[OUTLOOK]Abolish the college entrance testThe National Alliance 21 political party recently called for the abolition of the Ministry of Education because of frequent changes to the university entrance examination and the cost to Korean citizens of supplementing public schools with private studies. Now that Korea has a new president-elect, the time is ripe to consider how to reform the educational system here.
Korea's students and their families are kept in the dark about their educational progress for the full 12 years of their school education, and they are then expected to emerge fully prepared for adult life on the basis of their performance in the College Scholastic Ability Test on a single day. Korea has a national high school curriculum, but it is of little use if the curriculum is not tested or respected. The CSAT, as the college test is known, does not test a student's knowledge of the standard curriculum; In the 12th grade, high schools spend their time preparing students for the test, not teaching curriculum material. This was the main point of a recent report by the Korea Educational Development Institute. The phenomenon is not unique here; it is known to educators as the "backwash effect" of testing regimes.
The College Scholastic Ability Test is modeled on the American Scholastic Aptitude Test, which works well as a university screening test in the United States. But Korea is not the United States. There is no national curriculum in the United States. There are thousands of universities in America and fewer than 100 in Korea. The test is not based on any single curriculum. It is assumed that any valid curriculum will prepare students for the test. Such a test is essential in the United States but wrong for Korea. In the United States, students have a choice of tests and a choice of test dates each year. Korean students have no choice and only one chance. In the United States the SAT and similar tests are produced by independent nonprofit corporations. They are not political footballs.
The CSAT is a predictor of how a student will fare at the university level. The proper role of the 12th-grade test is to assess the achievement of students during their school years. If a student has a record of achievement in art, music, poetry, or drama, the CSAT will not measure that talent. It rewards the all-around achievers at the expense of the specialists. But is that bias in the national interest?
Korea needs to restore the confidence of its pupils, its parents, its teachers, its universities and its employers in the national curriculum. Without that confidence, the public will resort to private schools and foreign tests. Korea must test what it teaches and ensure that its certificates are valid and accepted as valid by all Koreans.
Korea deserves a system which is uniquely and distinctively Korean, but firmly anchored in an East Asian and a global context. At present there is a total mismatch between the national curriculum and the evaluation system.
During my years in Korea, my area of interest was in English language teaching and testing. I was struck by the fact that Koreans rely almost exclusively on imported tests of English. I do not share their confidence in these tests. The test producers admit that they are not valid tests of proficiency in English for native speakers. Why then should we regard them as valid for Koreans?
The Korean Institute of Curriculum and Evaluation hosted a seminar in October, attended by experts from Europe as well as from Korea, Japan and China, to discuss the feasibility of periodic English testing; the testing of students' progress in the national curriculum in elementary and middle school towards 12th-grade objectives. Periodic testing would make more sense if the 12th-grade examination also tested mastery of the national curriculum. Here are some comments made by the Chinese delegate, the president of the Chinese College English Test Committee.
"We believe there is a high necessity to develop a general English level framework for Asia. Actually a group of language testers in Asia has been working on the idea for five years already.
"Countries and areas in Asia share the same or similar cultural background; their learners of English therefore face similar problems. The aim of the Academic Forum on English Language Testing in Asia is to promote the exchange of ideas and mutual understanding in order to further the development of English language teaching and testing in Asia.
"I think this can be an area for co-operation between Europe and English language testers in Asia, since you in Europe have already developed a common European framework."
* The writer is a former director of the British Council Language Center in Seoul.
by Frederick O'Hanlon