A possible turning point

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A possible turning point

The Ministry of Education announced that absolute evaluation could be applied to the English section of the College Scholastic Ability Test as early as 2017. We have to wait and see if the plan can actually be pulled off, but it could be a turning point if it does.

Such a major shift in scoring English in the college-entry exam would help reduce private education spending to excel in the language during high school. English tests in high school have gotten more difficult in order to differentiate between levels across percentile intervals on the grading curve. Because school tests are difficult, students have to seek outside help to keep their grades up. According to data from the Education Ministry, spending on private English lessons averaged 69,000 won ($65) a month per student in 2013, up from 62,000 won in 2010. In the future, tests won’t have to be excessively difficult because relative rankings are no longer needed. English taught at high schools will be sufficient to prepare for college in the long run.

The absolute evaluation could ease the workload and pressure for students. Under the current relative system, students must strive to do better than other peers when tests are tough. If tests are easy, they must pay extra attention to not make any mistakes because one error could place them in a lower rank. In the absolute system, students won’t have to compare themselves to their peers incessantly and instead can focus on maintaining their standards at a certain level. Competition and stress over rankings could be greatly relieved for students.

The absolute system would also promote practical teaching in English classes. English courses have primarily focused on teaching students to do well on difficult tests, making them solve one rigorous problem after another and reading texts that require a high level of English vocabulary and comprehension skills. But easing the criteria could lessen the unnecessary waste and encourage teachers to try diverse methods to enhance English learning.

The employment of absolute evaluation in the English section of the college exam could generate many positive effects. But to ensure that it takes English learning in the right direction, two conditions must be fulfilled. If they are not met, the change could end up doing more harm than good.

First of all, education authorities should not permit universities to conduct separate English proficiency tests for admissions. If top schools run separate English tests, the burden on students and parents would be amplified regardless of absolute evaluation.

Second, in order to mitigate the balloon effect - the burden being shifted to math and Korean-language sections to differentiate academic standards - math and other subjects must not become harder. After the trial with English, authorities should consider changing the entire college-entry system to be based on absolute criteria. The education system that grades students upon their memory rather than understanding ability and promotes students to apply for colleges that they can get into regardless of their wishes must be done away with.

The rigorous college test is at the heart of all the excessive competition in our education system. Absolute evaluation should not end with English. To select excellent and individualistic talents, academic performance reviews by college administration officers should play a bigger role.

So far, the education ministry appears to be approaching the employment of an absolute system as a solution to fight private education costs. But it should broaden its perspective to work for a fundamental change in the college-entry framework. If it pursues the English trial with foresight, the transition of the English test could be a meaningful turning point in the college entrance system.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff

*The author is a policy director at NoWorry.Kr, a civilian group focused on campaign against private education, and a teacher at Soongsil High School.

BY Kim Seung-hyun
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