USM lecturers come up with a system to evaluate students’ skills.
AFTER three years of tedious research, three lecturers from Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) have successfully produced a “complete” reading assessment kit to evaluate the reading proficiency of secondary school students.
The lecturers from USM’s School of Educational Studies have come up with the Reading Evaluation and Decoding System (READS), believed to be the first “complete” reading assessment kit in the country, to help students from Form One to Form Five identify specific weaknesses in their ability to read in English.
Easy read: Prof Abdul Rashid, Dr Shaik Abdul Malik and Dr Lin going through the assessment kit.
The research was carried out by the school’s dean Prof Dr Abdul Rashid Mohamed and its senior lecturers Dr Lin Siew Eng and Dr Shaik Abdul Malik Mohamed Ismail.
Prof Abdul Rashid said READS could provide specific information on the students’ reading proficiency where teachers could use it as a tool to help students improve their reading in English.
“The system has three components, which are the encoder, analyser and decoder,” he said in an interview at the school’s USM Minden campus in Penang recently.
He explained that the encoder was the reading comprehension test instrument used to measure the students’ reading abilities while the analyser was the reading matrix which would place the students in appropriate standardised reading bands (Band 1 to Band 6).
“The decoder is to provide descriptors of the students’ reading abilities according to the literal, reorganisation and inferential
“The test consists of 60 questions with 70 minutes allocated time given for the student to answer them.
“Also, with the decoder, the teacher, parent and student will know the skills the student has and hasn’t achieved in reading English,” said Prof Abdul Rashid.
The 60 comprehension questions in the test are carefully selected where 15 questions are at Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR) level while 30 questions are at Penilaian Menengah Rendah (PMR) level and 15 questions at Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) level.
On how the system works, he said that the student first takes the test, followed by the scoring and charting of the student’s reading performance.
“READS can be used at a micro (personal) level and on a macro level, which is at school, district, state and national levels.
“This ‘innovation’ is important as we want to move away from public examinations where students get an ‘A’ in English but cannot speak or write properly in the language.
“Here, we can help to show their real ability and help them to move up,” he added.
Prof Dr Abdul Rashid also said that READS was in line with the Education Ministry’s school-based assessment system. The ministry’s system, he said had two problems.
“First, it is the acceptance levels by the parents who might not come to terms with their children’s grades.
“Secondly, the teachers may be unsure of the next line of action when the students in class have not performed.
“A programme like READS can help teachers check their students’ performances. This is a formative test where it helps the student.
“For example, if the student was weak in certain areas when reading English, the teacher can help them to concentrate on the weaknesses instead of repeating the same lessons in class,” he said.
He added that students with good reading performances should be given enrichment while those under the “academic warning” category should be given remedial work.
The Education Ministry should look into the system and implement it in schools, he added.
“We hope the Examination Board will take this as part of the school-based assessment.
“The test can be done manually or online. If schools want to buy the test in book form, they can reuse it.
“The kit is ready and can be implemented immediately.
“We want the ministry to look this up and we don’t mind rectifying any weaknesses in READS,” he said, adding that the kit was easy for teachers to use.
He added that READS could be used to determine the “reading age” of the students, which will be their next project.
“We are moving on to look at struggling readers and the ‘reading age’ which refers to the level of reading ability that someone has, compared with an average student of a particular age.
“For example, a Form Four or 16-year-old student may have a reading age of 18 or 12.
“If his reading age is that of an 18-year-old, it is good but it will be a matter of concern if his reading ability is that a 12-year-old,” he said.
Dr Lin said that students could take the test three times a year in January, May and August.
“They can print out a certificate and a detailed analysis of their reading ability after they take the test,” she said, adding that the certificate could be submitted when applying for jobs.
Dr Shaik Abdul Malik said READS was somewhat similar to what other developed countries were doing in measuring one’s reading ability.
“This is what we can do for students in Malaysia in the years to come,” he said, adding that they were looking for more funding to come up with similar tests for primary school pupils as well as students at pre-university and tertiary levels.
He said READS funded by a grant of RM97,000 from the university saw the participation of 8,500 students from 120 specially selected schools in Penang, Perak and Kedah.
For more information on the kit, call Prof Dr Abdul Rashid at 04-6533231 , Dr Lin at 04-6535415 or Dr Shaik Abdul Malik at 04-6533751 .