By Lee Jae-hoon
Next year, certain universities will begin using scores on the National English Ability Test (NEAT) for high school students for rolling admissions. The test will assign absolute scores in four levels on the four areas of listening, reading, speaking, and writing.
At a discussion on the topic of “The National English Ability Test and Directions for Amendment of the English Education Curriculum” held at the auditorium of Seoul High School in Seoul’s Seocho neighborhood Thursday, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology announced implementation plans including standards for high school English assessment and sample items.
According to the plan, high school English assessment is to take place through an Internet-based test (IBT) divided into a Level 2 test for examining students’ ability to use the basic academic English needed for university studies, and a Level 3 test for assessing practice English skills for daily life. An additional Level 1 test is designed for adults. Takers are assigned absolute grades in the four areas, with passing levels of A, B, and C and a failing level of F.Implementation Method
Both the Level 2 and Level 3 tests for high school students assess abilities in the four areas of listening, reading, speaking, and writing. A total of 32 items are given on the listening and reading portions, along with four items on the speaking portion. The Level 2 test includes two writing items, while the Level 3 test includes four. The test takes a total of 135 minutes, with 35 minutes for listening, 50 for reading, 15 for speaking, and 35 for writing. In contrast with the five-item multiple-choice format used on the College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT), the test adopts a four-item format.
High school seniors and those hoping to gain university admission are permitted to take the test twice. Those at the high school junior level and under cannot take the test. Restrictions are also to be placed on the ability of high school students to take the Level 1 test for adults. In cases where a student takes the test twice, there are no restrictions on the choice of test levels. A student can take the same level twice or different levels at different times.
In view of the Internet-based nature of the test, questions on the listening and reading portions follow a “click” format, such as determining locations or finding information on a diagram. The reading portion does not include items asking for grammatical knowledge.
The move contrasted with the controversy that erupted just before the Lee Myung-bak administration took office when presidential transition committee Chairwoman Lee Kyung-sook insisted on the American pronunciation of English loanwords such as “orange.” MEST said it would be minimizing assessment of pronunciation on the speaking portion and that emphasis would be placed on comprehensible pronunciation and communication ability rather than “native-like” pronunciation.
The ministry also said it plans to eliminate items on the writing portion demanding free composition, as with essay-writing, and to instead present questions in which textbook-based information is provided and test takers are asked to add some of their own opinions in their response.
Additionally, MEST announced plans to revise the elementary, middle, and high school English curricula to emphasize speaking and writing, with an announcement to be made this August.
The ministry said the Level 2 test would be easier than the current CSAT, with more than one thousand fewer vocabulary items. Universities that wish to do so can use it as grade data beginning with their 2013 rolling admissions, which current high school juniors will be encountering next year. A decision is to be made in the second half of 2012 over whether this will take the place of CSAT scores.
“In last year’s rolling admissions, sixty-four universities used tests like the TOEIC and TOEFL as materials for their global screening, where the admission officer system does not apply, and it appears that these universities in particular will be using the English assessment grades,” said Oh Seok-hwan, head of the MEST’s English education policy division.
“If it is decided in the second half of next year that they will take the place of CSAT grades, it will apply at the earliest to university admissions in 2016, when current eighth graders will be taking the CSAT,” Oh added.No Problems?
With plans under way to turn English testing into what amounts to a “certification exam” through absolute assessment in four levels, students taking university admission tests beginning next year will face the double burden of preparing for the NEAT and CSAT in the absence of definitive plans to substitute the NEAT for the CSAT English portion in university admission. With the autonomy allowed by the MEST in admissions testing, no realistic means exist for punishing universities that demand NEAT scores.
Korean Teachers’ and Education Workers’ Union (KTU, Jeon Gyo Jo) deputy spokesman Son Chung-mo said, “Unless definite plans are made to substitute the CSAT assessment, all the NEAT will do is foist one more ‘resume management’ burden on students.”
Observers are also expressing concerns about new private education services tailored to NEAT preparations. World Without Private Education Worries Policy Office Director Kim Seung-hyeon said, “What students learn in school will almost certainly not be enough to prepare them for the speaking and writing assessment.”
“With private academies already adding courses in line with the introduction of the NEAT, there are concerns about an additional drop in the ages receiving private English education,” Kim added.
A high school English instructor said, “The gap is only going to widen between the students from rural areas and the ones from areas with lots of private education services.”
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