Basic school exams to use 100-point scale instead of grades 1 to 5

Estonian students ready to take an exam. Photo is illustrative.
Estonian students ready to take an exam. Photo is illustrative. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

The Ministry of Education and Research has finalized and submitted to the government a draft decree mandating that the result of the basic school's final examinations will appear as a percentage of the maximum score on the graduation certificate's mark sheet.

The explanatory memorandum to the bill explains that the effect of the amendment will be to: (1) share information about a student's overall examination performance on the final report; (2) improve the clarity and interpretation of a student's performance for educational institutions; and (3) increase the transparency of learning outcomes for the community and state.

According to the amendment, the final exam grade will be expressed as a percentage of the maximum possible score.

"The introduction of percentages is a step in the right direction toward greater informativeness, allowing students to obtain more accurate information about their (learning) outcomes so they can make more informed plans for future study," the document reads.

For instance, instead of a score of "3/satisfactory," a student's results will be displayed on a scale of 50-74 percent, which the ministry believes is much more informative about the level of performance.

"Institutions of general upper secondary (gümnaasium) and secondary vocational (kutseõppeasutus) schooling, where the student wishes to continue his or her studies will have a more transparent basis for organizing admissions, as well as for planning, for example, level groups, adaptations of studies or other such activities."

The result of the final basic school examination and, if applicable, the result of the re-examination will be stated on the graduation mark sheet.

If a student earns at least 50 percent of the maximum score on basic school graduation examinations, he or she receives a certificate along with a mark sheet listing his or her percentage results.

If, during the examination, a student becomes ill or is unable to take the examination for any other reason deemed valid by the school's director, the result of the re-examination is recorded on the graduation mark sheet.

Graduating the basic school requires that the student learns the curriculum at least a satisfactory level together with passing three basic school graduation exams: a final exam in Estonian and Estonian as a second language, a mathematics exam, and an exam of his or her choosing.

They may choose to take the optional examination in Russian language, biology, chemistry, physics, geography, history, social studies, English, French, German and Russian as a foreign language.

Criticism of the proposal

In Estonia, inclusive schooling principles are adopted, meaning that students with special educational needs usually study in an ordinary class of their neighborhood basic school.

The Estonian Association of School Psychologists (EKPÜ) opposes the re-implementation of the lower limit of 50 percent and advocates for "immediately lowering the 9th grade exam barrier to 1 percent."

The association explained that reinstating the 50 percent threshold on end-of-school exams would have significant consequences for students who receive general support, enhanced support or special support in general education.

"Children who have required more support throughout their schooling also require assistance during examinations, and it is counterproductive to carry out their education in a stressful environment where it hinges on their exam performance. If a student fails a national examination and then retakes a more accessible examination, this is not a solution either. The self-esteem of students with learning disabilities is already fragile, so a sense of failure has a demoralizing effect rather than a motivating one."

Additionally, the association emphasizes that there is no point in retaking an exam if it has already been failed. "By retaking the examination, we create the appearance of a passing grade. However, it is evident that a score of 50 percent on the first national exam and a score of 50 percent on the easier follow-up exam are not equivalent. When everyone has the same threshold, results would be comparable."

According to Kaisa Hunt, a psychologist at Tartu's Forseliuse School, requiring children to attain a minimum of 50 percent in their basic school exams to graduate is not justified. Hunt pointed out, that minimum thresholds are already a feature of high school entrance exams, and that students are under a great deal of stress as it is.

In response to this criticism, the Ministry of Education said that it "considers it important to continue the dialogue with the diverse partners on the ground concerning the conditions for finishing basic education, and external evaluation in general."


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Editor: Kristina Kersa

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