[EDITORIALS]CSAT still makes the grade

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[EDITORIALS]CSAT still makes the grade

The Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development released a proposal to revise the College Scholastic Ability Test to allow applicants to have broader test choices beginning in 2005. According to the proposal, the ministry will provide a career study test in addition to the traditional tests on linguistics, mathematics, foreign language (English), social studies and science. Test-takers will be allowed to select one subject from social, science and career studies. The ministry also plans to add Chinese characters to the test category of second foreign languages. The current test system tests students on all subjects with a choice of a second foreign language. The revised system would allow applicants to choose which tests they want to take. Based on the revision proposal, the College Scholastic Ability Test will focus on testing the elective subjects with in-depth studies - the main frame of the ministry's seventh education program, which will begin next year.

We welcome the ministry's decision to reduce the number of test subjects since it frees students from heavy study burdens. As of now, test-takers have to prepare for 10 to 16 subjects, including subdisciplines in social and science studies. Yet, the most pressing problem we face is proper implementation of in-depth curricula at high schools. As we have already seen, students are increasingly avoiding science and engineering disciplines. Among test-takers of this year's CSAT, only 27 percent focused on science disciplines, down from 43 percent five years ago. Despite such circumstances, increasing the number of electives would trigger a dash into easy subjects to raise test scores. The ministry may cause a distortion in the high school curriculum by linking the college entrance test and curriculum revision.

If the goal of high school education is teaching students the basic knowledge required for colleges and living in our society, curricula focusing on in-depth studies of some subjects could exacerbate the disproportionate emphasis on some particular subjects. In fact, some unpopular college majors are in danger of being eliminated due to the lack of applicants.

To implement curricula at high schools for in-depth studies, another task would be balancing the differences between high schools. The special purpose high schools, such as science and foreign language schools, and the independent private schools to be launched next year have excellent teaching staffs and laboratories, much better than those in most other high schools. Facilities at high schools in rural areas are extremely poor. Such an imbalance will cause parents to spend more money for private tutoring. Furthermore, since high school students should decide on their majors in their sophomore year, high school freshmen and middle school seniors likely will study at private preparatory institutes.

The revision proposal for the CSAT would increase the number of electives. As a result, the degree of difficulty for the test would be difficult to adjust. How much hardship have we gone through since last year's unreasonably easy test and this year's difficult test? The Education Ministry said it will solve the problem with a standard scoring system, but that should not be a rash move since college acceptance depends on the scores. The ministry hopes colleges will place less weight on test scores, but the CSAT score is the only valid measure. The ministry should come up with measures to minimize ill after-effects from the revised high school curriculum and the CSAT as soon as possible.
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