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Dispute escalates over college exam questions

Dispute escalates over college exam questions

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Published : 2013-12-04 20:11
Updated : 2013-12-04 20:11

A high school senior checks her College Scholastic Ability Test results, which were released on Nov. 27. (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)
Controversy is simmering over allegations that a question did not have a correct answer on the national college entrance exam, where even a one-point difference can make or break the fate of college applicants.

Students, parents and teachers have raised a number of complaints about an ambiguous or erroneous question and answers for the past three weeks. The dispute took a new turn Friday as a group of students filed a lawsuit against the Ministry of Education, claiming that they received incorrect scores.

Last Wednesday the ministry released the test scores of more than 606,000 students who took the College Scholastic Ability Test on Nov. 7.

The 38 students suing the ministry claim that the test organizers chose an incorrect answer to question 8 in the geography section.

Question No. 8 in the geography section is at the center of the controversy over this year’s CSAT. (KICE)

The multiple-choice question asked examinees to choose the correct statement about the European Union and the North American Free Trade Agreement blocs. One of four examples given was that the EU’s combined gross domestic product is bigger than that of the NAFTA members.

The problem was the year for the GDP data was not clearly mentioned. Test organizer Korea Institute for Curriculum and Evaluation decided that the explanation on GDP was sufficient and gave three points to students who chose that answer.

Students and teachers claim that NAFTA’s gross output is actually bigger than the EU’s. In fact, according to the 2012 World Bank data, the output of the European Union was $16.6 trillion, compared with $18.7 trillion for NAFTA members.

The test organizer, however, explained that the question was taken from textbooks and the books all stated that the EU had a larger GDP based on data from 2007 to 2010.

“I’m sorry to bring confusion to students. We, however, won’t change our answer,” Seong Tae-je, president of KICE, said in a news conference, insisting that the disputed question was not problematic.

Students wrote angry responses on the KICE homepage. One student noted: “The question itself is very misleading because it did not specify which year.”

Another student pointed out that the year “2012” was in fact written below the map in the question.

The KICE president refuted the argument, saying the year did not indicate the time of GDP measurement, but rather the membership statuses of the economic blocs.

“Nearly half of test-takers got the right answer, especially most top-grade students,” he added. The state-run agency has noted that accepting the correction would affect other students’ CSAT scores.

Meanwhile, a number of teachers insisted that the test organizer should give three points to students who got the answer wrong in order to make it fair to all students.

“Unfortunately, there’s no correct answer to the question, because (GDP) figures change each year, and we don’t teach students to memorize all the data and figures,” said Yoon Shin-won, a geography teacher from Sungnam High School.

In the survey conducted by Yoon and other colleagues on 143 teachers, 8 in 10 respondents, or 119 teachers, said there was “an error” in the question. In contrast, 9.8 percent or 14 teachers said “no error was found,” while the remaining teachers said they didn’t know.

“It shows that the question was a clear mistake,” Yoon said.

A number of politicians have also jumped into the fray by criticizing the Ministry of Education and the state-run KICE.

“The Ministry of Education is still not acknowledging their mistake. It’s an act of irresponsibility and recklessness,” said Rep. Yoo Ki-hong of the main opposition Democratic Party.

DP Rep. Park Hong-keun also blamed the ministry for the confusion, claiming that “the education minister must take more of the blame and should make a public apology.”

Kim Dong-seok, chief director of the educational policy division at the Korean Federation of Teachers’ Association, pointed out that the CSAT error arose partly because test writers have a short time frame to set the exam questions.

“Currently, the members of the exam prepping committee have to set questions one month before the test. So it’s not very surprising to see why they often make errors,” Kim said.

He added that one possible solution to reduce errors is to create “question banks” in advance and then use the question pool for the CSAT test.

Over a decade, many educators have rallied to fix what they see as problems with the state-run college entrance exam.

One common criticism is that the multiple-choice exam fails to capture full spectrum of students’ learning.

“The purpose of the CSAT is to measure basic knowledge required for students to advance to college. But I think it fails to do so,” Kim added.

The geography teacher Yoon agreed, saying, “Our education is in contradiction with the reality. Nowadays society requires creative and integrated ideas, but we still encourage students to memorize textbooks.

“I think it’s largely because of the standardized multiple-choice questions. To change the situation, I think we should include essay questions on the CSAT as well.”

By Oh Kyu-wook (596story@heraldcorp.com)

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