Don’t lower trust

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Don’t lower trust


Kim Hye-nam

One of the first things to undergo change when a new governing power or education authority comes into office is the college entry exam. The logic behind fiddling with the dreaded college entrance procedure is always the same - ease the studying burden for students, “normalize” public education, and reduce the need for expensive cram schools. Few come up with truly inventive proposals. The packaging and sellers differ, but the product remains the same. All the experiments over the years have ended up augmenting study loads for students. At the end of the day, the students feel as though they have been used as guinea pigs. The college entry and enrollment process has been revised 16 times in modern Korean history.

The once-a-year state-administered standardized college aptitude test comes under criticism every year for inconsistency in its level of difficulty. It is naive to think that students will stop seeking private tutoring if the standardized test becomes easier.

If the level comes down, more people will get high scores. Just one mistake could bring down overall ranks in the current relative scale. Because standardized tests cannot be relied on to get them into their dream schools, students will inevitably have to turn to cram schools for other options. When test scores are leveled off, students will have to compete with a bigger pool of applicants and application procedures could turn out to be chaotic. Teachers won’t be able to confidently guide students because of unpredictability in standardized test outcomes. Confusion in public schools and the education system means more business for cram schools. Parents will have to seek out expensive consulting services to get tips on what universities their children can get into.

An easier test also would be unfair to students who have spent more time and effort to prepare for it. Luck rather than genuine ability would determine a student’s fate. If the top of the senior class gets two problems wrong in English by mistake, his or her ranking would plunge to 20th. A 20th rank by chance can ascend to the top instead. Parents who had spent a small fortune on private tutoring would have to send their children to institutions to waste another year to re-take the test. Demoralization could become a huge problem among college-aspiring students if they come to believe they failed because they were unlucky.

Students naturally would become more laid-back about studies if they expect the college entry exam won’t be difficult. They would avoid difficult problems. Why work hard if they know tricky problems won’t be included in the final test? Instead students will be tempted to learn tricks to pick out the right problems instead of trying to crack them on their own.

If English is easy, other subjects will likely become difficult. Any student and parent who have gone through the tough college preparatory year knows this.

It is tempting to assume that students will gain more confidence in their work if they get better scores through an easier test. But the ranking is based on a relative scale. If one kid gets a good grade, the others will be bound to get it too. Competition would not go away.

A test is a measurement of academic performance and an effective guideline for rankings. It is only useful when it is predictable and functions as an assessment tool. The college exam has lost its primary role because it is hard one year and easy the next.

A test should neither be too hard nor easy. It must serve as a balanced, objective and rational evaluating tool. Controversy over college exams and the burden on students and their parents will never end if it depends on the whims of education authorities.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily.

* The author is a teacher at Moonil High School.

BY Kim Hye-nam
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