Wed, Oct 15, 2003 - Page 8 News List

The debate over 'score intervals'

By Lin Chen-yung 林陳涌

The question of whether to make "score intervals" public has become a hot topic after every senior-high school entrance examination in the past two years.

Parents of some Taipei junior-high school students recently held a press conference, alongside People First Party Legislator Diane Lee (李慶安), to complain that they and their kids had misjudged the test results and were admitted into "worse" schools because the Ministry of Education would not release the "score intervals." They threatened to hold a 100,000-person demonstration if the ministry failed to respond quickly to their demands.

Shortly afterwards, Taipei City Bureau of Education Director Wu Ching-chi (吳清基) announced that the city would depart from the ministry's policy and make the "score intervals" of its schools public next year.

Students' report cards give their scale scores and a "percentile rank," showing where they stand in the entire body of examinees. "Score intervals" are the number of people in each "scale score" group and the accumulated number of people from the top group on down. [Note: The "scale score" system lists students in groups ranked according to their "raw scores," instead of just listing the raw scores. The idea is to ensure consistency given the varying levels of difficulty in the tests.]

Lee, Wu and the parents believe that disclosing these figures can help students make better judgements when filling out their school preferences.

The percentile ranking divides all examinees into 100 groups while the "scale score" grouping divide them into 300 groups. The more groups, the more competition. This is why the grading systems for semesters at junior-high and elementary schools have been gradually shifted from 100-point systems to five-point or 10-point systems.

Will publicizing the score intervals help predict the stu-dent's school-placement qualifications? Hardly, because school preferences involve complex considerations on the part of students and their parents.

For example, some girls have ranked the Affiliated Senior High School of National Taiwan Normal University as their first choice because it is a coed school. Its lowest entrance score is only one point away from that of Taipei Municipal First Girls' Senior High School, which always tops the ranking. Presumably, not all the students see First Girls' as their first choice. There is a similar situation among male students.

It is difficult enough for the students with high test scores to precisely predict the placements. Considering that there is a growing trend among Taipei students to study in their own neighborhood instead of going to another district, making predictions will be even more difficult. Then consider that students can take two entrance exams.

Given all these variables, only the top students can be certain of the schools they are qualified to enter. The lower their scores are, the less possible it is to make precise predictions. The difficulty rests not in whether score intervals are used or not, but in the fact that it is impossible to grasp the preferences of all examinees.

This is why the ministry said disclosing score intervals would create unnecessary competition.

If Taipei City decides to release these figures as Wu said, examinees still won't be able to precisely predict the placements. Will the city prevent its students from choosing schools outside Taipei and prevent those in other cities and counties from choosing schools within the city? Will it demand that city students place their preferences according to this year's school rankings?

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