The registration for External Independent Testing was recently finished. It will start on May 21 with Mathematics testing. However, despite the support of this format of entrance examinations, the society has long been developing dissatisfaction with the actual test tasks, most of which are aimed at mechanical memorization of information. Opinion decided to find out what options for the development of this system can return a positive result in the near future.
As of March 25 (and this is the last day of registration), as reported in the Ukrainian Center for Education Quality Assessment, 344,622 people have registered, almost 187,000 of which are secondary school graduates. About 50 thousand students of vocational and technical training institutions, more than 25 thousand graduates of previous years, and even about 84 thousand university students also intend to take EIT. The biggest number of applicants is traditionally in Kyiv, as well as in Dnipropetrovsk, Kharkiv, Odesa and Lviv oblasts.
The ‘face’ of modern testing
This year, the EIT will not only be a pass to the university, but also the general result of schooling, so there are two scales: from 1 to 200 (for admission) and from 1 to 12 (for final state attestation assessment). The EIT participants will take tests in no more than 4 subjects selected out of the 11 possible. That is, as before, two subjects are required: Ukrainian language and literature, and the choice of mathematics or history of Ukraine, and the other one or two subjects are at participant’s full discretion. It can be Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Geography or one of the foreign languages (English, German, French or Spanish). And the foreign language testing will have two levels of difficulty: standard and for those applicants who have studied the foreign language in-depth. The calendar plan of the tests can be found on the UСEQA (Ukrainian Center for Educational Quality Assessment) website in the section “EIT/FSA”.
The content of the tests will correspond to the EIT programs approved by the Ministry of Education and Science in 2016. That is, in fact, the test tasks have not changed since last year, although the participants of last year’s EIT had many complaints about the content of the tests. Experts also noted that they no longer correspond to the modern level. Not to mention the indignation of parents with certain questions, for example in the Ukrainian Literature testing. Moreover, the petition about the change in the tests even appeared on the website of the President. And the author of this petition does not think that the tasks should be simplified: such a petition is a certain hit that the approach to the development of the tasks should at least be revised. People started to talk about what the tasks will most likely look like this year as soon as the trial EIT in the Ukrainian language and literature took place. And though it is clear that the trial and the actual EIT contain different tasks, they are taken from the same base.
According to an educator Ihor Likarchuk, which was the head of UСEQA for a long time and which can be without exaggeration considered the father of the current EIT system, the need of radical changes in the development of the test tasks is long overdue, and it concerns all subjects, not only the Ukrainian Literature or, for example, Mathematics, where it would have long been appropriate to introduce two levels of difficulty: for specialized education and for the rest of the applicants. “The tasks that provide for simple reproduction of knowledge, events, facts, rules, formulas, portraits, documents, etc,” Ihor Likarchuk believes “should be replaced with the tasks that would check the use of the acquired knowledge and demonstration of competencies. It is not present in the current tests. The tests developers, who have run out of ideas over 10 years of the testing development, keep seeking out some minor facts and events in textbooks and programs to create new tasks in attempts to avoid repetition. They forget the simple truth that it is impossible to know everything.”
Checking parents for financial solvency
Therefore, the ex-head of the UСEQA insists, the format of the EIT assignments needs to be substantially revised. “One- or multiple-choice answers task is an anachronism, a system for guessing,” he notes. “And the current tests consist up to 90% of such tasks. Although it has long been high time to include the tasks that require creative and constructive approaches into the tests. And there are almost no such tasks – and now there is only an appearance of an external examination left, which takes tens of millions of hryvnias from the state budget.”
Teachers are also concerned about the problem of EIT tasks. Interestingly, the exact science teachers have fewer claims against these tasks than the linguists. According to the professor of Chemistry from Cherkasy Hanna Arinarkhova, the EIT tests are “just a perfect tool of theoretical knowledge control, and it is inappropriate to introduce the tasks for practical and creative application of the acquired knowledge”. At the same time, the Ukrainian Language and Literature teachers mostly believe, as noted by Iryna Tkachenko, that “tests in humanitarian subjects simply spoil all opportunities”.
The issue of the current EIT, Viktor Mysan convinces, is that it “stopped to develop and is stuck at the level of the past”, though “it could give a good flavor to the educational reform, at least in terms of partial rejection of reproductive tasks and the use of creative, non-standard ones. Or the introduction of comprehensive testing, which would use the tasks of integrated nature (interdisciplinary tasks)”. But this requires creative groups, experimental sites, and testing.
And even more painful factor, which is emphasized by many educators, is that External Independent Testing is nowadays often perceived as an assessment of the teacher’s performance, and not of the knowledge of students. According to Svitlana Hrytsai, if graduates pass EIT with bad scores, teachers are accused of teaching poorly. Therefore, in the final years, students mainly prepare for the testing with teachers and repeat the same with tutors. Therefore, according to Svitlana Hrytsai, EIT is now “a complicated form of control of students’ knowledge and checking parents for financial solvency”. And she draws attention to the fact that “there are other criteria for admission to universities”. But education field officials who are responsible for EIT and for whether it would be reformed, do not hurry to communicate on this problem.
The need for two-level tests
Higher education institutions have their own vision of the problem. “There is a whole science – testology, which deals with educational measurements,” the vice-rector for scientific and pedagogical work of Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv Volodymyr Buhrov reminded, “therefore, the problem of the modernization of EIT should be worked on, and it should be done by specialists”. According to Volodymyr Buhrov, the issue now is not the system of External Independent Testing, but the drop in the quality of school education. “When a person has a high temperature, he does not say that it’s the fault of the thermometer, which was used to measure temperature because it is only a tool,” the vice-rector of the Shevchenko University explains. “The same situation is here: EIT is only a tool that more or less adequately shows the level of secondary education. Therefore, on the one hand, it needs to be improved, but at the same time, we need to look for the reason for this level of knowledge in secondary school”.
The EIT system is perceived somewhat differently at the National University of Life and Environmental Sciences of Ukraine. According to the rector of this university, the Minister of education and science (2005-2007) Stanislav Nikolaienko, the EIT is already somewhat outdated in its present form. “First, it is necessary to reform the EIT, to give more open tasks, so that there is not only guessing but a competitive task, an essay,” Stanislav Nikolaenko explained. “Secondly, we need two-level testing in Mathematics: those who apply to the technical specialties need one level, and the Humanities applicants need completely another level. And in the same way there should be two levels of the Ukrainian Language and Literature tests: why should those who want to study Zootechnics or Veterinary Medicine delve into this subject the same way as future Ukrainian philologists? Then we will not have so many F-grades in the Ukrainian Language, as we had last year. And this situation exists despite the fact that all these people speak and write in Ukrainian, so, it is native to them. It’s a paradox: no one knows English and German language on such a level, but the results were better in these subjects.”
The former Minister of education and science believes that the current system of enrollment in universities is not quite successful. “It is advisable to use our previous system, the same as the one used in Poland nowadays: applicants pass EIT – the certificates are handed out to them, and the students can choose which universities to apply to,” he explains. “We do not need these situations when a student from Lviv or Kharkiv gets enrolled to the university in Odesa. This student does not want to go there, because it is far away, there is no place to live in and there is no money. And what happens then? A young person does not take the state-funded place and gets enrolled in Lviv on fee-based conditions, because it is cheaper for parents than his state-funded education in another city. And as a result, we also have a certain shortage of the enrolled on the conditions of state funding”. According to the rector of NUBiP, it would be logical for a person to have the right to apply to a maximum of three universities – then the admission system would work more clearly.
“External evaluation should be used only for admission, final exams should be returned to schools, and the role of the average score should be raised to the level of the EIT certificate,” Stanislav Nikolaienko believes. Those who are against it, talk about the corruption which may return to schools. But if we don’t trust the schools to this extent now, maybe we should shut them down? I’ve talked and kept talking a lot to teachers, and most of them would never give a student an unjust grade. And if society would trust the school, then it would be reborn. And what happens now? Senior year students skip classes and prepare to EIT with tutors. This approach closes access to higher education for rural graduates, and it is wrong. At least because the city youth is not attracted to Agronomy or Zootechnics”.
Supporting the creative youth without giving up stability
And although different aspects of one problem are noted, the experts that Opinion had an opportunity to talk to, agree that the EIT has already exhausted its capabilities. “If you look technically, the EIT in the form of testing which is also used for FSA and is the basis for admission to the university has exhausted its reserve of strength, because it starts to contradict the competence-based approach,” the expert on educational issues of the analytical center Ukrainian Institute of the Future Mykola Skyba noted. “Secondly, it does not stimulate students to develop their thinking, the ability to solve real problems, it simply directs to banal memorization, without regard to how these facts are used in life, whether they are needed or not at all”.
In addition, the expert believes, this creates a disproportion of attention to other subjects: to get high scores, students in 10th and 11th years concentrate only on those subjects that they will take EIT in, completely neglecting the rest. “And the system itself is built in such a way, that to get a high score in the test, you need to keep repeating the information in your head constantly because as soon as you stop doing it, the chances of getting a high score will fall sharply,” Mykola Skyba said. “And if there is an opportunity to receive 200 points, the person starts cramming and distracts from what is really important for his further development”. For example, he doesn’t simply need Biology, but he is interested in Genetics. And not just Genetics, but for example gene editing. Or he is interested in not only Geography but climate change. Or some things related to drinking water problems. And instead of deepening knowledge in this field, a person is forced to repeat the formulas or to study the structure of complex sentences that are unlikely to be useful to him in his further life”.
That is why, according to the expert, it is necessary to divide the EIT as an external platform for evaluation and an already outdated form in which it exists now. “Given the current needs, it is necessary to give at least three options, which would be suitable for certain categories of young people,” the analyst of the Ukrainian Institute of the Future explains. “For example, those who are more focused on some kind of stability, for example, on the work in the public sector or any contractor work, can use the current EIT system, with the modernization of the test tasks. If a person who has certain character traits, focuses more on accuracy and not on understanding, and it is more comfortable for him to just prepare for the tests, we shouldn’t deprive him of such an opportunity. But there are more inventive young people who are from the start focused on the innovative sector of the economy, which requires creativity and innovative thinking. Why should they learn all that literature if they wouldn’t use it? They need to be given an opportunity to show and protect their creative work, their vision of solving some problem”.
Moreover, according to Mykola Skyba, such an option can be based on the Ukrainian Center for Education Quality Assessment. IT will not become a mass system in any case, so it is not so difficult to organize. “Some young people would want another possible form, for example, a certain creative exam or teamwork, solving problems in a group,” he said. “To do this, we only need to develop the evaluation methodology, it is possible to standardize any option if there is such a desire. In the world, an option of defending the portfolio, which the student would work on for several years, is also tested. The law also allows for individual educational trajectories, so that the students who choose them should be able to defend them. At the same time, it is important that these several options work – and the student himself has an opportunity to determine what suits him best, but we shouldn’t put all in the same mixing pot”.
As you can see, the problem is indeed complex and it cannot be magically solved. But it is clear to the bare eye that we cannot offer a unified applicant to all universities: their development thus restrains. And those universities that claim to be unique and have their own system of values, know very clearly what kind of student they want to educate. “And they should be able to select this student,” Mr. Skyba emphasizes. “And when students are centrally distributed through the system of a single state education base, it usually negates the autonomy that our universities are granted by law”.
So, to sum up, in any case, External Independent Testing is a very important project, which was conceived as a system of combating corruption at the stage of admission to universities and which, despite the related problems, has the trust of the society. But this tool should not become a kind of break in the struggle for the quality of education. In addition, as the head of the National Agency for Higher Education Quality Assurance Serhii Kvit noted, at the same time as our universities would become more and more high-quality and competitive in the international arena, in the future they should get more rights in the formation of their contingent, putting forward additional requirements for them at the stage of admission. Therefore, it is indeed high time for the reform of the EIT system.
Text by Larysa Vyshynska