Ministry’s CSAT plan offers few clues on direction

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Ministry’s CSAT plan offers few clues on direction

The Ministry of Education released a draft of its long-awaited plan to revise the national college entrance exam on Wednesday - only to disappoint because of its similarity to a proposal released last year.

The lack of changes in this draft means a final decision will not likely come until August.

The Ministry of Education was originally supposed to release a plan to revise the College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT) last August, but it delayed the announcement by a year after the public criticized both options that the ministry proposed.

The first option was to end grading on a curve for most subjects except Korean language and literature, mathematics and one elective. The second option was to end grading on a curve for all subjects and only grade absolutely.

In absolute grading, a student is evaluated solely on his or her performance, irrespective of the scores of other students. In curved grading, a student’s score is determined relative to the performances of others.

In curved grading, the poorest performers fail, but in absolute grading, it is possible for all test takers to pass. The CSAT is currently graded on a curve for all subjects.

Public opinion was sharply divided over both options, and the ministry said on Aug. 31 last year that it would come back with a plan one year later. On Wednesday, the ministry released a draft of that plan.

Despite the eight months’ time, the ministry simply added one more option to the original two without making a final decision on which was best. The third option is going back to the grading system pre-2000 in which students were given raw scores instead of weighing them based on subject. Currently, students are graded based on the major they apply for, whether its humanities or sciences.

“If you use raw scores only, it simplifies the grading system and really puts students on equal footing,” said Song Geun-hyun, head of the University Admissions Policy Division of the Education Ministry. “More parents and students will like this idea.”

The CSAT is taken seriously in Korea because the once-a-year exam is one of the main factors in college entrance. Most students go through extra tutoring on top of regular school to cram for the exam. The process of revising the notorious exam began under the Park Geun-hye administration and has continued under the current Moon Jae-in government.

The revision is scheduled to be applied from 2021, when current ninth graders will take the test, but the ministry has been wishy-washy about its direction. Even in its draft plan released Wednesday, the ministry discussed possible changes to the university admission process but did not take a firm stance on the issue.

The draft, to be submitted to the presidential committee on education today, has three major parts. In addition to the question of how to grade the CSAT, it is mulling over whether to have universities hold early admissions and regular admissions at the same time.

The draft also includes a question on whether to reduce the importance of certain criteria in admissions, such as GPA, extracurricular activities and interviews, and instead place higher importance on CSAT scores to provide more level assessment.

The public has criticized the ministry’s draft for lacking direction.

“The current draft contains all choices curried for all stakeholders,” a professor at a university in Seoul said on the condition of anonymity. “The Education Ministry is simply shirking its responsibility and passing the buck to the presidential committee.”

“I think the ministry tried not to stir things up before the local elections in June,” Kim Jae-chol, a spokesman for the Korea Federation of Teachers’ Association, said. “It is trying to curry favor with those in the 40s, who are major supporters of the current administration. If education policies start to give way to politics, then the neutrality of education, as protected by the Constitution, will be violated.”

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