[WATCH] Benchmark exams at the end of primary school to be phased out

Education Ministry proposes 25 measures which aim to improve the assessment of children’s skills prior to moving on to secondary school 

A review of the benchmark exams has come up with 25 recommendations for reform
A review of the benchmark exams has come up with 25 recommendations for reform
Evarist Bartolo on the Benchmark assessment review

The end-of-year benchmark exams taken by Year 6 students around Malta will be discontinued and replaced by an assessment that could include an exam component.

The recommendation is one of 25 unveiled this afternoon by the Education Ministry. The recommendations were drawn up by the Benchmark Review Board set up in 2017 with the aim of strengthening the way students are assessed at the end of their primary school years.

The phasing out is expected to be in place by school year 2021-2022.

The proposal for the benchmark exams to be phased out is followed by a recommendation which proposes that children progress ‘seamlessly’ from primary to secondary education. 

“It would make sounder educational sense to replace the benchmark, either with an informal college based or an informal national assessment, possibly including an exam,” the recommendation reads.

The report stresses that standards must continue to be monitored in efforts to ensure that students are still made aware of their achievements and how they compare to their peers.

Permanent Secretary at the Education Ministry Frank Fabri said consultation took place with all stakeholders.

“We come from a culture where children are deemed as being ‘good’ or ‘bad’ students according to their exam results, and we must change that,” Fabri said. 

562 parents and guardians of Year 6 children, Year 6 and 7 teachers of Maltese, English and Mathematics from State, church and independent schools, and 388 stakeholders ranging from students to paper setters and markers were consulted. 

Recommendations not only deal with the replacement of the benchmark exams, but also propose ways in which the assessment of students could be done in a more efficient and comprehensive manner. 

Bilingual maths paper

One of the recommendations which would come into action by the second quarter of 2019, is the introduction of a bilingual mathematics paper. 

The initiative would be removing what would be a veritable barrier to students who would otherwise perform better in the mathematics paper if a Maltese version is presented, according to Fabri. 

A working group which looks at the feasibility and practical implications into offering migrant students the opportunity to sit for Maltese and English exams as a foreign language is also being explored. 

Education Minister Evarist Bartolo (centre) said government did not want schools to become 'exam and test factories'
Education Minister Evarist Bartolo (centre) said government did not want schools to become 'exam and test factories'

“Students who are exempted from taking the benchmark in whole or in part should nevertheless move to Year 7 with a profile outlining the competencies achieved so far,” the report states.

Education Minister Evarist Bartolo said these students would proceed to Year 7, with a specially designed programme for their individual needs.  

The scheduling of exam times is also being reviewed, with the report stating that students should be given more time to prepare themselves from one subject to another, while reducing unnecessary anxiety. 

A scenario presented by the report proposes that one of the language exams is taken on Monday and Tuesday, the other language on Thursday and Friday, and Mathematics on the following Monday. 

Further recommendations state that the listening comprehension should be presented as a video clip and a short period of reading time prior to the exam be introduced. 

“To change the mentality and tradition takes time and is a slow process, therefore we must approach it with caution so as to not let anyone fall behind,” Bartolo said. 

The Education Minister said that the government wants to move away from having schools in Malta being "exam and test factories". 

“Education is based on three principles: How you teach, what you teach and how you measure that teaching. This review addresses all these issues,” he said.