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3 เม.ย. 2013
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NIETS needs to focus on quality, not quantity

Chularat Saengpassa

In recent years, students emerging from the Ordinary National Educational Test (O-Net) exam rooms have always turned to the Internet to express their frustration and to expose apparently flawed questions.

One of the O-Net questions asks, “Whom would you like to befriend?”

The alternatives given are:
1. A generous person
2. A considerate person
3. A friendly person
4. A helpful person

Any alternative can be the right answer depending on the view of the test takers. The question, after all, asks about the quality the test takers appreciate most in the person who will be their friend. The problem is that the person who scores the answer sheet will not be able to read the test takers’ mind.

So, how has the National Institute of Educational Testing Service (NIETS) responded to the criticism? It has simply admitted there is a mistake and given one point from that question to all test takers.

But the bigger problem remains. Many more such mistakes have been detected and the reliability of the O-Net has been questioned.

As a national test, O-Net should be of a very good standard. If these are not reliable, there will be no hope in the country’s so-called educational reform.

That’s is the reason why the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) recently called for an overhaul of academic testing services.

Dr Phoomsaran Thongliamnark of the TDRI believed it was high time the country improved the quality of academic tests.

“We have to engage experts and consider their ideas. We have to develop a bank of exam questions so that we have so many good questions to choose,” he said.

NIETS director Samphan Phanphruk has said lately that his institute would not announce the answers of O-Net questions, despite students’ requests, because it still has a limited number of questions.

“If we disclose the answers, we won’t be able to use those questions again in the near future,” he explained.

If NIETS was an entirely new agency, it might earn some sympathy. But in fact, NIETS has organised the tests for eight years already.

Pavich Tongroach, chairman of the Education Ministry’s advisory board, said in his capacity as chairman for curriculum reform that there must be a change to the NIETS’ tests in light of the “Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills (ATC21S)”, a widely discussed, global movement. “NIETS, thus, has to change to implement the 21st Century Skills.”

Students have been calling for correct answers in the O-Net to be announced, as they suspect that many O-Net questions are problematic.

Criticism has grown not just from students but also from higher-educational institutes.

While O-Net scores are still used as a criterion in the central university admission system, many universities have shunned the O-Net by allocating all their seats to a direct-admission system.

Several others have lowered the number of seats for the central admission system, which has failed to select qualified candidates for them, partly because of the poor-quality O-Net.

Direct-admission systems had hardly any presence when the central admission system using the Office of Higher Education Commission’s entrance exams were in place.

Currently, NIETS receives a budget of about Bt600 million for designing, organising and scoring the General Aptitude Test (Gat), Professional Aptitude Test (Pat), Vocational National Educational Test and Islamic National Educational Test.

NIETS has also earned income from test takers. For example, O-Net test takers pay a Bt150 fee per exam subject.

It has not had any budget constraints but it clearly has had quality problems.

Instead of focusing on those problems and looking for efficient solutions, NIETS is now talking about plans to introduce an English-proficiency test and asked for a Bt700-million budget next year.

I really hope that NIETS will wake up to the fact that many of its current tests are flawed and it must urgently correct these problems. Expansion of its services will not offer anything good to the society, if their tests lack quality.

Clearly, there is a big gap between Thailand’s O-Net questions and exam questions used by the Programme for International Student Assessment of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Admit it, and work towards improvement. NIETS needs to understand that quantity will not compensate for flawed quality.

First published in The Nation website, 3 April 2013