Although my elementary school in the Republic of Korea uses high stakes assessments, they thankfully are not a major part of our curriculum. We are required to administer a midterm and final exam every semester, so four major tests per school year. Beyond that, any tests we decide to administer must be approved by the head teachers and English-center manager. In addition, there is no standardized test for English-language ability administered throughout Korea. Most schools and private academies design their own tests or bring in outside firms like Cambridge. The four major tests are very high-stakes because the total score is a large factor in determining their level placement for their next year of school. We have four levels of English-language proficiency, and being at the top level is a matter of prestige and accomplishment for many students and parents.
The four major tests themselves consist mostly of listening passages followed by multiple choice answers. There are also several reading and short-answer writing questions near the end of the test. Since English is not their first language and they’re in elementary school, we do not use writing questions that require more than 2-3 sentences to answer. Much of the Korean public school system is set up to prepare students for a massive test at the end of high school. This incredibly high-stakes test is the most important factor in university admissions. As shown in the “Student Suicides in South Korea” article, the academic culture here can be extremely competitive and overwhelming to the point that students don’t have time for anything else. I’m still pretty new to my school, but I think and hope that we’re part of an effort to move away from traditional Korean education and its focus on high-stakes tests. In my opinion, having 4 major tests per school year, in addition to whatever quizzes and alternative summative assessments the teachers prepare, is not unreasonable and gives us a lot of time to pursue PBL and collaborative learning.
My school draws a sharp contrast with many in the American educational system. As stated in Anya Kamenetz’s article, the “Council of the Great City Schools found that students are taking 113 standardized tests in grades K through 12.” My friend, a 5th-grade homeroom teacher in the Chicago Public Schools system, stated during my interview with him in a previous module that his students take at least a dozen major tests over the course of the school year. While CPA has made some effort to administer fewer tests, this still forces him to “teach to the test” for large parts of the school year. Some of the difference could come from the regulations imposed on his public school and the relative lack thereof at my private school. Regardless of the cause, so much focus on standardized testing lessens its value as an assessment tool and becomes another box to check.
Kamenetz, A. (2015, January 22). The Past, Present And Future Of High-Stakes Testing. Retrieved May 14, 2017, from http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2015/01/22/377438689/the-past-present-and-future-of-high-stakes-testing
La Voix Des Jeunes. “Student Suicides in South Korea.” N.p., n.d. Web. 14 May 2017