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[Newsmaker] In Suneung, half a percent has big implications

Court rules question on college entrance exam to be flawed, test agency chief to resign with apology

Gahng Tae-joong, head of the Korea Institute for Curriculum and Evaluation, makes an apology during a press breifing held in Sejong, Wednesday (Yonhap)
Gahng Tae-joong, head of the Korea Institute for Curriculum and Evaluation, makes an apology during a press breifing held in Sejong, Wednesday (Yonhap)


Nearly a month of trouble over a two-point question on this year’s college entrance test was settled in court on Wednesday, highlighting once again the weight the annual test carries in Korean society.

On Wednesday, the Seoul Administrative Court ruled that a question in the bioscience part of the recent college scholastic ability test was inaccurate, and ordered the Korea Institute for Curriculum and Evaluation to cancel its designated answer.

“There is not a distinguished difference in academic attainment between the students who choose the designated answer for this question and those who did not,” the court ruling said. “The question is unable to function for a college entrance exam test.”

A few minutes after the ruling was made, Gahng Tae-joong, head of the state-run agency KICE, announced he would resign from his post as the institution is responsible for the flaw.

KICE also stated it would not appeal to a higher court, accepting the court ruling.

“The college entrance schedule is tight and it has already been delayed due to the lawsuit. We will not appeal to a higher court as we would not want to cause any more damage to test-takers and their parents,” Kim Dong-young, an official from KICE, said at a press briefing held in Sejong, Wednesday.

All test-takers’ answers for the question have now been marked “right.” Some 6,515 examinees, 1.5 percent of the total test-takers for the college entrance test this year, took the bioscience part of the exam.

The crisis began about a month ago, after the exam was administered on Nov. 18.

From the day of the exam to Nov. 22, KICE received complaints regarding the exam questions.

Some 156 complaints were filed concerning the question, claiming it is flawed. The institution, however, did not accept the complaints.

In response to the complaints, the institution said that, though the circumstances provided in the question may not be ideal, it was still appropriate for evaluating academic attainment.

On Dec. 2, 92 plaintiffs went to the court, arguing the details of the question were inaccurate, and therefore the agency should cancel its decision on the answer.

The lawsuit has caused a huge stir in a country where airplanes are grounded for the listening section of the exam and banks, government institutions and even the stock market open late on the same day.

Although the question is worth less than half a percent of the 450-point exam, students say those two points could prove critical.

“I spent more than 10 minutes on the question as I did not know there was an error. I thought I was doing something wrong,” Shin Dong-wook, one of the plaintiffs, told the press at a court hearing on Dec. 8.

“I believed that the KICE would not make a mistake.”

“Some may think two points on the Suneung may not be important. But for me, those two points could change the college I will go to. I may not get into the wanted major,” Shin said.

On Dec. 8, the court granted an injunction, having KICE postpone the release of answers for the biology part of the test.

Following the injunction, the Ministry of Education adjusted the schedule for the college entrance exam, pushing the deadline for colleges to announce the list of accepted students for early admissions. It also gave out transcripts with empty scores on the biology part to 6,515 test-takers.

Colleges even prepared two lists of accepted students, depending on the outcome of the court ruling.

Though the court ruling was set to be made Friday, the court, aware of the possible disruption that the ruling could cause, moved up the ruling date two days earlier.

“The court moved up the ruling date to minimize confusion in the schedule of college entrance,” an official from the Seoul Administrative Court said.

The Education Ministry has been on guard around the clock.

A few hours after the court announcement, the Education Ministry said the schedule for the college entrance exam results would not be changed, to prevent disruption. Colleges will announce the list of qualified candidates Saturday.

Apart from the latest flaw in the exam, there have been eight questions on six exams that were fixed to accept more than one answer through complaints since the national evaluation system was introduced in 1994, each time leading to the resignation of the KICE chief.

By Im Eun-byel (silverstar@heraldcorp.com

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