High school record sheets put teachers in a tight spot

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High school record sheets put teachers in a tight spot

It’s the worst time of year to be a teacher at a Korean high school, according to a female English teacher in Gangnam District, southern Seoul, who wished not to be named.

Every once in a while, a senior student randomly storms into her office with an essay in hand, asking her to give credit for an “assignment” she never assigned in the first place.

Starting this month through August, she and her colleagues at high schools nationwide will have to fill out their students’ spring semester record sheets, which describe extracurricular activities that students participated in from March through July, as well as their “special abilities and strengths” in each course.

Teachers have the final say over what goes on these reports, which in Korea have significant influence over college admissions. Many students, according to teachers interviewed by the JoongAng Ilbo, beg for undeserved last-minute bonus points.

The Gangnam English teacher recalls one student who came to her office a couple days ago with an essay about a reading passage from the textbook.

The student specifically asked whether she could write in his record sheet that he “arduously participated in debates and presentations during English class.”

The teacher declined, saying she could not lie.

“I want to study English language and literature in college!” the student replied. “I beg you!”

After nearly 20 minutes, the student left only after she threatened to tell his homeroom teacher.

“I have two to three kids from each class approaching me with such reports,” the teacher said with a sigh.

According to data from the Korean Council for University Education, nearly one in every four quota for domestic universities next year will be determined mainly through an evaluation of the applicant’s track record sheet, which focuses on extracurricular activities and the student’s professed “career path” as opposed to grades and College Scholastic Ability Test scores.

Seoul’s top universities are leading this trend, including Seoul National University, which vowed to fill 78.5 percent of its entire freshman student next year using track-record assessment. Korea University has said it will fill 62 percent of its freshman class, while Sogang University cited 55 percent and Sungkyunkwan University 46 percent.

The section that requires educators to write about students’ “specific abilities and strengths” during class is, in the words of one teacher working in northern Seoul, “painful.”

The teacher added, “I have students in the science and engineering track who are trying to force me into writing that they’re equally intelligent in humanities just because they read a few books.”

“The record sheet is like writing the story of their high school life,” the teacher said, “so I feel like popular teachers are the ones who can spice that up with a good narrative.”

BY JEONG HYEON-JIN, LEE TAE-YUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]
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