Elite high schools revise admissions

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Elite high schools revise admissions

Foreign-language and private autonomous high schools will factor in English scores on school exams for ninth-grade students who are evaluated on a curved-grading system, the Ministry of Education announced yesterday.

Those schools currently consider scores based on an absolute-grading system.

The change is part of the revised 2015-17 admissions guidelines for prestigious private institutions. However, admission experts say that the shift will put more pressure on applicants because the curved, or relative, system usually triggers fiercer competition.

The absolute-grading approach is a traditional grading method where performance is quantified as a percentage of marks on an A through F scale. Anyone who earns a grade higher than 90 percent receives an A, and those who score higher than 80 percent receive a B.

Contrarily, relative grading is based on a system that generates the marks of each student on a curve and relies on the overall performance of the class to determine the boundaries for how grades are assigned. Many students dread the relative-grading system because good grades are harder to earn. The system also puts more weight on rank, which means a student could perform poorly even if his or her actual score was fairly high.

The changed system assigns only the top 4 percent as Level 1, out of 9, and 11 percent as Level 2.

However, the grading system for eighth graders will remain the same, with grades determined on an absolute-grading system. According to the Education Ministry, this is intended to reduce the burden on middle school students.

“The policy is meant to put less of a burden on eighth graders because they need time to explore their interests and goals for the future,” said Park Sung-min, head of the school policy division in the ministry.

“But we also need a grading system that can better assess their performance. This is why we adopted the relative-grading system for the ninth graders,” Park said.

However, admission experts said that even though eighth-grade scores are taken into account, schools will focus primarily on grades in the ninth grade because they are evaluated on the relative-grading method.

Those specialized schools tend to carry more weight on grades evaluated with the relative-grading system, they said.

“Applicants to those schools are all top-performing students,” said Lim Seong-ho, an admissions consultant for Haneul Education, a private cram school.

“Most of them get As in the absolute system, so the defining factor that determines admission will be the English scores that those students receive in the ninth grade. This means more pressure and competition among students,” Lim said.

But Ahn Sang-jin, vice president of the education organization World Without Worry About Private Education, expressed concern that now admissions officers will put more emphasis on ranking than the scores students earn.

The nonprofit group denounces any education policy that triggers excessive competition that adds to emotional and financial burdens on students.

BY PARK EUN-JEE, CHUN IN-SEONG [ejpark@joongang.co.kr]
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