While applicants complain about a terrible recording of the listening task, officials from education assure: they are all right, and the cause of the scandal is inability of individual participants in the test to deal effectively with authentic listening.

Among a number of changes, that the Ukrainian Center for Evaluation of the Quality of Education promised the entrants this year, is, first of all, two levels of difficulty for foreign language and understanding of authentic speech. However, the Independent External Evaluation of English, which took place on June 1, was an unpleasant surprise for many of them. Many of those, who passed these tests assure that during half an hour of listening there was a bad sound and it was a challenge for nerves. And now, those, who managed to appeal for improper procedure in time are waiting for its consideration. And those, who did not orientate themselves and haven’t done this, hope that they will succeed in “drawing out” the overall score thanks to tests on other subjects. Although, they can’t already count on education free of charge. Therefore, Opinion decided to investigate the causes of this unpleasant situation.

As it has been explained in the Ukrainian Center for Evaluation of the Quality of Education (the UCEQE), this year assessing of foreign language contained understanding of the speech for the first time. During this task, the participants of the assessment had to listen to several recordings of different duration in turn, then answer the set of questions in their notebooks. Therefore, listening was not a surprise for anybody. But only the English test took place, the networks broke out a dispute.

Children are confused, parents are outraged. Some tell how it happened, while others try to find the guilty. Sure! Depending on the results, applicants will be able to enter university and to study free of charge. Many participants of the assessment, even those, who studied the subject in depth, complain about the poor quality of the recording that was used during the listening: they say, it’s not only about the terrible sound, but also about the additional noises and sounds that prevented to understand anything. And sometimes – even to understand in what language was the record. In addition, it was an error in the 59th task, where the word “attraction” was written incorrectly (with one letter t).

If you hadn’t heard the British live, then you do not need to pass the IEE?

In February this year, the director of the UCEQE Vadym Karandiy noted that audio recording on CD-ROM will be used for listening. “The files will be recorded by our center in the studio,” he said. – We’ll put disks in sets with all auditory materials, will send them to test points in separate packages. In the classroom during the IEE of English, this record should be played with the help of audio device: a CD player or a computer with an acoustic system, and all test points should provide an opportunity to listen to this audio recording”. According to the director of the Testing Center, the requirements for such acoustic systems are prescribed in the documents of the MOES, and the Governmental decree redistributed the funds of the educational subvention that were not used in 2017, including “for the purchase of audio devices for conducting the IEE”.

If there was enough money and everyone had to prepare in time, then what happened to the recording? As the head of one of the departments of the UCEQE explained, the problem was not in the recording, but in the preparation of the students: they say, in different countries – different sound, and if they have not learned to perceive English speech, then they cannot Pass the IEE. Honestly, after I’d heard this comment, I froze for several minutes, trying to understand, what was said. All the leaders of the Ukrainian Center for Educational Evaluation – ever since the IEE was started and the UCEQE was headed by the current Minister of Education and Science Liliya Grynevych – assured that none of the assignments in any subject, even the most difficult, does not go beyond the school program. This statement caused an ambiguous reaction in society.

“Today, in an interview with one of the leaders of the UCEQE, I’ve heard the following: “If a particular child has never heard a British, an Englishman, or a Canadian in his life, then, probably, the level of the preparation does not correspond for passing the IEE”, wrote on his Facebook page the ex-director of the UCEQE, Ihor Likarchuk, who gave the reform of the system of examinations, which was supposed to be a fence against corruption, a considerable piece of his own life and forces. – I listened several times. I thought I heard something wrong. But it turns out that everything is exactly like that. If you have not heard a live British, Englishman or Canadian, then you cannot pass the IEE in English? Am I the only one so unconscious person? Or someone else? And is a requirement to “hear the British, the Englishman, etc.” according to the program? Therefore, the IEE should be guided by the requirements of the school program. I have not found any requirements for listening with the participation of “British and other native speakers” in the current English language program (11th grade), both for profile and academic levels”.

Indecent discrimination of rural students

According to Valentyna Gerasymenko from Zaporizhzhya, whom this post hasn’t left indifferent, it is difficult for individual schools to find a specialist in foreign languages – not even native speaker, who would have been communicating with pupils for a long time. Since there are a variety of courses in the cities and tutoring services are available for children, Valentyna believes that this approach is primarily indecent discrimination of rural schoolchildren. Given the level of provision of rural schools with computers and Internet connection, there is no doubt about that. We still have villages, where there is no mobile connection: to make a phone call, it is necessary… to “get out to the attic” or “to stand near a big pear tree”.

Svitlana Parubenko, a philologist from Melitopol, also writes that she was shocked by the words of an official from the UCEQE: “We, in the provinces, especially in villages, have so many native English speakers,” the teacher says. – In 3 years, the son would have the IEE of English, so now I’m starting to think about how to prepare him. Although the eldest daughter, thanks to this IEE, entered the university to the budget form of study”. Yulia Murzaeva from Pereyasliv-Khmelnytsky notes that from the first classes in schools, pupils are mismanaged with an English program, designed for children, born in English-speaking countries.

In the opinion of the Ukrainian philologist from Kyiv, Andrii Panchenkov, “one of the leaders” spoke about the listening as a form of learning activity and an obligatory form of control at the lessons of a foreign language at school, as stipulated in the program. “Unfortunately, listening somewhere in the classroom is conducted in the form of a reading of the texts by the teachers themselves”, he notes on the social network. “But pupils should hear authentic broadcasting (for this there are audio recordings). Not hearing authentic English, graduates are unlikely to be ready to pass the listening test. It is voiced by native speakers. Not necessarily the British or Canadian. This can be telecast, broadcast, podcast online, distance learning course fragment, an excerpt from YouTube or any other recording of a native speaker”.

Volodymyr Bilyi from Kherson believes that it is worth preparing for audio records that are available on the Internet. “The son needs to watch video lessons for hours,” he explains, “for example, when I was buying the advanced tasks in the district center and was sitting in my village, trying to solve them for hours. Of course, without any hopes for a tutor. Then, in the university, I was stronger than most urban students. “This is a real option to prepare, this example shows: the daughter of a friend, after going to Poland with working English, she learned Polish, by watching… cartoons and movies.

As for the problems themselves, then, as my colleague, whose daughter was passing the test in English, shared that the tasks, even despite the error, found by the students in a word, were mostly adequate. “Although, the daughter gave an example of a dialogue (it is from the listening section),” the colleague explains, “it was necessary to listen to it and determine the correct answer. In the dialogue a boy invited a girl – after walking the dog – to go for a ride on a bicycle. She refused, saying that it is very dangerous. Then the boy suggested that they could ride on roller skates. The girl again said it was dangerous. The boy replied that there is no danger, and that was the end of the dialogue. And the question was: what did the boy and the girl do after they walked the dog? It was possible to imagine a lot, but there were only two options: roller skates and a bicycle. And which one of them should be correct if the girl refused?”

10 Ukrainians, 4 foreigners and 65 appeals

“There are complaints about the poor sounding of audio recordings when organizing testing at some points. Most appeals for the procedure – more than half, in particular on the quality of sound – were filed in Kyiv, – the Ukrainian Center for Evaluation of Education Quality reported. – Statements and collected materials on them are sent to the regulatory commissions of the relevant regional centers for assessing the quality of education”. As explained in the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine, records for listening, some of which led to a scandalous situation, were read by 10 Ukrainian and 4 foreigners. “Now we have 65 appeals on the poor quality of conducting, exactly with listening in English, the thirty-seventh of them is from the capital,” said Minister of Education and Science Liliya Grynevych during the government meeting.

But the fact is that the appeal statement, regarding the testing procedure, could be submitted only at the testing point. According to the UCEQE, this approach allows participants to file a complaint exactly when the problem arose, to attest objective circumstances by other participants and collect evidence. Therefore, as parents are convinced, a small number of appellate statements do not indicate that the scale of the problem is insignificant, but only that not all applicants, who suffered from the quality of the recording, managed to orient themselves and write such a statement in time.

The Testing Center also notes that some participants complained about the pronunciation of one of the announcers that they read out the test assignments. And explain that the pronunciation of the broadcasters was really different because it is “a necessary requirement to create tasks of varying complexity for the participants of testing at different levels of preparation. After all, one of the competencies that a graduate of a school should learn when studying English is the understanding of foreigners, they communicate with different tempos and with different pronunciations”. At the same time, officials insist that “even very careful preparation of testing materials does not protect against possible shortcomings in tasks”.

The Government is asked to cancel some of the test results

At the same time, on the website of electronic petitions to the Cabinet of Ministers on June 4, an appeal was filed with the request to annul the results of the part of listening in English. “The level of this procedure was unsatisfactory, almost at all points of the IEE-2018. -For a poor quality of audio equipment, it is impossible to assess the knowledge of applicants objectively. Different sound quality creates unequal conditions for passing the exam, even for students, sitting at the first or last desks, which contradicts the basic mission of the IEE, which replaced the subjective Soviet examinations,” writes its author Oleksandr Maslovsky. – In addition, from the record, available on the Internet (there one can at least make out the words) it is clearly audible that it is American English when all schools teach British English. And when someone tried to appeal against the violation of the procedure, he certainly received a refusal, they say, “the reason for the appeal can only be a disk failure, and the audio file sounded from the start till the end”.

The head of the Ministry of Education and Science notes that this record was listened by all over the country, and the responses are really different: some are outraged by the terrible quality, and some were surprised, they say, when listening to the record, everything was audible well. According to the profile minister, to ensure the purchase of the right number of players and speakers, from the budget was allocated 17,500,000 UAH. About the headphones, which, in the opinion of the parents, could solve the problem, no one is talking about, because in this case, ensuring the conduct of listening in a foreign language would require entirely different appropriations.

But when, as they say, the fire broke out, it became known that for some reason, some other equipment was delivered at separate testing points. “A special commission has been set up,” says Liliya Grynevych, “which checks the facts and studies the situation. And if it turns out that these are the schools, where the applicants wrote appeals for the procedure for listening to English, most likely, these entrants will have the opportunity to pass the IEE in English again – at an additional session on July 4. In any case, the results of the commission’s work should be made public on June 14”. However, how to proceed, if it turns out that the money was not used for the intended purpose or, say, at the school where the testing point was set up, were decided to put school equipment for the students, or in general, equipment of unknown origin, which should be of poor quality, is unclear. That is, whether the offenders will be punished and how in the profile ministry they did not explain.

The minister also notes that the total number of appeals can increase: regarding the procedure, it was possible to apply only immediately after testing, about the content can be submitted now, and about the results – within 5 days after receiving them. According to her, the tests meet the requirements, first of all, that are in the curriculum for complete general secondary education. “However, they assume easier and more complex tasks,” Liliya Grynevych explains, “because this test has a purpose: to evaluate for schooling and to identify the best students that will go to higher education institutions. But, given that the testing system includes many test tasks, you can never be sure that everything will be perfect because these tasks are created by people”.

But the parents of the current entrants, who managed to communicate with our publication, believe that the situation, that arose this summer during the English language listening, is a real test for professionalism for officials from the Ministry of Education and Science. And how they will cope with it, society will see in the near future.

P.S. To fully understand what is really going on in the UCEQE, Opinion also applied for comments to its ex-director Ihor Likarchuk, but Igor Leonidovich said that he does not comment on what is happening around the current IEE. However, colleagues, realizing that they could not find a more qualified person, continued to call the ex-director of the UCEQE. On his Facebook page, a comment appeared, which we decided to bring in completely.

P.P.S. We also wanted to talk to Vadym Karandiy, the acting director of the Testing Center, but he did not answer the phone.

Ihor Likarchuk

“I continue to “get” requests for comment on listening during the current IEE in English. I really do not want to comment on everything that concerns the IEE, but I cannot run away to the end of the world. Most often asked to give an answer to the question: “What did you do in this situation?” I want to answer all at once and that’s the point in my comments.

Firstly. I would do everything possible to avoid such a situation. I was pushed for it back in 2014, but it was a vain effort. For then, and now I am convinced that it is necessary to conduct a centralized purchase of certified sound reproducing equipment from one manufacturer. To create all the same conditions. In 2014, there was no such purchase. In 2018, the funds were enough. If I am not mistaken, it is more than 17 million UAH.

Secondly. If what happened happened, I would publicly ask the applicants, their parents, teachers on behalf of the UCEQE for apologies. Instead of looking for the guilty among them, like: “they are not ready for the IEE because they did not hear a British or Canadian in real….”

Thirdly. It must be acknowledged that this situation was the result of inefficient management in the assessment system at all levels. Since the means to conduct the audition were (considerable), the political will and support of the leaders of the MOES was (large and constant), time for all organizational and management activities was also (sufficient). Therefore, the leaders of the UCEQE and some of the RCEQE should resign after this scandal. It would be fair, appropriate, civilized. Holding on to the chair is not a sign of the wisdom and strength of the leader. This is a sign of something else. By the way, I want to remind you that after I and my team were accused of serious offenses in the IEE system in 2015, I and one deputy voluntarily resigned. And although our guilt has not yet been proven in the court, I believe that then our decision to resign was correct and civilized.

Fourth. To study and analyze the situation, I would immediately set up a commission of independent auditors to answer the question: “Why did this happen?” And not only because the same conditions for passing the assessment were not created for all entrants, but also because they spent large budget funds on this audit. The society needs to know if these funds were used effectively.

Fifthly. What to do now? I would give up the idea of allowing an additional session only for those applicants, who wrote an appeal to the procedure. Just because: a) in many cases such an appeal was not accepted. And I know about it; b) the phenomenon was so massive that the applicants and the organizers were actually confused and did not know what to do and therefore did not write an appeal; c) the procedure for filing an appeal at the testing station is very imperfect and formal. It is obsolete and has little effect. But on the other hand, it is also impossible to admit everyone to an additional session. Because it will again be inefficient and, possibly, misuse of budgetary funds. Therefore, I would immediately seek sources of extrabudgetary funding for a special session. Although, its effectiveness, like the additional session, is rather elusive: the reproducing equipment in most audiences remains the same. And the texts, read by the “native speakers”, of the same quality. Incidentally, in the current school program in English, I never saw a requirement, that while listening, the texts that are read by “native speakers” should be used.

Complicated situation.

P.S. My proposal for a special session is not ideal. Moreover, it is rather bad, than good. But I wrote with good reason: “complicated situation” because there are no traditional ways out of it. Everyone is cornered”.

Text: Larysa Vyshynska

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