Grading for CSAT English test will lose its curve

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Grading for CSAT English test will lose its curve

Education authorities announced Thursday they will adopt an absolute grading system for the English section of the annual College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT) from 2017, ditching the relative grading system for the first time in the test’s 20-year history.

The announcement on Christmas Day comes a week after the Ministry of Education said the government wants to “intensively control” households’ expenditures on English and math education, the two subjects most fervently studied in private hagwon, or cram schools.

Last week, the ministry said it may prohibit English kindergartens in Korea from hiring foreign instructors. These special kindergartens have capitalized on the craze for learning English and charge much more than regular Korean-language kindergartens.

“Many people have pointed out that [the current grading system] has unnecessarily pressured students and induced them to rely on private education in order to prepare themselves for the English questions on the CSAT,” said Kim Do-wan, an official with the Education Ministry.

“[We’ve also discovered] a threshold in evenly developing one’s English skills in writing, reading, listening and speaking,” Kim said.

Kim also said cram schools’ English classes disproportionately concentrate on skills to solve CSAT questions rather than genuinely boosting linguistic abilities.

The absolute grading system is intended to minimize “meaningless competition” among students, authorities said, and “normalize school English education” by having teachers place more emphasis on improving students’ communication skills.

The new grading system will apply to CSAT test-takers in 2017, students who are currently ninth graders.

Up until then, the English portion of the CSAT will maintain its relative grading system in which students are divided into nine groups depending on their scores.

The test is graded on a bell curve and each group has a set number of students, making competition to get into the first and second group particularly steep. Colleges pay attention to which group the student falls into instead of the raw score.

In the absolute grading system, the students will also be divided into groups. But an unlimited number of students can be in any of the groups, including the top. Authorities said they have yet to decide on the precise number of groups, but are considering four, five or nine.

The ministry also said it has not specifically decided how it is going to classify test-takers into each group, but that it’s mulling two options: to set a cut-off score for each group before the test, or have “pundits analyze the test afterwards” and decide which numeric standards to use.

Details on who the “pundits” will be were not offered Thursday. Further announcements on the number of questions on the English CSAT as well as the total test time under the new grading system will follow, authorities said.

As to concerns that the absolute grading system will prompt universities to rely more on their own English exams for writing and speaking in their admissions procedures, the Education Ministry’s Kim implied that the government will try to minimize that possibility by offering financial incentives to universities that don’t.

Kim further hinted that the Education Ministry will come up with ways to encourage local universities to select admissions based on high school grades.

In regards to how the decision for the English portion of the CSAT might affect other sections, the ministry said it will “make it easier” for students to prepare for the test at school, not in cram schools.

November’s CSAT was one of the easiest yet, as the number of students who received perfect scores on the Math B and English sections was the highest ever.


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