21 March 2019
The main reason the TSA/BCA tests are so hated by both schools and parents is that they have taken over  normal class teaching. Photo:
The main reason the TSA/BCA tests are so hated by both schools and parents is that they have taken over normal class teaching. Photo:

Carrie Lam must not backpedal on her TSA pledge

At the Legco Q&A session last week, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor was evasive when lawmakers raised questions on whether the government is going to cancel the highly controversial and much hated Territory-wide System Assessment (TSA) and Basic Competency Assessments (BCA) tests for primary 3 students this year.

The CE told lawmakers that at present the Coordinating Committee on Basic Competency Assessment and Assessment Literacy (the “coordinating committee”) is still studying the issue “very rigorously” and “very seriously”.

Given that, she said the government wouldn’t decide on whether to scrap this year’s test or not until after the coordinating committee has submitted its final report.

During the CE election last year, Carrie Lam pledged in no uncertain terms that once elected, she would put on hold the TSA-BCA tests for primary 3 students until a thorough review of the policy is completed.

However, it seems she is backpedaling on her election promise to scrap the test ever since she took office. In her maiden policy address last October, she didn’t even touch on the issue.

Her ambiguous answers to our questions last Wednesday has only fuelled public concern that the government might press ahead with this year’s TSA/BCA tests regardless of public opposition.

Here I feel compelled to warn the administration in a deadly serious tone that if it was really determined to do so, it would definitely provoke a fierce backlash from parents and the education sector.

As to Carrie Lam’s claim that the coordinating committee is currently reviewing the TSA/BCA tests “very rigorously” and “very seriously”, I just couldn’t disagree more.

The committee, set up in 2014 by the Education Bureau (EDB) to advise the government on the way forward for its “Basic Competency Assessments” program, has been dominated by government-appointed members and EDB officials, while other major stakeholders such as education groups, teachers and parents are woefully underrepresented.

Worse still, some committee members have been using TSA data for their own studies, which could constitute a conflict of interest.

Professor Magdalena Mok Mo-ching, director of the Assessment Research Center at the Education University of Hong Kong who quit the coordinating committee in February 2017, lamented during a recent media interview that the voices of members in the committee who had different suggestions were barely heard by the government.

Nor were members of the committee receptive to different views. In fact, as she put it, all they did was “compliment one another” during meetings.

Apart from the issue of underrepresentation of teachers and parents, the way the coordinating committee studies and reviews the TSA/BCA tests is also open to doubt.

While the committee has been collecting views from parents through questionnaires, it has never garnered views and opinions from frontline teachers. This calls into serious question the true thoroughness and depth of the review carried out by the committee.

According to a recent survey conducted by the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union (HKPTU), 80 percent of the teachers who were interviewed were strongly against bringing back the TSA test for primary 3 students this year. Unfortunately, their opinions have been largely neglected by the coordinating committee.

The main reason the TSA/BCA tests are so hated by both schools and parents is that they have taken over normal class teaching and become the tail that is wagging the dog.

As a result, teachers have to “teach to the test” and keep drilling their students intensely for the TSA/BCA tests, thereby seriously disrupting the normal education agenda of schools.

I strongly urge our CE to scrap this year’s TSA/BCA tests and overhaul the existing coordinating committee so that frontline teachers are substantially represented in the new committee and their voices are heard.

Only by doing so can the government guarantee that the TSA/BCA tests will truly undergo “rigorous and serious” scrutiny like it has claimed.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb 2

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Legislative Council member from the education sector

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