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Moscow Times
August 25, 2009
New Anti-Cheating Exam Leads to Cheating
By Natalya Krainova / The Moscow Times

Even as university hopefuls sat down this summer for the Single State Exam, designed to fight corruption and cheating in education, a number of them had managed to buy the exam’s questions and answers in advance.

A high school graduate from the Siberian city of Omsk bought questions for the Single State Exam for 1,800 rubles ($55), splitting the cost with several friends.

“Me and my five buddies chipped in 300 rubles apiece,” Vasily boasted on an Internet forum for high school graduates, Forum.postupim.ru, where he is registered as vaso26.

Vasily also posted scanned questions for the mathematics section of the exam together with his own answers, marked in pen beside the printed questions.

This summer, the Single State Exam, known as EGE under its Russian acronym, replaced oral and written exams for the first time nationwide. The exam, comprised of a series of multiple-choice questions, welds high school final exams and university entrance exams together into a single test.

The Single State Exam can make it more difficult to get a secondary education diploma on the first try because a graduate who fails sections of the exam is barred from retaking the exam the same year, a right they had before the Single State Exam was introduced.

President Dmitry Medvedev said earlier this month that a presidential commission would be created to “analyze the pluses and minuses” of the Single State Exam, which had been tested in several regions over the previous eight years.

“The results of the Single State Exam are dubious,” Medvedev said at a meeting with the leaders of State Duma factions on Aug. 10, RIA-Novosti reported. “In my mind, there are some positive points and some negative ones.”

Many educators fear that the new exam is damaging the quality of secondary education, and 3,000 sent a letter of protest to Medvedev late last week.

“Pursuing the Single State Exam … is producing graduates whose heads are devoid of any real knowledge,” said the letter, which is posted on a web site for educators, Zavuch.info.

Written requests for comment to the Kremlin, the government and the Education and Science Ministry went unanswered Friday and Monday.

While the government has touted the exam as a way to fight corruption and level the field for university hopefuls, the exam appears to be nourishing corruption among educators, creating a new business opportunity for crooks and leading to cheating among high school graduates.

Corruption in the university entry process has accounted for a major part of all crime in the field of education this year, a senior Interior Ministry official, Alexei Shishko, said last week.

The total number of crimes detected in the field of education has grown by 38 percent, or by some 2,200 crimes, Shishko said at a news conference last Tuesday, according to a transcript obtained by The Moscow Times.

The head of the Federal Inspection Service for Education and Science, Lyubov Glebova, acknowledged at a news conference in late June that “there have been reports about officials using their positions to secure high results for the Single State Exam.” She did not elaborate.

She also said students cheated while taking the exam, using their cell phones to go online and search for answers.

A student and high school teacher interviewed for this article expressed mixed feelings about the new exam.

“The main plus of the Single State Exam is that a student has one exam instead of two,” Svetlana Zhyoltova, a history teacher at School No. 18 in the town of Nizhny Tagil in the Sverdlovsk region, said by telephone.

Yelena Alexandrova, who will start her first year as a journalism student at Moscow State University this fall, said she liked having “the whole summer free” because she did not have to prepare for entrance exams.

Zhyoltova also said the Single State Exam had allowed more Nizhny Tagil students to enter universities in Moscow and St. Petersburg this year because their parents did not have to pay for them to travel to those cities and stay there for entrance exams.

At the same time, Zhyoltova said, teachers had lacked sufficient time to prepare students for the exam, and students were forced to hire tutors, which not all could afford.

Alexandrova complained that the exam provided ambiguous answers to some questions. “I was irritated by the fact that questions were formulated in a biased way,” she said.

Zhyoltova said passing the exam involved a certain degree of luck because students who were nervous might have accidentally marked a wrong answer ­ a mistake that she said would not happen with the former oral and written exams, which required detailed answers.

Another drawback to the new exam is that it has led to a surge in prospective students that universities could not cope with, news reports said. Some university admission committees did not have time to process all the applications even though they worked overtime.

Nationalist sentiments have also surfaced with the introduction of the exam, with speculation swirling that students from the North Caucasus faked good marks on their Russian-language skills section of the exam to gain entry into prestigious universities but arrived on campus this month barely able to speak Russian.

State education officials have denied the rumors.

In a recent example of corruption among educators, authorities in Tatarstan detained the deputy head of the Tatar State University of Humanities and Education on suspicion of extorting a bribe of 90,000 rubles ($2,850) from a prospective student, Shishko said.

In another example, also in Tatarstan, the director of a local center where the new exam was being administered provided answers to students for 5,000 rubles, another senior Interior Ministry official, Yury Shalakov, said earlier this year.

The director and his aide admitted students who paid the bribe into the basement of the center several hours before the exam, sealed the basement door and slipped the answers under the door, Shalakov said.

In another scheme, web sites are offering questions and answers for sale, although buyers have no way to check their authenticity. A search request on Yandex for “buy SSE 2009 questions” returned 356,000 links to web sites.

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