Findings

The findings of this study are reported in two sections, namely the intended washback of PT3 English and perceptions of stakeholders on PT3 English. The findings on intended washback were extracted from document analysis and the interviews with the test developers. The perceptions of PT3 English are findings from interviews with the principal, English language panel head, and four teachers in the sampled school.

Intended Washback

Two interrelated categories, with regards to the intended washback of PT3 English, were generated from the document analysis and interviews, namely, reducing the exam-oriented culture and focusing on student learning. The categories are tabulated in Table 9.2.

Reduce Exam-Oriented Culture

Both the document analysis and the insights offered by the test developers clearly indicated that PT3 English was introduced to discourage stakeholders in the Malaysian education system from overemphasizing

Table 9.2 Intended washback of PT3 English on teachers

Sources of data

Findings

Categories

Document

analysis

Curriculum

specifications

Language teaching is focused on interpersonal, the informational, and the aesthetic aspects

Focus on

student

learning

Select topic of lessons from various areas

Refer to the list of items provided in the syllabus and incorporate these items into the three areas of language

Emphasize the language use and thinking skills (HOTS)

Assess the students throughout the teaching and learning cycle

PT3 level English language syllabus

Teaching and learning activities in classrooms have to be communicative in nature

Focus on both receptive and productive skills

Assess students formatively rather than one-off

Reduce

exam-

oriented

culture

Teacher

guidebook

Definitions of and the rationale for school-based assessment, the components involved in this assessment system (e.g., central assessment, school assessment), the roles of teachers, students, and other stakeholders

Interviews

PT3 English test developers

The main focus should be on both the process of becoming competent in the subject matter and the product (grades)

The ministry expects the teachers and students to understand the concept of the synergistic system, in which both the central and school assessment components complement each other

Teachers are required to use the information deriving especially from school-assessment to feedforward their own teaching and provide constructive feedback to their students

Focus on

student

learning

grades in examinations at the expense of meaningful learning at the PT3 level (MES, 2014). To this end, the developers made the weighting of both central and school assessment components equal at the PT3 level by means of using the assessment to positively influence teaching and learning of the English language in a low-stakes environment. In contrast to PMR, which focused more on paper-and-pencil tests (reading and writing), especially multiple-choice questions (MCQs), the present synergistic system advocates an equal focus on both the receptive and productive skills (МОЕ, 2003). Moreover, in line with the recent assessment reform, in which LOA assessment was made the main focus, teachers need to provide feedback to their students in relation to both receptive and productive skills by involving their students in peer- and self-assessment as such practices may help the learners with self-regulated learning. More importantly, the school assessment component may involve multiple perspectives (i.e., teachers, peers, and students themselves) before culminating in a more valid claim about the students’ learning outcomes.

Teachers, within their capacity, may help reduce the exam-orientedness by means of assessing the language learning growth of their students over the year by reporting the achievement more qualitatively (band scales) rather than quantitatively (grades). The main focus of the assessment system is the school assessment component, which provides multiple opportunities for both teachers and students to carry out various assessment activities throughout the year. As was highlighted earlier, both assessment components serve to complement each other in assessing the students’ language learning outcomes at the PT3 level.

In the interview, Dr. R and Mr. S explained that the government introduced PT3 English in Malaysian schools to reduce exam-orientedness. Specifically, they made it clear that the new assessment system is not meant for selection or certification purposes, hence, making it a low- stakes assessment. As can be seen in Figure 9.2, both test developers (Dr. R and Mr. S) highlighted in the interview that PT3 English is low stakes and focuses on student learning. Dr. R highlighted “in fact, our intention originally was to reduce the exam-orientedness.” Similarly, Mr. S further explained that PT3 English is “low-stakes because we don’t want the parents and the school to regard PT3 as very important.”

Focus on Student Learning

In attempting to reduce exam-orientedness among Malaysians, PT3 English was designed to focus on student learning. In this regard, teachers are given the autonomy to identify content/topics for the school assessment component of lessons, as long as they are within the framework of the curriculum at the secondary level. They are required to focus on the communicative aspect of both receptive and productive skills in addition to focusing on grammar, vocabulary, etc. They are also encouraged to

Intended washback of PT3 English

Figure 9.2 Intended washback of PT3 English.

draw on the professional development courses organized by the Ministry along with their self-initiatives to incorporate higher-order thinking skills (HOTS), etc. into their teaching and learning activities. With regard to the implementation of PT3 English, Dr. R highlighted that the kinds of changes expected from the teachers are to be “creative and innovative.” Moreover, teaching has to focus on the use of the language in a range of contexts rather than a teaching method that isolates the linguistic elements without much room for real-life communication. As the English language involves mastering skills (i.e., listening, speaking, reading, and writing), the teachers may consider drawing content and topics from current issues, immediate surroundings (i.e., the school, town, and country), and may eventually consider issues outside of the country (МОЕ, 2003).

The Ministry believes that learners are the ultimate stakeholders of the education system. It, therefore, requires that teachers give the students every opportunity to take part in activities that require them to use the language while emphasizing the critical thinking skills and principles of multiple intelligences. In contrast, as assessing the learning outcomes of learners is something that has to happen on an ongoing basis and not on a one-off basis, the Ministry expects the teachers to assess their learners throughout the teaching and learning cycle. In this regard, teachers are expected to provide their learners with continuous feedback to keep track of their progress. The test developers indicated that the synergistic assessment for PT3 English requires the teachers and students to stay focused on improving teaching and learning respectively by means of the assessment as, of, and for learning, rather than aiming to improve the scores in the central assessment.

The test developers revealed that they were mainly concerned about the level of teacher understanding. Specifically, they felt that teachers need to understand the philosophy of PT3 English, especially the synergistic one, in which the two components (central and school assessment) complement each other. They also highlighted that teaching the national curriculum rather than the test items in the central assessment component might result in positive washback. In addition, it was clear from the interview that the test developers strongly oppose teachers focusing too much on exams at the expense of meaningful learning. This view was evident when Dr. R said, “our teachers, when they teach, they will have to follow the curriculum, but when they want to teach, they will insist on seeing the format first.” She further added that teachers must focus on “the students’ learning rather than their [students’] results."

 
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