[Viewpoint]College entrance quagmire

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[Viewpoint]College entrance quagmire

This year’s high school seniors have been branded the “cursed kids of ’89.” They are the first victims of the new college entrance system that starts this year. Under the system, students have to try to make good grades in school, study for the College Scholastic Ability Test and university essay and prepare for constantly changing college admission procedures. A few days ago, students took the College Scholastic Ability Test. However, a new kind of curse has just begun.
The college admission sessions offered by universities and private educational institutes are crowded with concerned parents.
Students are puzzled about how to prepare for college admission. Under the new CSAT system, it is very hard to guess whether or not a student will be admitted to a certain college. Until last year, CSAT results were given in scores, so students could guess whether or not they would be admitted to their target college based on their scores.
However, the new system puts students in different scoring levels for each subject, which is very confusing. For example, the top 4 percent in a particular subject is the first scoring level, and the next 7 percent is the second scoring level. One wrong answer can change a student’s scoring level, so your chance of getting into the college of your choice can depend on the difference of a decimal point.
Having a lower scoring level in major subjects could mean being eligible for a completely different pool of colleges.
Knowing too well that they are no better than the blind men touching an elephant, the parents have to rely on the information provided by private educational institutes. Students try for several scoring levels and prepare for colleges that fall into their predicted scoring level.
The curse will continue even after the test results are announced. Two students can fall into the same scoring level even if their scores are very different.
There are over 580,000 students taking the CSAT. The top 4 percent includes about 23,200 students. Whether you get 100 points or 90 points, you get assigned to the same scoring level if you are within the top 4 percent. Naturally, colleges are complaining that the CSAT is not a good measure to distinguish between students.
Furthermore, when the top 4 percent includes scores of 90 to 100, a student who receives 89 points falls into the second scoring level. How can this be considered fair? The ones who will be most disadvantaged are the students who excel in certain subjects but fall behind in others. High school evaluations use grades, and academic gaps between schools are not taken into account. Major private colleges are giving less weight to school records, and students are focusing more on essay writing.
A government policy that denies reality will inevitably bring out retaliation from the market. The CSAT and high school grade systems are failures created by political ideology rather than educational logic.
The current system is trying to standardize colleges by distributing outstanding students to different schools.
Authorities were naive enough to think that the system would make college admissions less competitive and discourage private after-school education. So the original plan had five scoring levels. However, the reality was just the opposite. When getting a higher or lower grade leads to a greater consequence, students become more desperate about their school grades and the CSAT. Meanwhile, colleges raised the weight of the essay because they could not distinguish students based on school reports and the CSAT. As a result, students are suffering from the triple burden of school academics, the CSAT and writing essays, so they resort to more private instruction.
No college entrance system in the world is unfair to outstanding students. The current system comes at a time when competition is fiercer and outcomes are determined by small differences. Next year, students’ comprehensive academic records will become public information. There is no guarantee that legal proceedings won’t be instituted regarding the scoring system. Unreasonable systems need to be corrected as soon as possible.
However, because changes to the college entrance system have to be announced three years in advance, students born in 1990, 1991 and 1992 will have to live with the curse as well. The solution is to resolve urgent problems and minimize adverse effects through admission autonomy. When colleges are free to admit students however they choose, the weight given to the CSAT, high grades and essays will fall. College admission autonomy is an urgent need today.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Oh Day-young
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