Government to investigate transcript manipulation

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Government to investigate transcript manipulation

In response to another report of transcript manipulation by high school teachers and principals, the Ministry of Education will be conducting a comprehensive investigation into all high schools in Korea.

Authorities on Wednesday found that the principal of a girls’ high school in Gwangju ordered a teacher to manipulate students’ transcripts in order to improve their chances of getting into a competitive university.

“The case of transcript manipulation is a serious violation of law among teachers in Korea,” said Kang Soon-nah, head of school policy department in the ministry. “Teachers found to have tweaked transcript records should at least be reprimanded and at most, discharged.”

Kang added, “The ministry will be sure to respond strictly according to the results of its investigations.”

The ministry’s national investigation will commence Monday at the earliest and is expected to last into the end of October.

The investigation will focus on whether schools granted people other than teachers access to the online transcript record system, the National Education Information System (NEIS).

But cases revealed thus far show that teachers are often pressured by parents or principals to change students’ transcript records.

“Can you please fix this wording here,” a parent recently asked the vice principal of a private high school in Anyang, Gyeonggi.

The parent had an issue with a sentence in the student’s transcript that read, “The student struggles to focus during classes, but is passionate about what he wants to do.”

“I explained to the parent repeatedly that a transcript can’t be fixed just like that,” said the vice principal.

“But the parent was so adamant I had to agree to take out the words ‘struggles to focus’ by the end of the argument.”

“Sometimes parents visit and ask teachers to write the transcript a certain way,” said a principal of a private high school in Seoul. “It is hard for teachers to say no in these cases and when they write sentences directed by the parents, they end up feeling quite guilty.”

And like the recent case uncovered in Gwangju, instances where principals or teachers tweak transcript records to get their students into high ranking universities are quite common, too.

In 2011, authorities revealed similar cases of transcript manipulation at a private high school in Seoul, and in May of last year, it was uncovered that a high school teacher in North Chungcheong awarded a three-year perfect attendance honor to a student who was absent 20 times.

A high school graduate’s transcript accounts for a large part of his or her admissions assessment by colleges in Korea.

There are four types of college admissions applications in Korea. One is based on transcripts and school activities, while another is based on essays, another based on various tests concerning skills required for the major a student is applying for and another based on the national college entrance exam, or the College Scholastic Ability Test.

And applications based on transcripts and school activities are becoming more popular.

For those applying for admission for 2017, 85.8 percent of early applications were of the transcript-and-school activities type.

For early admissions for 2018, 78.5 percent of applicants to Seoul National University and 61.5 percent of applicants to Korea University applied for this type of assessment.

In Korea, academic transcripts contain not only GPAs but also a student’s strengths, weaknesses, attitude in class, community and leadership activities at school and a written recommendations by teachers.

“Admissions officers assess whether a student is a right fit for the major by reading the teachers’ comments in the transcript,” said Ahn Yeon-geun, a teacher at Jamsil Girls’ High School in Songpa District, southern Seoul.

“For students applying via assessment by transcript and school activities, their fit to their majors is very important.”

Thus it is not surprising that parents would request meetings with their children’s teachers or even with principals of the schools to request changes to certain word choices in the transcript.

Critics are calling for a revamp to the college admissions system.

“I don’t know why the transcript-based assessment exists as its own system,” said a 17-year-old high school student in Seongdong District, northern Seoul.

“Except for a few students who excel in classes, teacher comments in the transcript are pretty much the same for most students, and these comments are only about one or two lines long.”

“Universities need to reveal their standards for assessment by transcript and school activities,” said Kim Hye-nam, a teacher at Moonil High School.

According to a survey conducted by the JoongAng Ilbo and the Jongro Academy on 1,135 students and parents, 41.4 percent of students and 58.4 percent of parents said the transcript-based assessment has unequal standards.

BY NOH JIN-HO AND JEON MIN-HEE [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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