Reforma la bacalaureat?
The year-end baccalaureate exam required for graduation from 12th grade is best known for two things: being too hard and being a hotbed for cheating and bribes. So imagine my surprise on Thursday afternoon when I talked to Irina, a girl from my village who is finishing 12th grade at a school in the county seat, and she told me that the Romanian subject test she had taken earlier in the day was both accessible and very hard for people to copy on.
Cheating on tests, I discovered early in my service, is epidemic in Moldovan schools. I have done my best to crusade against it in my own classroom, but I've always known that English was probably the only class in which students didn't regularly copy off of each other. After talking to Irina, I was hopeful that the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports had finally addressed a major problem in its system, but I didn't want to get my hopes up. On Thursday evening and Friday morning, I talked to my school's 11th graders about the test. (Like in many Moldovan villages, my school only goes to 11th grade, and students who finish 11th grade can take a slightly different version of the baccalaureate and continue to a trade school or a university. Starting next school year, universities will require students to finish 12th grades, meaning that students from my village must go to the county seat for 10th through 12th grades.) The 11th graders told me the same things Irina had told me earlier; the test was easier than they had expected, but there was almost no way to copy.
The bac used to be administered at each school by the school's own teachers. Teachers, wanting their students to succeed, turned a blind eye toward the rampant cheating, and would often even help the students in the middle of the test. The government tried to institute reforms last year, but schools and teachers complained, and the system remained as-is.
This year, however, the baccalaureate is only given in county seats. My students took a six km ride to Hincesti, along with all the other students their age in the county. Students were separated into rooms according to alphabetical order, so classmates with the last names Mititelu and Moscovici were in the same room, but they were surrounded by kids they didn't know, and their classmates with last names Colesnic and Chirita were far, far away. Also the tests were given by two teachers whom the students didn't know, and they were supervised by two observers from the Ministry of Education. This took away two important motivations for cheating; students wanting to help, feeling pressured to help, or expecting help from their classmates, and teachers having a personal stake in the results of the students in the room.
It seems to me that the Moldovan educational system has just taken a huge step forward. My 11th grade students, who know my feelings on this even though I never taught them English and I never gave them an informatica test, gave me some interesting reactions:
Tanea: "I was writing my essay, and this boy near me said something, and I realized he had been copying off me. I didn't know what to do. I covered my paper."
Nadea: "It was nice to worry about just my own test, not someone else's."
Iurie, in response to me saying that the changes were good for the future of Moldova: "Yeah, but they're not too good for me."
Dana: "It's hard to copy on the Romanian test, anyway, because if they see the same essay on two different tests, they'll just mark it zero. We'll see what happens on the math test."
I like Dana's pragmatic answer. Like everything else in this country, we'll just have to wait and see if these reforms are real, and if they'll stick around next year, or even next week. Until then, I'm smiling with cautious optimism.