Nonstandard methods achieve standard results on standardized tests in Russian schools
Photo: www.nikolife.info

Nonstandard methods achieve standard results on standardized tests in Russian schools

20 Jul, 07:44 PM

The new Russian Standard State Exam, introduced to make university admission more equitable and less prone to corrupt practices, such as favoritism and bribery of admissions boards, faced vehement opposition before its limited introduction last year, and it is faring no better in its universal application this year. Gazeta.ru has published a detailed account of the examination process in the Caucasus republic of Dagestan, revealing systemic irregularities.

Students the world over are known for ingenious methods of guaranteeing satisfactory results on exams, but rarely do those extend to calling their teachers, surfing the Internet or asking paid onsite consultants to look up the answers. That is, unless the students are in Dagestan. The conclusion that the new exam has made the university admissions process neither fairer nor less corrupt is inescapable.

Informants told the website’s investigative journalists about a variety of ways used to ensure the students’ high marks in the impoverished republic. They ranged from complete falsification to selective “help.” One student recounted that some of her classmates handed the exam over to a teacher, who took it away and returned it completed at the end of the exam period. “I heard they paid 50,000 rubles [about $1600] for an exam form filled out at [the grade level of] ‘excellent,’” she said.

Other students, she added, made calls on their cellular phones, talked among themselves and entered and left the examination hall at will. An anonymous official of the Dagestani State Examination Commission confirmed for Gazeta.ru that those conditions existed. He stated that regional authorities gave the order to “do what you want, but everybody should receive attestation, so that children don’t roam the streets all year or run off into the woods.” The official noted that the instructions concerned the poorest parts of the republic in particular.

A teacher said she refused to fill out the exam for 50,000 rubles because the testing site was too far away. “But I traveled to the next town for 25,000,” she added. “They picked me up and brought me back in a car. A high grade is guaranteed.” A proofreader at a local publishing company was offered “considerably more than his monthly salary” to work on the Russian-language section of the exam. Personal incomes in Dagestan are estimated to be one-quarter to one-third of the national average in the Russian Federation.

“There was no order anywhere,” the examination commission official continued. “The exam took place on the second floor, and on the first floor there were specialists sitting with dictionaries and textbooks who had been called in to fill out student’s exam forms. One serviced one student at the ‘excellent’ level, while another gave ten students 3’s,” he said.

Another informant said it cost about 3000 rubles ($96) to pass the exam in that manner, 5000 rubles ($160) to receive a grade of “good,” and 10,000 ($320) for an “excellent” mark. The “independent observer” at the exam also got a cut of “more than 100,000 rubles [$3200],” according to the commission member, whose colleagues made twice that amount from the exam. Even policemen from the economic crimes division of the department, five or six of whom were present at each of the republic’s 138 testing sites, took part in the process.

One member of the examination commission estimated that no more than 5 percent of Dagestani students took the standard exam completely independently. While acknowledging irregularities in Dagestan and elsewhere, regional and federal officials defend the exam procedure. Dagestani Deputy Education Minister Natella Musalaeva noted that “the presence of moral people” should not be ruled out. An assistant to the head of the Russian Federal Education and Science Supervisory Service commented on the Dagestani exam, “I would not say [violations] were so flagrant. Judging by the results from the republic, the teachers there didn’t especially help.”

In Dagestan, where most members of the population are not native speakers of Russian, 79.6 percent of test-takers passed the Russian section of the exam. That figure is lower than the national average of 94 percent. The math results in Dagestan were in keeping with the rest of the country. Russian and mathematics are the only obligatory topics on the exam. Nonetheless, Dagestani parents and teachers worry that their children’s results will be subject to doubt no matter what they are or how they were obtained.

Stories of Caucasians coming to Moscow in hordes with perfect test scores and no knowledge of the Russian language have circulated in the media. They seem to be overstated, to put it mildly. Gazeta.ru reports there were 2244 perfect scores among 994,669 test-takers. Thirty thousand people failed the exam. There were some false exam results uncovered in Adygea, in another corner of the Caucasus, and one person in Dagestan received a perfect score in Russian.

It seems many Dagestanis may have paid considerable hard-earned money to guarantee underhandedly that their children receive average marks. This fact brings to mind a mountain of other data on corruption, as well as a long string of recent “show” trials. It underlines the depths to which corruption has penetrated Russian society and the ways in which it skews perceptions among the Russian public.

This story also illuminates a sometimes overlooked argument against corruption: common sense.


Tags: schools, universities, testing, exams



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