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Divided on CSAT changes, council forms more committees

Apr 17,2018
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Shin In-ryung, head of the Presidential Council on Education, opens a meeting in Seoul on Monday. [YONHAP]


The government’s efforts to revise the national college entrance exam have hit a snag.

Sharply divided over how to change the test, the Presidential Council on Education, which has been tasked with devising a plan by August, announced Monday that it needed to form more committees to collect public opinion on the matter.

“Because there are differing and conflicting opinions on how we should change the national college entrance exam, we will have to collect and reflect public opinion as much as we can in the changes,” said Shin In-ryung, former president of Ewha Womans University and head of the council. “The revision will have to be one that can be trusted by the citizens to be simple, fair and contributing to students’ development.”

The council, which convened in December to advise the president on education policy, decided to create a 13-person committee on revising the College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT) and seven-person committee focused on collecting public opinion about how to best revise the test. The president has given the council a deadline of August to submit recommendations to the Ministry of Education.

The ministry was originally supposed to release a plan to revise the CSAT last August, but it delayed the announcement by a year after the public criticized two 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. The CSAT is currently graded on a curve for all subjects.

After neither option seemed to have majority support, the ministry last week proposed an additional option: going back to the grading system pre-2000 in which students were given raw scores instead of weighted scores based on subject. Currently, students are graded based on the major they apply for, whether it’s humanities or sciences.

The council’s task in the next three months is to find out which option satisfies the majority of the public.

According to the council, the public opinion committee will conduct surveys on different options for revising the CSAT until the end of May, select topics for a televised discussion with experts in June and host public forums in July.
During this time, the public opinion committee will communicate with the special committee on CSAT revision, which will draft a plan. The council will then finalize the plan in August.

The Presidential Council on Education has garnered criticism for equivocating on policies related to the CSAT. The latest decision to form committees has earned it more ridicule, with some calling the move “a process within a process.”
“Initially, it looked like the presidential council would take public opinion and make a decision together,” said a professor at a university in Seoul who asked not to be named. “But now it just looks like the seven people in the council’s public opinion committee will be doing all this work of national importance. I don’t know if those seven people will be able to address the complexities of revising the college entrance exam and university admissions systems.”

The council consists of 20 members, including the ministers of education, finance, health, employment and gender equality; President Moon Jae-in’s senior secretary for social affairs; the presidents of the National Council of Governors of Education and the Korean Council for University Education; and the heads of regional education institutes and six professors.

“It took the Ministry of Education eight months to provide a draft of options to revise the CSAT and college admissions alone,” said Kim Jae-chol, a spokesman for the Korea Federation of Teachers’ Association, which has been critical of the council’s equivocating, “so I don’t know if the council can come up with a revision plan that reflects public opinion within half that time.”

The CSAT is taken seriously in Korea because the once-a-year exam is one of the main factors in college entrances. Most students go through extra tutoring on top of regular school to cram for the exam. The process of revising the 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.
In addition the questions of how to grade the CSAT, the Presidential Council on Education and Ministry of Education will also deliberate on possible changes to the university admissions system and criteria.

BY YUN SEOK-MAN, ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]