Secondary School Places Allocation Mechanism: The Way Foward

In document Chapter 2 Current Medium of Instruction Policy in Secondary Schools (Page 96-116)

self-confidence, tolerance and ability to work in groups. By

“appropriate”, we mean diversity in student ability at a level manageable by schools and teachers under the present circumstances and conditions so that both the high and low achievers are adequately taken care of and are helped to develop.

(d) The SSPA mechanism should, as far as possible, respect parents’ and students’ school choices by providing them with more opportunities to directly select their preferred schools. Secondary schools may also have a greater scope in admitting students in accordance with their own education philosophy and characteristics.

6.2 Most of the recommendations on the SSPA mechanism in the Consultation Document have received general support from the public. In particular, the education sector and parents concur with the direction of the recommendations, viz. providing more parental choices, promoting the diversified development of schools and students, reducing the pressure of examinations on students and striking a balance between the pursuit of mixed ability teaching and the need to ensure that student diversity is kept at a level manageable by our secondary schools. However, when it comes to the details, the views expressed by the education sector and parents are quite diverse. In the following paragraphs, we shall set out the major concerns expressed by the public and the considerations behind our final recommendations.

DP Stage

6.3 Our objectives are to provide parents/students with more choices and promote diversified development of schools and students.

DP Quota

Original Proposal

6.4 The DP quota for each secondary school should be increased from 20%

to 30%.

Public Concerns

6.5 The public and the education sector generally welcome the proposal to increase the DP quota to 30%. A small number of schools and parents suggest further increasing the percentage to 40% or even 50% in order to provide more parental choices and opportunities for schools to select students, while a considerable number of secondary schools wish to maintain the existing 20% so as to reduce students’

mobility across districts. However, overall speaking, the majority views consider a 30% DP quota more reasonable.

6.6 Besides, some parents wish that the EMB could release the DP results once available, rather than announcing the results together with the CA results. They hope that early release of the DP results could save their efforts in making school choices at the CA stage.

6.7 We wish to point out that at present, the utilization rate of the DP quota varies among schools, with some receiving applications far exceeding the quota and some being unable to fully utilize the quota. Substantially increasing the percentage would aggravate the difference in utilization rate among schools, which may in turn create a labelling effect on schools. Nevertheless, the present DP percentage could not satisfy the demand from most schools and parents. We believe increasing the DP percentage to 30% will strike the right balance. On the one hand, this will provide parents/students with more school choices and allow schools a greater scope to admit students according to their education philosophy and characteristics. On the other hand, it would avoid aggravating the difference in the utilization of the DP quota, which would give rise to an undesirable labelling effect.

6.8 As for the early release of DP results, primary schools generally object to this suggestion which, in their opinion, may unnecessarily bring about problems in teaching and learning. They are particularly concerned about the impact on the overall learning atmosphere if some students within a class know the DP application results “in advance”. As a matter of fact, the existing arrangement of announcing the DP and CA results concurrently is well-established and has been implemented smoothly for years. During the consultation sessions, the Working Group explained to parents the concerns of schools. Many parents showed understanding and agreed that the effectiveness of teaching and learning should override their personal conveniences.

The Way Forward

6.9 We maintain the original proposal to increase the DP quota to 30%.

Number of School Choices Original Proposal

6.10 Parents/students may apply to two secondary schools during the DP stage. As regards how they should indicate the order of preference, three options have been put forth for consultation:

Option (1) Parents must indicate their order of preference to schools;

Option (2) Parents indicate their order of preference to the EMB only; or Option (3) Parents indicate their order of preference to the EMB only, and

schools may declare in advance that second-choice applications would not be considered.

Public Concerns

6.11 Parents in general welcome the proposal of allowing students to apply to two secondary schools during the DP stage, but strongly wish that they only need to indicate the order of preference to the EMB so as to alleviate their apprehension that a school may give preference to those students selecting the school as their first choice. On the other hand, secondary schools, in particular the popular ones, are concerned about the heavy workload arising from a larger number of applications.

They prefer to maintain the current arrangement of allowing students to apply to one

secondary school only. Some schools consider that even if students are allowed to apply to two secondary schools, parents should indicate their order of preference to the schools so that the school management could take this into account when short-listing applicants for interview and admission. Otherwise, they may have to arrange interviews for a larger number of applicants and to prepare a longer waiting list lest those students selecting the school as their second choice do not show up eventually in favour of offers by their first-choice schools.

6.12 We consider that allowing parents/students the choice of two secondary schools during the DP stage is consistent with the spirit of our other proposals (e.g. the increase in DP quota to 30%). We share the concerns of parents and note that if too many schools declare in advance that they will not consider second-choice applications (i.e. Option (3) in paragraph 6.10 above), it would in effect restrict the choices of parents.

The Way Forward

6.13 We recommend that parents/students may apply to two secondary schools during the DP stage and shall only be required to indicate their order of preference to the EMB.

Rank Order List29 Original Proposal

6.14 The EMB should cease providing the “rank order list” to secondary schools.

Public Concerns

6.15 Many primary schools support the proposal as it would encourage secondary schools to take into account the overall performance of students during the DP stage and in turn enable primary schools and parents to focus more on the all-round development of students. Secondary schools, however, would like the EMB to keep the current practice, saying that the “rank order list” provides a more objective assessment of the applicants’ ability. They indicate that most of the schools receiving a large number of applications during the DP stage have been making reference to the “rank order list” when short-listing applicants for interview. If the

“rank order list” is no longer provided, the schools would have to cope with a heavier workload in student admission.

6.16 We recognize the worry of secondary schools. We also understand that in practice many schools do take into account both the academic and non-academic attainments of students in the selection process. Since no written test is allowed in

29 At the DP stage, the EMB will provide individual secondary schools with a “rank order list” of their DP applicants for reference purpose. The list ranks the applicant-students according to their scaled IA results and sets out their name, sex, student number and the name of their primary school.

the process, some secondary schools may be prompted to ask for other objective and reliable academic credentials (e.g. results in other open examinations in the market) if the “rank order list” is no longer provided. This will inevitably increase the pressure on students and primary schools. Alternatively, secondary schools may assess the applicants’ ability based on their perception of the primary schools in which the applicants are studying. This may be unfair to those relatively new or progressing primary schools which have yet to build up their reputation. Besides, following the increase in the DP quota, the increase in school choices to two and our recommendation in paragraph 6.13 that parents are only required to indicate the order of preference in school choices to the EMB, the number of applications that have to be handled by the more popular schools may increase substantially. Such being the case, the “rank order list” should help reduce the workload of schools in student selection.

The Way Forward

6.17 Having regard to the above considerations, we have revised our original proposal. We do not object to the EMB keeping its current practice of providing the “rank order list” to secondary schools, but schools must not separately request students to produce results of open examinations available in the market for reference during the selection process.

CA Stage

6.18 Our objectives are to encourage “appropriate” mixed ability teaching, alleviate labelling effects, provide parents/students with more choices and reduce

the pressure of examinations.

Unrestricted CA Places Original Proposal

6.19 Each secondary school should set aside 10% of the CA places as

“unrestricted places”. Parents/students may select a designated number of secondary schools (say, not more than three) from any school nets at the CA stage.

The computerized allocation mechanism will process the school choices for

“unrestricted places” first, to be followed by the choices that are subject to net restriction.

Public Concerns

6.20 Parents and primary schools generally welcome the setting aside of 10% of CA places in each secondary school as places unrestricted by school nets. Some even consider that the percentage can be further increased. Some secondary schools, however, express reservation about this proposal. They are of the view that with the increase of DP quota to 30%, students already have sufficient opportunity to apply to schools outside their school nets. Hence, they do not see a need to set aside

“unrestricted places” at the CA stage. They are also worried that such an arrangement may induce students to compete for popular secondary schools, thus aggravating the competition among schools.

6.21 Since the types and number of schools in different school nets may vary, the

“unrestricted places” would further increase the school choices for parents/students and better cater to students’ needs. That said, having regard to the principle of vicinity under the school netting arrangement, we consider it inappropriate to set aside too high a percentage of CA places for “unrestricted” choices as this may reduce the chances for students to be allocated places within their school nets.

The Way Forward

6.22 We maintain the original proposal in the Consultation Document, i.e.

setting aside 10% of CA places in each secondary school for allocation

“unrestricted” by school nets and allowing parents/students to select a designated number of secondary schools (say, not more than three) from any school nets.

Scaling Mechanism Original Proposal

6.23 Some form of mechanism for scaling primary schools’ IA results for banding purpose should be retained. In this regard, two options have been put forward:

Option (1) Maintaining the current scaling mechanism (i.e. using the AAT results in the 1997/98, 1998/99 and 1999/2000 school years as the scaling instrument); or

Option (2) Using the existing pre-S1 HKAT as the scaling instrument (i.e.

the same instrument for scaling students’ IA results for the purpose of identifying students capable of learning through

English). Samples of the pre-S1 HKAT results will be collected biennially and the average of the results of the two most recently sampled pre-S1 HKATs will be used to scale the primary schools’ IA results of the coming cohort of P6 students proceeding to S1. The scaled results for students within a school net will be used to determine the allocation bands for that school net.

6.24 In the Consultation Document, the Working Group has proposed to adopt Option (2) which meets the following requirements:

(a) valid, reliable and fair on the whole;

(b) easily understood and administered;

(c) preferably curriculum-based and relevant to the teaching and learning in primary schools; and

(d) preferably reduce the incentive for drilling and the pressure of examinations.

Public Concerns

6.25 The scaling mechanism is a relatively more controversial issue among the SSPA proposals. Some respondents from the education sector are of the view that the long-term goal of “no banding and no scaling” in the SSPA mechanism should be realized as early as possible, and that the Government should do away with the scaling mechanism. In the long run, school places should also be allocated randomly based

on the principle of vicinity instead of students’ academic performance. On the other hand, a widely held view in the school sector and among parents is that there is still a need to retain some form of scaling mechanism, although the mechanism should be updated in order to fairly reflect the latest performance of primary schools and their students and to reduce the within-school student diversity.

6.26 As for the scaling instrument, there is a public consensus that the existing instrument based on past AAT results since 2001 (see paragraph 5.8) should be replaced. With the abolition of the AAT so many years ago, the validity of the past AAT results has been diminishing with the lapse of time. As regards the scaling mechanism recommended by the Working Group, there has been extensive discussion among parents and the education sector. Many from the education sector are generally in support of the mechanism since it would obviate an

“extra” assessment for students and help reduce the incentive for drilling. This is in line with the whole-person development of students.

6.27 Quite a number of respondents, however, intuitively feel uneasy about the concept of indirect scaling, i.e. using the performance of students of the previous cohorts to scale the performance of the coming cohort. They consider it more acceptable if the performance of the current cohort is used for scaling. Some contend that even with indirect scaling, primary schools would still drill their students for the pre-S1 HKAT since their results would affect the allocation results of the coming cohort. Moreover, parents of the coming cohort may exert pressure on schools to

drill the current cohort of students for the test. Some primary schools and parents are also worried that students who are already aware of their allocation results may not be serious about the pre-S1 HKAT.

6.28 During the consultation, some respondents have proposed other options:

(a) To re-introduce some kind of public examination similar to the former

“Secondary School Entrance Examination”, the results of which would directly determine the allocation of secondary places for the students concerned;

(b) To merge the P6 TSA30 with the pre-S1 HKAT to form a new scaling instrument; and

(c) To administer the pre-S1 HKAT in primary schools and use the results of the current cohort to scale their own IA results.

6.29 We have studied the above options carefully. We are mindful of any allocation assessment similar to the former “Secondary Schools Entrance Examination”, which would certainly become very high-stake and consequentially

30 The EC recommended in the Education Reform proposals that a centrally administered assessment (currently known as TSA) be introduced at P3, P6 and S3 levels. It serves to provide information on whether schools have attained the basic standards in key learning areas. This would help schools formulate plans to improve the effectiveness of teaching and learning on the basis of the assessment data and their own development needs. The Government has gradually implemented the above recommendations. The TSA for P3 and P6 levels are being conducted at the end of each school year (around June each year) starting from 2004 and 2005 respectively.

put primary school students under undue pressure. It would result in schools/students having to give up diversified learning opportunities in order to prepare for the examination. This would hamper the all-round development of students and also go against the Education Reform.

6.30 As for the proposal of merging the P6 TSA with the pre-S1 HKAT, we would like to clarify that the pre-S1 HKAT is a centrally-administered assessment conducted in secondary schools annually after the announcement of the SSPA results.

It allows secondary schools to assess the performance of their S1 intake in Chinese Language, English Language and Mathematics. Some secondary schools use the test as reference for streaming and planning enhancement/support measures. Hence, the assessment is for differentiating the ability of students and hence a wide range of test items with different levels of difficulty would be set. The function of the TSA is quite different in that it serves to provide information to schools on whether their students have attained the basic competency in Chinese Language, English Language and Mathematics at the end of a certain key learning stage. It thus has a wide scope of assessment but test items are of a narrower range of difficulty levels. Given the difference in objectives and functions of the two tests, the design of the test items would be quite different. Even if the two tests are merged, its content could not be substantially reduced. As such, the feasibility of a “combined test” is in doubt and even if it is feasible, the pressure on students cannot be alleviated.

6.31 We have also given careful consideration to the suggestion of administering

the pre-S1 HKAT in primary schools. The suggested arrangement implies that the timing of the test would have to be advanced and that the results of the current cohort of P6 students would be used to scale their own IA results. Since the test results would have a direct bearing on the allocation results of the students taking the test, the pre-S1 HKAT would then become a high-stake examination which would inevitably induce drilling and undermine the all-round development of students.

6.32 We conducted simulation runs to compare the banding results obtained under two approaches: the first one using the sampled pre-S1 HKAT results for the current year to scale the IA results of the current cohort of students; the second using the sampled pre-S1 HKAT results in previous years to scale the IA results of the current cohort (i.e. indirect scaling). Our findings reveal that over 90% of the students obtain the same banding results under the two approaches. For the remaining 10% of students, half of them (i.e. 5%) are placed in one band higher while the other half (i.e. 5%) in one band lower. In other words, for a class with 32 students, less than one student on average may have his/her banding result lowered from Band 1 to Band 2 and, similarly, less than one student from Band 2 to Band 3. However, since we are proposing to use the average results of two sampled pre-S1 HKATs for scaling, such discrepancy may even be further reduced. It is also worth noting that even if a student were to attend the same assessment twice, his/her results for the two sittings could be different, which would in turn mean that there could be discrepancy if the two results were to be used for scaling purpose. If such incidences of normal discrepancy in assessment are discounted and the average of the sampled results of

two pre-S1 HKATs is used, the new scaling mechanism should be highly reliable.

It does not appear worthwhile re-introducing a high-stake assessment for the sake of removing the small discrepancy.

6.33 We consider that any test that has a direct bearing on the allocation results for the students concerned will likely induce drilling. Our proposed option has the following merits:

(a) The pre-S1 HKAT is curriculum-based. Even if some schools would, due to the impact of test results on their allocation results, strengthen their teaching of Chinese Language, English Language and Mathematics, it would probably not result in drilling on meaningless subject matter.

(b) Since students will have been allocated S1 school places when they take the pre-S1 HKAT, the test results will not have any bearing on their own allocation results. This can reduce the incentive for drilling.

(c) The pre-S1 HKAT is a well-established assessment used by secondary schools. Schools are familiar with its nature and administration details. Its existing mode of operation will remain unchanged even if it is also used for scaling purpose. It would not entail additional workload for primary and secondary schools. It is also not necessary to introduce an “extra assessment” for students.

(d) The scaled IA results, apart from being used for banding purpose,

In document Chapter 2 Current Medium of Instruction Policy in Secondary Schools (Page 96-116)

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