide additional information for decision-making since they are either
controlled by the examination system or designed to mimic the centralised examination.
Initial efforts to revamp the assessment system began when the MES organised
seminars and workshops in the early 2000s to receive feedback and opinions from
educators and the public regarding areas of change needed. The MoE has instituted
several changes to improve the assessment system and make education more accessi-
ble to all (MoE 2004). Among these initiatives is striving to change the assessment
system to one that aims to assess for learning instead of for the assessment of learning.
In an effort to shift away from the widely criticised exam-oriented assessment system,
the MoE recommended increased emphasis of school-based assessment (Raja Zuha
Kamal and Sazaki Abdul Rahman 2006) and reducing the number of subjects exam-
ined in UPSR, PMR and SPM by focusing assessment on basic skills and core areas
of the curriculum only (Abdul Halim Yusoff 2006). The MES has also announced a
change from an examination-only focus to a holistic and diversified one (The Star
2006). Proposals include evaluation of performance by adopting general ability tests
to extend the range of important aspects to those not assessed by examinations.
The MoE intends to implement an assessment system that will give everyone a fair
test and equal chance to demonstrate what he or she knows. The MoE announced the
D
o
w
n
l
o
a
d
e
d

B
y
:

[
M
o
n
a
s
h

U
n
i
v
e
r
s
i
t
y
]

A
t
:

0
3
:
1
6

8

F
e
b
r
u
a
r
y

2
0
1
0
100 S.L. Ong
National Educational Blueprint, which spelled out its mission to produce more confi-
dent, creative and well-rounded students (MoE 2007). The Blueprint recommended
expanding school-based assessment and alternative assessment to provide more holis-
tic and accurate evaluation than the current one-off public examinations. To ensure
quality in school-based assessment, the setting up of standards and criteria will be
used as the basis for judging student performance rather than a number of items
answered correctly in an examination. This change aims to make teaching and learn-
ing more effective. However, the traditional method of paper-and-pencil test will not
be abolished totally.
In 2007, the MES released proposals for a new assessment system based on the
Malaysian National Educational Philosophy with a focus on academic, character devel-
opment and involvement in extra-curricular activities (MoE 2007). There are five forms
of assessment proposed: (1) school assessment, (2) central assessments, (3) central
examinations, (4) psychometric tests, and (5) physical activity assessments. School
assessments involve teachers in planning, developing, conducting, and reporting at the
school-level. Central assessment, like the current PKBS, is criterion-referenced assess-
ment using standards, instruments, and reporting guidelines provided by the MES,
which is administered at the school level by individual classroom teachers. Central
examinations are the public examinations as used in the present system, with reporting
through certificates awarded by the MES. Psychometric tests measure students’ abil-
ities, interest and readiness in learning. Physical activity assessments, which have been
carried out without formal recording and reporting of students’ performance, will form-
alise school-based data and will include involvement in extra-curricular activities. The
implementation of the new assessment system according to the various levels of educa-
tion is summarised as shown in Table 5. Based on the new assessment structure, reliance
and dependence on public examinations will be reduced with the abolition of the UPSR
and PMR public examinations. However, MES has yet to announce a definite time
frame for the implementation of the new assessment system.
Future directions
It is clear that the dominant function of assessment in the Malaysian education system
has been to select students for further and appropriate educational or employment
opportunities. Although MES acknowledges important uses of assessment such as
diagnosis, evaluation and guidance as beneficial characteristics of educational assess-
ment, the way assessments are carried out ignores these functions. All the public
examinations have been carried out towards the end of each education level (hence,
Table 5. The new assessment system proposed by MES in 2007.
Primary Level Lower Secondary Level Upper Secondary Level
Level 1:
School Assessment;
psychometric test
(Aptitude and personality)
Level 2:
School assessment, Central
assessment; psychometric
test (General ability test,
Aptitude and personality)
Form 1 & 2:
School Assessment;
psychometric test
(Aptitude and
personality)
Form 3:
School assessment, Central
assessment; psychometric
test
School Assessment, central
assessment; Central
examination (SPM and
SPVM)
External exams will be
allowed for international
qualifications
D
o
w
n
l
o
a
d
e
d

B
y
:

[
M
o
n
a
s
h

U
n
i
v
e
r
s
i
t
y
]

A
t
:

0
3
:
1
6

8

F
e
b
r
u
a
r
y

2
0
1
0
Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice 101
they are summative) and are treated in great secrecy because of their high-stakes
consequences. When the results are given to the pupils or students, it is in the form of
grades obtained for subjects examined. Reporting examination results in a single
grade provides limited information about students’ learning priorities or capabilities.
Furthermore, the MES’s practice of not returning examination scripts to students and
not revealing marking procedures are all features that negate potential benefits that
could be derived from the assessment process (Murphy and Torrance 1988). The
success of the new assessment system will require significant effort from MES and
other divisions of the MoE. Assessment system changes have wide social and educa-
tional implications and are difficult to bring about. If policy-makers and society in
general, let alone educators, are resistant to change, then the assessment practices may
be the hardest part of all to move (Murphy and Torrance 1988).
The new assessment system will impose greater demand on school teachers’ role
in assessing their students. The last decade has seen significant teacher involvement
in national examinations with the appearance of modular examinations, practical work,
and oral language tests. Murphy and Torrance (1988) argue that an assessment system
that places greater responsibility in the hands of teachers would necessarily demand a
good deal of training and support. The success of the assessment system hinges on the
professional development of, and the support provided to, the teachers. This is a first
step to improving the credibility of school teachers in implementation of the assess-
ment system. There is also the debate over resourcing hard-pressed classroom teachers
to carry out the centralised school-based assessment.
One major issue in the new assessment system is the introduction of the psycho-
metric test. Since its inception in 1957, the MES has been designing national exami-
nations, primarily in academic subjects, for the Malaysian school systems. The MES
intention of assessing pupils’ personal qualities and general abilities will involve
measures of psychological constructs that are very different from constructs in educa-
tional achievement. The development of suitable psychometric tests as well as the
interpretation of test results for the different groups of student will be a major challenge
for MES to face.
The assessment reform has focused on changing assessment practices, without
looking at issues to do with the recording and reporting of a wide variety of educational
achievements. Like most testing programmes, MES spends much time and effort in
developing quality test items, managing standardised administration and scoring, and
setting standards. So far it is obvious that few resources are devoted to reporting. For
nearly all the examination results, the report given is simply an overall, aggregated
level of attainment for the subjects examined. Communicating performance on a test
should be seen as a critical part of the assessment process. A record of achievement
that presents information on a student’s achievement, abilities, skills, and experiences
from a range of assessment is desired to provide holistic accounts of what students can
do. Besides, the interest and needs regarding test data and results of the different groups
must be considered. Stakeholders who are interested in the test scores include educa-
tors, parents, students, politicians, policy-makers, media, the business community,
researchers, and the general public. They are varied in assessment literacy and famil-
iarity. The MES should allocate more resources to prepare both individual reports and
group reports that cater to the needs of different audiences (e.g., the New Zealand
asTTle [Assessment Tools for Teaching and Learning] system – Hattie and Brown
2008). An individual report which aims at providing the student with information
about his/her performance should include details such as norm comparison, proficiency
D
o
w
n
l
o
a
d
e
d

B
y
:

[
M
o
n
a
s
h

U
n
i
v
e
r
s
i
t
y
]

A
t
:

0
3
:
1
6

8

F
e
b
r
u
a
r
y

2
0
1
0
102 S.L. Ong
level, and diagnostic information. A group report could provide interested stakeholders
with information about the performance of groups of test-takers, such as average
performance of the group in the form of average score, proficiency classification of
the group and the score gaps between groups.
The MES are aware of the need to change the assessment system in Malaysia and
are putting in considerable effort to developing a sound assessment structure. Concern
for the reliability and validity of assessments has led the MES to consider a mixture
of instruments through which to gather evidence of students’ various learning
outcomes rather than just reliance on examinations. The new assessment system allows
a wider scope of cognitive, psychomotor, and even affective domains related to learn-
ing to be assessed. These changes are in the right direction of making assessment
results more valid indicators for a wide range of educational achievement. However,
considerable changes are still needed in society as a whole before high-stakes external
examinations cease to dominate Malaysian education.
Notes on contributor
Saw Lan Ong is a senior lecturer in the School of Educational Studies, Malaysia Science
University, Penang, Malaysia.
References
Abdul Halim Yusoff. 2006. Subjek peperiksaan dikurang [Reducing examination subjects].
Berita Harian, 4 May.
Ainan Abdul Samad. 2003. English as a tool for science and technology acquisition: Bilingual
assessment instruments as a transitional measure. Paper presented at the International
Association of Educational Assessment (IAEA) Conference, October 5–10 2003, in
Manchester, UK.
Chiam, H.K. 1984. The elite, exam oriented education system: A socio-psychological critique.
Paper presented in Seminar on Education and Development: Key Questions on Malaysian
Education. November 18–22, to Consumers Association of Penang, Malaysia.
Choi, C.C. 1999. Public examinations in Hong Kong. Assessment in Education 6, no. 3: 405–17.
Federation of Malaya. 1956. Report of education committee. Kuala Lumpur: Government
Press.
Federation of Malaya. 1960. Education review committee report. Kuala Lumpur: Government
Press.
Gang, W. 1996. Educational assessment in China. Assessment in Education 3, no. 1: 75–88.
Hamilton, L. 2003. Assessment as a policy tool. Review of Research in Education 27, no. 1:
25–68.
Hattie, J.A.C., and G.T.L. Brown. 2008. Technology for school-based assessment and assess-
ment for learning: Development principles from New Zealand. Journal of Educational
Technology Systems 36, no. 2: 189–201.
Kementerian Pelajaran Malaysia (KPM). 2004a. Peraturan dan Panduan Peperiksaan PMR
[Guidelines and regulations for PMR examination]. Kuala Lumpur: Lembaga Peperiksaan
Malaysia.
Kementerian Pelajaran Malaysia (KPM). 2004b. Peraturan dan Panduan Peperiksaan Ujian
Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah [Guidelines and regulations for Primary School Achieve-
ment Test]. Kuala Lumpur: Lembaga Peperiksaan Malaysia.
Kementerian Pelajaran Malaysia (KPM). 2006. Pelan Induk Pembangunan Pendidikan 2006–
2010 [Master plan for educational development 2006–2010]. Kuala Lumpur: Bahagian
Perancangan dan Penyelidikan Dasar Pendidikan.
Kementerian Pelajaran Malaysia (KPM). 2007. Central examination and educational excel-
lence: Looking ahead. Kuala Lumpur: Lembaga Peperiksaan Malaysia.
Kementerian Pelajaran Malaysia (KPM). 2008. Garis Panduan Peperiksaan SPM [Guidelines
for SPM examination]. Kuala Lumpur: Lembaga Peperiksaan Malaysia.
D
o
w
n
l
o
a
d
e
d

B
y
:

[
M
o
n
a
s
h

U
n
i
v
e
r
s
i
t
y
]

A
t
:

0
3
:
1
6

8

F
e
b
r
u
a
r
y

2
0
1
0
Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice 103
Lee, M.N.N. 2002. Educational change in Malaysia. Monograph Series No.: 3/2002. Penang:
Universiti Sains Malaysia.
Lim, E.P.Y., and A. Tan. 1999. Educational assessment in Singapore. Assessment in Education
6, no. 3: 391–404.
Malaysia. 1996. Seventh Malaysia Plan, 1996-2000. Kuala Lumpur: Ministry of Education
Malaysia.
Malaysian Examination Syndicate (MES). 2006. Menjana Kecemerlangan Pendidikan Mela-
lui Pentaksiran [Generating education excellence through assessment]. Kuala Lumpur:
Ministry of Education, Malaysia.
Marimuthu, T., H. Mukherjee, and S.S. Jasbir. 1984. Assessment domination in Malaysian
schools. Paper presented in Seminar on Education and Development: Key Questions on
Malaysian Education. November 18–22, Consumers’ Association of Penang, Malaysia.
Ministry of Education (MoE). 1985. Report of the Cabinet Committee: To review the imple-
mentation of educational policy. Kuala Lumpur: Berita Publishing Sdn. Bhd.
Ministry of Education (MoE). 2001. Education in Malaysia: A journey to excellence. Kuala
Lumpur: Education Planning and Research Division.
Ministry of Education (MoE). 2004. The development of education. National Report of
Malaysia in International Conference on Education. September 8–11 2004, in Geneva.
Ministry of Education (MoE). 2006a. Malaysian educational statistics. Kuala Lumpur:
Educational Planning and Research Division, Ministry of Education, Malaysia.
Ministry of Education (MoE). 2006b. Quick Facts: Malaysian educational statistics 2006.
Kuala Lumpur: Educational Planning and Research Division, Ministry of Education,
Malaysia.
Ministry of Education (MoE). 2007. National educational blueprint. Kuala Lumpur: Malaysia
Murphy, R., and H. Torrance. 1988. The changing face of educational assessment. Milton
Keynes, UK: Open University Press.
New Sunday Times. 2007. Taking formal education beyond exams. March 4.
Raja Zuha Kamal, and Sazaki Abdul Rahman. 2006. Sistem Peperiksaan Diubah–Tumpu
Penilaian Seimbang Kemahiran Pelajar Selain Akademik [Changes in examination system
– Focus on a balance evaluation of students’ skill other than academic]. Utusan Malaysia
18, May 2006.
The Star. 2005. Students still prefer to use Bahasa. December 23.
The Star. 2006. Let’s focus on knowledge, not exams. April 24.
The Star. 2007a. Exams to go. May 9.
The Star. 2007b. Exams to remain bilingual. October 31.
The Star. 2009. Clearing confusion over maths and science. August 12.
D
o
w
n
l
o
a
d
e
d

B
y
:

[
M
o
n
a
s
h

U
n
i
v
e
r
s
i
t
y
]

A
t
:

0
3
:
1
6

8

F
e
b
r
u
a
r
y

2
0
1
0