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The results of a trial Unified State Exam (USE) in mathematics held in Moscow on April 25, 2004, have been summed up lately. Only 6,800 out of 22,000 elementary school graduates took part in the exam. The preliminary results show that less than 20 percent of the graduates opted for the C group problems i.e. the ones of a higher degree of complexity. Less than 10 percent of the graduates were able to score well on the C problems.

Who showed up at the trial exam in math?

Three groups of kids gave it a try. Firstly, those who want to enter a number of universities for majoring in mathematics (good USE results are accepted as an entry exam by those universities). Secondly, the kids who loathed the math but found out that they?d have eventually got ?C? for math in their school-leaving certificates even if their performance had been rated ?D?. Thirdly, the kids who actually weren?t going to pass USE in math, they were after chemistry or something else instead. But there?s only one type of USE at the moment in this country, it?s the USE in mathematics. In the end of the day, a few children managed to crack all the four problems pertaining to the C group. Those were ranked among the potential ?one-hundred points wizards?.

Thick on whiz kids, thin on paper

Speaking of the potential one-hundred points wizards. According to experts, they were ?awash in tears? every time they couldn?t hand out the highest degree to those who solved all the problems under the C group. The thing is, the bureaucrats of the Ministry of Education provided only one [sic] sheet of paper for writing solutions to a higher complexity section of the test. One could write on either side of the sheet, though. As a result, there?s only a 3 cm strip of usable paper at the bottom of the sheet for answers to No 4 section therefore kids just couldn?t put down the solution in full. Would be nice if more paper could be allocated for ?real? exams.

The experts? complaints and the tips for kids

The A and B test results are processed by computer. Experts are in charge of checking the results of the 4 most complex problems. They raised their complaints concerning a large number of computation errors. It?s a shame. However, as by the rules of the test, a final grade isn?t impacted much if the course of a solution is correct. But a small computation error detected by computer while checking the A or B test groups could be a disaster. The computer can?t take no circumstances whatsoever into account.

Funny enough, an expert came across three identical (copied off from the same source) tests papers. The reason behind the situation has to do with the only version of the trial USE distributed whereas the rules indicate that 15 versions be used. Therefore, the trial USE can?t be used for statistical purposes.

You?ve got to follow the rules

Following the rules closely is extremely important while taking the USE. Some kids erroneously put down the answers to A and B problems on a scrap of paper to be used for the C problems. Others made mistakes while writing a regular fraction instead of writing a decimal one as required by the book. As a result, the computer fails to read it and records it as an error found in the test paper. We seem to be lacking the habit of following the rules line by line.

The imperfections of a design

Children were looking for a complex solution to one of the C group problems. There?s no mentioning of it in a problem situation of the course written for standard pupils while a math text book for advanced learners has always had the complex figures as part of the course. The kids finally found a solution in the complex figures at the expense of time. The procedure made the problem more complex.

There were some print errors in the C test problems. Actually, the print errors were found in one problem only, but that?s enough to stick a spanner in the works. The print errors were discovered that time. Next time they might cause more damage. As by the rules applicable to appealing the results of USE, the expert?s not allowed to underwrite anything contained in a test paper. So it?s rather hard to see the mistakes which bring the grades down.

How many points one should get for an A

The most important thing that?s still missing is a scale for the calculation of points. In compliance with an instruction issued by the Ministry of Education, universities were to define the number of points worthy of A or C prior to the time of USE. For example, 85 points gained for USE can vary in each university. And the graduates should finally decide which way they?re going to take their exams i.e. contemporary or USE.

Chances are getting fewer

One thing has been made quite clear: pupils who took the USE won?t be allowed to take usual entry exams for USE-related specialty in an university. Just a few months ago, the Ministry of Education was telling a different story. Back then the bureaucrats promised that anybody who was unhappy with the outcome of USE could take usual entry exams. Looks like the kids have been robbed in the broad daylight. Those who flunked the USE will be also left overboard when it comes to the regular examination for an university. Last year the university entry exams took place at different times thus making it possible for a school graduate to take a few chances at the beginning of July and in mid July. This year it?s all over if you blew your only chance by taking USE. You can?t apply anew for specialties covered by USE.

Can you cancel your participation in USE after the trial test?

It?s been announced that failure to appear at USE will be considered as failure to report for an exam. What?s the deadline for canceling one?s participation in USE? Rumor has it, you can?t cancel it no more. Although no official results of the trial exam have been made public to date. The cancellation deadline should be extended till the results have been available and universities have got their points calculation scales ready.

If it?s not compulsory, low attendance is guaranteed

Designers who produced the above USE in math took part in the so-called Marathon of studies recently held in the House of Teacher in Moscow. Teachers asked designers if anybody of them bothered to compare the questions contained in the USE and the regular exam. The designers said that since the former was so different from the latter by form and contents it?d be just pointless to compare the two systems. USE is an entirely different thing. Maybe that?s the reason why children are trying to shirk it. They were apparently taught in one way, and now they have to take an exam in line with the new regulations. In other words, the whole system of education in the elementary school should be probably changed and today?s 5-grade pupils should be told that USE is awaiting them in 7 years therefore the ways of education should be changed accordingly. Taking careful steps in order to avoid mistakes already made by a number of countries seems to be the other alternative.

It?s obvious that attendance should be as low as shown in Moscow, under 10 percent, unless the authorities declare USE a compulsory procedure (the way they do in the provinces to report on the great success of the plan). The Moscow figures show a real attitude of the kids and their parents toward the novelty.


© Рудаков В.Г. - NEKTO 2009г.

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