When a 20% score is all it takes for a pass at SPM

Teachers who have marked answer scripts in the past say the current pass mark could be as low as 20% for subjects like mathematics and science.

(FMT) – Putrajaya, we have a problem.

Yes, I am referring to the report that 90,000 of the 373,974 candidates who sat for the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination last year had failed the mathematics paper.

If you think this is scary, you will be shocked to know that apparently, more than half of them would not have passed if the pass mark was 50%.

According to some teachers who used to mark SPM answer scripts, the passing score could be as low as 20% especially for subjects like Mathematics and Science.

But this varies every year as the pass mark is decided by the Examination Syndicate only after all the papers are reviewed and graded.

However, the grades may not reflect the student’s actual level of mastery of the subjects.

So, a good number of students are walking around deluding themselves and Malaysians that they have scored good grades or have passed the papers.

As Parent Action Group for Education chairman Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim says, the ministry is doing a great injustice to the students who are being lulled into a false sense of belief.

The education ministry has got into the habit of organising press conferences every year to announce the number of straight A students.

Such statements create a false impression that these students may have scored very high marks, such as 80% to 90%, in the subjects in which they score an A. Far from it, actually. Because in some cases, a pass mark of even 65% falls in the A category.

If anything, this annual media event has been a show of more form than substance, just to give the nation a feel-good feeling.

The absence of transparency in the passing mark for the various subjects and grading of SPM results have led to many claims of manipulation for various reasons.

Despite the denial of education ministers, current and past, that they do not manipulate the grading system, doubts will remain as long as it is not transparent.

This includes keeping the percentage of passes very high to falsely portray that most of our students are doing well. It also produces more students with A grades, apparently to show that everything is hunky dory with our standard of education.

Why is there secrecy about the passing mark for the SPM subjects? It’s time to be open about what the cut-off marks are for each grade. And they must be announced annually.

That will show us the actual proficiency of the students instead of hiding the truth for cosmetic purposes. Not doing so will continuously give rise to claims of manipulation even if it is not happening.

The other issue here is the apparent general poor performance in the SPM examination resulting in 70% of school leavers not continuing with tertiary education.

As it stands, schoolchildren no longer sit for a common public examination in their 10 years of schooling.

They sit for the SPM examination in the 11th year, which to many is too long a time for them to see where they stand at a national level.

The Year Six primary school assessment test (UPSR) was scrapped in 2021 while the Form Three lower secondary assessment (PMR) was abolished in 2014.

There are no common public examinations until they reach Form Five.

Sure, they have school-based examinations but teachers will tell you that these tests are simply not a yardstick, without performances at a national level to compare.

A lot of doubts have also been raised about the quality and security of the examination papers being prepared and printed in schools.

In the past, we have seen news reports of such papers being leaked, forcing the students to re-sit papers.

Whatever they do, the fact remains that school-based assessments are not nationally standardised like the SPM examination.

In this context, the calls for the return of at least one of the scrapped public examinations may have some merit.

A common examination when students are in Form Three will be a good idea as they will have two years after that to prepare for the SPM.

Such a system, plus transparency over the SPM passing marks and the grading system, can show Malaysians the actual quality of the students and not lull them into a false sense of achievement.

The government needs to be transparent and show Malaysians the actual figures.