In testing, the level of difficulty is high

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In testing, the level of difficulty is high

Every year, the Collage Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT) becomes a subject of controversy, especially regarding its level of difficulty. In 2003, a student committed suicide after taking the test. After the CSAT was administered, the media reported that test scores would go up by 10 to 15 points from the previous year. The Korea Institute for Curriculum and Evaluation (KICE) announced that the test was relatively easy, and private institutes predicted that students would get higher scores. But one female examinee learned that her score was not as high as the reported average so she killed herself the morning after the exam. That afternoon, KICE announced that the average score had actually dropped by two to three points from the previous year. It was a tragic result.

The basis of the controversy over the CSAT is its inconsistency with the level of difficulty. We often say it is either a “fiery” CSAT or a “watery” one. The 2002 CSAT was a fiery one. Compared to the year before, the average score was 66.5 points lower, which was the largest margin of decline in its history. Because the discrepancy was so big, students could not refer to college admissions data from the past. There was much confusion about what the scores meant. The KICE president apologized for the failure to control the difficulty level, and the minister and vice minister of education expressed their regrets.

The year before was a typical “watery” CSAT. Students found the test so easy that they said they could pick out the answer just by looking at the choices without reading the question. The average score went up by 27.6 points, and 66 people got perfect scores. In 2000, there were only two students who got the full 400 points. Since the 2001 CSAT failed to differentiate students in different levels, even a student with a perfect score did not qualify for the special admissions round at Seoul National University.

This year’s CSAT is expected to be “watery,” and it is likely to be accompanied by much chaos. Recently, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology announced that the CSAT would become easier, and one percent of test takers, or 7,000 students, will get perfect scores in each subject area from 2012. If the test becomes easier overall, a few hundred to a thousand students will get full marks. Top students may be penalized for getting one or two questions wrong, so the focus will be on not making a mistake rather than testing what has been learned.

Students are already anxious that essays and interviews will become more important in college admissions. It is predicted that more students who fail to get into the college of their choice will retake the test. It is frustrating to see students swayed by the difficulty level of the CSAT. After all, students are not test subjects.

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

By Kim Nam-joong

물 수능

수능시험은 거의 매년 구설(口舌)에 오른다. 난이도를 둘러싼 경우가 많다. 수험생이 자살하는 불행한 소동이 있었던 2003학년도 수능이 대표적이다. 당시 언론은 수능 점수(400점 만점)가 전년에 비해 평균 10~15점 올라갈 것으로 보도했다. 한국교육과정평가원의 “쉽게 출제했다”는 발표와 사설 입시기관들이 시험 직후 분석한 예측 점수에 근거해서다. 언론이 예상한 상승폭보다 점수가 나쁘게 나온 한 여자 재수생이 낙담한 나머지 수능 다음날 아침 자살했다. 하지만 그날 오후 평가원 가채점 결과는 점수가 거꾸로 2~3점 떨어진 것으로 나왔다. 난이도 오보가 결과적으로 수험생의 죽음을 부른 셈이었다.

이런 소동의 기저엔 해마다 들쭉날쭉하는 ‘수능 난이도 널뛰기’가 있다. 이른바 ‘불 수능’과 ‘물 수능’이다. 2002학년도 수능이 ‘불 수능’이었다. 전년도에 비해 평균 점수가 사상 최대인 66.5점 떨어졌다. 낙폭이 너무 커 과거 진학 자료가 무용지물이 되면서 수험생·교사들이 큰 혼란을 겪었다. 난이도 조절 실패에 대해 평가원장의 사과와 대통령·교육부총리의 유감 표시가 나왔을 정도다.

바로 앞 2001학년도 수능은 ‘물 수능’이었다. ‘문제 지문을 보지 않고 답지만 봐도 정답이 깃발을 흔들고 있다’는 말이 나돌 만큼 쉬었다. 평균 점수가 27.6점 상승하면서 만점자가 66명이나 나왔다. 그 전 만점자는 단 두명이었다. 시험 변별력이 없다 보니 만점을 받고도 서울대 특차에서 낙방하는 황당한 일이 벌어졌다.

‘물 수능’ 소동이 재연(再演)될 조짐이다. 교육과학기술부가 그제 ‘쉬운 수능’ 전환 방침을 밝혔다. 2012학년도 수능부터 영역별 만점자가 1% 가량 나올 정도로 쉽게 출제하겠단다. 수험생의 1%면 7000명 남짓이다. 전 영역 만점자도 수백~수천 명이 나오게 된다. 2001학년도보다 더 변별력을 잃어 수험생과 대학 모두 혼란이 불가피하다. 상위권에선 한 문제 실수로 당락이 바뀔 수 있어 그야말로 ‘실수 안 하기 시험’이 될 공산이 크다.

학생들은 논술·면접에 더 신경을 써야 하는 건 아닌지 벌써부터 불안한 모습이다. 재수생·반수생이 늘어날 거란 얘기도 들린다. 공부에만 몰두해도 모자랄 판에 이 눈치 저 눈치를 살펴야 할 판이다. 언제까지 학생들이 수능 난이도에 우왕좌왕하는 모습을 지켜봐야 하는 건지 답답할 뿐이다. 학생들이 ‘실험대상’은 아니지 않은가.

김남중 논설위원

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