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Unified state exam at Russia’s high schools goes on to accompaniment of major rows

June 06, 2013, 15:43 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

MOSCOW, June 6 (Itar-Tass) - The unified state exam (USE), being held across Russia for a fifth time, is continuing to the accompaniment of high-profile rows and calls for dropping this method of testing school-leavers’ knowledge once and for all. School students are cheating, adults are helping them in this, and the authorities are urging punishment for those responsible.

On Thursday secondary school graduates were taking exams in physics and foreign languages. Earlier, there were exams in the Russian language and mathematics. On Wednesday Internet surfers could easily come across USE tests in physics. This year on the eve of practically all exams the tests appeared in the world web long in advance, and some of them have turned out to be authentic.

Since 2009 the USE has been the sole form of taking exams for those seeking admission to institutions of higher learning. Typical tests and unified methods of evaluating quality are used in the whole territory of Russia. The examinees are offered to fill in written tests. The tests themselves are referred to as control and measuring materials (CMM).

The examination session this summer has been overshadowed by a number of scandals - from leaks to the Internet to massive copying in some republics in the North Caucasus. School students show great resourcefulness in a bid to score high ratings - they make cribs, download answers from the Internet, buy lists of questions in advance and smuggle smartphones into the classrooms.

USE tourism is one of the most unusual and curious ways of deceiving the system. The Republic of Dagestan has become a place of pilgrimage. Crowds of school leavers migrate from cities to rural communities. Their counterparts from other regions follow suit. It is rumored that taking an exam in a remote mountain village is easier and simpler - no cameras, mobile telephones are not to be handed in, and the papers can be taken out of the classroom during the exam.

The hot-line service of Russia’s Public Chamber has received tens of complaints from republics in the North Caucasus - mostly from Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachai-Cherkessia. The callers were complaining about wholesale corruption at the exam, the deputy chief of the Public Chamber’s education development commission, Lyubov Dukhanina told the daily Kommersant.

“People are saying that the examination has become a commercial procedure, and nobody tends to make a great secret of it. School headmasters and teachers begin to collect bribes from the examinees several days before the date of testing - 20,000 rubles to 100,000 rubles for one subject - depending on the importance and the desirable number of points,” Dukhanina said.

Then, when the examination begins the teachers do the tests for the students, who have to just copy the answers. Police are said to be actively involved in all this. “The examination has in fact turned into a competition of family budgets. Those teenagers who take the tests on their own often hear their classmates’ questions: ‘How come your parents could not afford to pay for you?””

In the previous years school leavers in Dagestan resorted to cheating, too, got 100-point marks in the Russian language and then shocked Moscow’s universities with their outrageous illiteracy. Crowds of illiterate school leavers stormed prestigious universities in Moscow and other cities only to be expelled after several months later for poor academic progress.

This year the USE situation is still worse. “The situation has changed noticeably,” the director for innovations at the analysis center under the Russian government, Yuri Ammosov, has had to admit. “Whereas before the leaks of tests were local and casual, now one has the impression that the floodgates are widely open."

According to the consumer rights watchdog Rospotrebnadzor, 122 Russian school leavers have had their USE results annulled. They will not get secondary education certificates and will have to wait till next year to take the test again. Teenagers in various regions of Russia have been punished for posting USE answers in the Internet and for trying to use cribs, as well as for using mobile phones.

This year the worst problem regions where cheating is most widely spread are Ingushetia, Kalmykia, and also the Lipetsk Region. In Ingushetia the average mark was several times above the Russian average. “Of the 181 tests checked in that region 106 were recognized as not valid. We shall address all these regions individually,” said the chief of the federal service Lyubov Glebova.

The reasons why teenagers across the country take risks while trying to cheat, or pay not to take risks are obvious. “We have built a system in which the youngster’s future depends entirely just on one element - the USE. Society’s stakes in this struggle with the state are too high,” the head of the Society for the Protection of Consumers of Education Services, Viktor Panin told the daily Moskovsky Komsomolets.

But it is likewise clear why they are successful as a rule. The adults are eager to help. Everybody is interested in school leavers’ high marks - the children, the teachers, the parents, and even the regional authorities, for whom USE results are an indicator of the quality of school education. Once there are so many interested parties, it is easy to come to terms,” says the daily Komsomolskaya Pravda.

Some mass media have described in detail how it all happens. USE control and measuring materials leak from senior regional level civil servants, who sell them to mediators they know very well. The mediators sell the tests to those whom they can trust -school headmasters or children’s parents. The price of one set for each subject may be as high as tens of thousands of rubles. The copies then change hands again and again.

Some experts believe that a combination of measures must be employed to fight the leaks - from increasing the variety of tests to public punishment of the officials responsible.

To prevent examinees from getting answers via their mobiles teachers have suggested equipping schools with cell phone jammers. This idea has been discussed for several years now, but it has not materialized to this day.

Emotions are beginning to spill over. The authorities urge touch action. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Education Minister Dmitry Livanov have called for harsher punitive measures against school-leavers caught red-handed.

For instance, Medvedev said, “There are enough reasons for a commission to make a decision to annul the USE results of those persons who copy tests and publish answers in the Internet.”

For his part, Livanov earlier said that those who have published the results may be tracked down and punished.

Russia’s former education and science minister, Andrei Fursenko, currently holding the position of a presidential aide, has suggested introducing criminal prosecution of those responsible for USE leaks.

“The publication of USE tests in the Internet is a crime. This is a case for the law enforcers to investigate. I hope that all cases related with the publication of USE tests will be taken to a logical end, to a court of law,” Fursenko said.

He argues that the disclosure of tests’ contents and keys harms the education system and the state in general. “These crimes are an act against the state, aimed at discrediting not only the USE system, but our country. It is also aimed against specific young people who wish to study honestly and who wish their knowledge to be assessed objectively,” Fursenko said.

About the USE as such he said that despite all problems it was the sole possible state exam, because there were no others. “Nobody has invented anything better so far,” he said.