A tenth of high school entry exam takers in Tartu under cheating suspicion

Hugo Treffner High School.
Hugo Treffner High School. Source: Pietade/Wikimedia Commons

Teachers at Tartu high school joint entry exams are suspecting that more than a tenth of exam takers may have used a mobile app to solve math equations. There is no way to prove the suspicions of cheating however.

Due to restrictions, joint entry exams for five Tartu high schools were done electronically. The exams were conducted by Hugo Treffner High School, Miina Härma High School, Tamme High School, Kristjan Jaak Peterson High School, and Jaan Poska High School.

While exam takers were identified by video prior to the English and math exam, what they were doing during the exam itself was up to them.

Math teachers at Jaan Poska High School have now identified that of the 1,400 exam takers, over ten percent may have used a mobile app to solve equations. The suspicions mainly come from a quadratic equation, which was solved using a method that is not taught in the curriculum. There was also another task, where suspicious methods of solution were identified. There were 12 tasks on the math exam in total.

Among teachers that checked the exams, suspicions arose that exam takers were not using their own heads, but instead the assistance of technology was used. Of course, there are no ways to actually prove such cheating.

"There's an app called Photomath which can read and solve problems if data is entered. For some equations, it is obvious that students used the help of Photomath. Some of the solutions are not even taught in Estonian schools," explained Helmer Jõgi, director of Jaan Poska High School.

The average score for math exams over the last couple of years has been close to 49 points out of 100. This year it was 58.

"We also looked at the standard deviation, but there was nothing drastic there," said Jõgi.

Compared to previous years, averages for the Estonian exam were standard - around 65 points.

"Schools have been notified about the suspicions. Every school will make their own decisions," Jõgi added. He said that they are not worried about the suspicions because so many high-level students have already chosen Jaan Poska as their priority school.

Poska High School will admit five classes worth of students this year, totaling about 190 students. Interviews with students, who have marked the school as their priority, are finished this week. Admittance is concluded in two weeks.

"We do not go through the process of, otherwise you have great results, but there are suspicions that you may have cheated. Those students are more on the back-end," Jõgi said, referring to weaker students.

"Outside help is beneficial for stronger students, but it is normally not helpful for weaker students. You still have to have the know-how, ingenuity, and intelligence of how to operate and handle the exams yourself," Jõgi explained.

He says that it is immediately apparent in the interview if the student has not done the work themselves. But you cannot use the suspicion to bar anyone.

"You have to look at it from all perspectives. You will sense from conversation how the exam went for the student," Jõgi concluded.

There is nothing that can be done

Director of Miina Härma High School (MHG) Ene Tannberg acknowledges that there is no proof of these allegations. She does not exclude that students may have independently learned different methods during the last three months of distance education.

"We don't have any proof, no leg to stand on. We can't omit someone just based on suspicions. If their grades are good but there are suspicions, maybe they were using a different method," Tannberg said.

She explains that in addition to exam results they will also look at report cards and will turn greater attention to the interview. If there are deficiencies on the report card, they will not be invited to the interview.

Miina Härma High School will admit 110 students this year.

She thinks that electronic tests are not necessarily bad and will not exclude them from future plans completely.

"I think electronic tests are not a bad idea at all and if they can be done in the school building, excluding cheating that way, then why not. But we did not have any better solutions this year and we can't prove these suspicions," Tannberg said.

Hugo Treffner High School will also not plan to do anything about these suspicions.

"I don't have any records that there was cheating," says Ott Ojaveer, director of Hugo Treffner High School. "We will take into consideration that outside help may have been used, but we can't reprimand exam takers in any way, if all we have are suspicions."

Ojaveer said they were ready that such problems may arise with e-exams, but it was a risk that they were willing to take. They will also rely more on the interview and report card of the student this school year.

He thinks that it is also possible that exam takers got help from other people, even that is impossible to check. Students who end up being admitted even though they cheated, may find it difficult to stay in school.

"This could be a call to honesty, so people wouldn't create problems for themselves," Ojaveer finds.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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