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Furor over how a test is graded

English teachers fear their demise as gov’t pushes CSAT reform
Aug 09,2018
Associations representing English-language educators in Korea are calling for the government to grade the English section of the national college entrance exam on a curve, saying the current method will lower the subject’s value in the admissions process and hurt the employment prospects of English teachers.

After a presidential commission on education reform announced that English would continue to be graded absolutely on Tuesday, a number of associations protested the decision.

In absolute grading, a student is evaluated solely on his or her performance, irrespective of the scores of other students in the pool. With a bell curve, a student’s grade is determined relative to the performances of others, meaning the poorest performers fail.

Absolute grading lowers the stakes in an exam because it allows all test-takers to pass. In the current college entrance exam, scores on the English and national history sections are evaluated absolutely.

Scores on other subjects - Korean language and literature, mathematics, a second foreign language, traditional Chinese characters and two elective subjects from among the social sciences or natural science - are evaluated on a curve.

Absolute grading was introduced to English and national history last November, and on Tuesday, the commission recommended adding two more subjects - a second foreign language and Chinese characters - to absolute grading starting from the 2022 academic year.

The Moon Jae-in administration has pledged to change the grading system on the exam, known as the CSAT, to reduce students’ reliance on private tutoring outside of school, which is notoriously expensive.

Following the recommendation, 25 English-language associations, including the English Language and Literature Association of Korea and the Korea Association of Teachers of English, issued a joint statement on Wednesday expressing concern that absolute grading would diminish the subject’s value and hurt the employment prospects of teachers.

The group claimed that fewer English teachers were hired after the government announced its plan in 2014 to grade English absolutely.

“This year, only 37 percent of those who applied to become English teachers were hired throughout the country,” the group said, compared to 60 percent in Korean and 57 percent in math.

“If out of the core subjects - English, math and Korean language and literature - only English is graded absolutely then it creates an imbalance in the educational system for the core subjects,” the statement read. “All three subjects must either be graded absolutely altogether or on a curve altogether.”

The associations added that grading English absolutely would not help the Moon administration’s plan to lower private tutoring costs.

“If the grading system on other subjects like Korean literature and language and math stays on a curve, then the reformed college entrance exam is not going to help lower expenses for private education altogether,” the statement read. “The current plan will only weaken the national education system for English.”

BY SUNG SI-YOON [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]