Grade 5 Testing Aims to Cut Learning Gaps

Cambodia will join three other regional countries in carrying out standardized testing for grade five students as part of a pilot program that aims to improve primary school education in Asean, officials said this week.

In the Unicef-backed project, launched at a workshop in Phnom Penh on Monday, Cambodia, Brunei, Burma and Laos will each have grade five students sit the Southeast Asia Primary Learning Metrics assessment, said Lauranne Beernaert, Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization project coordinator.

“The main goal of the metrics is to improve education, as a very broad goal,” she said “The results will allow each country to see where the kids are compared to other countries. But especially to know what they could eventually work on, on a policy level.”

Ministry of Education spokesman Ros Salin said on Monday that the test will help the government improve the national curriculum, teacher training and policies.

“After implemented testing, we will get good feedback from the results and we will discuss at an international level, again, whether Cambodia, Laos, Brunei and [Burma] have common challenges or points we need to attend to,” he said.

The test will have reading, writing and mathematics and will be rolled out to select Grade five students in Cambodia starting next year, according to the Education Ministry.

But Erika Boak, Unicef Cambodia’s chief of education, emphasized that the goal of the test is not to compare countries.

“[T]he purpose of the assessment initiative…is to understand the factors affecting children’s learning achievements and enabling policy makers, and crucially teachers, to take corrective actions to reduce disparities between children,” she said by email yesterday.

If the initial tests provide useful results, the program will be expanded to more countries where it will be repeated once every three to five years, she said.

According to Mr. Salin, the ministry has not determined how many Cambodian students would take the first test, but he said the pilot sample would accurately represent the country’s demographics and offer an indicator of where Cambodia stands compared to other countries in the region.

“We should have common framework, common tools, everything in common,” Mr. Salin said of Asean. “[The assessment] is in line with the educational reform in the ministry.”

However, Kurt Bredenberg, senior technical adviser for NGO Kampuchean Action for Primary Education, said the project might not be beneficial.

“I’m trying to think how they would implement such a thing, because different countries are starting off at such different points,” Mr. Bredenberg said.

“To have a similar standard for Singapore and Malaysia, it could be very dispiriting for a country like Cambodia,” he added. “There are many problems in Cambodia. I’m just afraid that such a metric would be a distraction from the real problems.”

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