The Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development introduced a sta-nine (STAndard NINE) system - a method of scaling test scores on a nine-point standard scale, giving the highest 4 percent a stanine of 1, the next 7 percent a stanine of 2, the next 12 percent a stanine of 3, etc- for the national standard test because the competition adding one more point encourages private education. However, universities point out that the system does not sort out students abilities very well.

In the Same Stanine, a Gap in the Standard Scores-

Students who took the 2007 test got three grades - a standard score, a percentile rank, and a stanine - but those who will take the 2008 test will get only a stanine score.

The results of the 2007 test showed that within the same stanine, the gap between the highest and lowest standard score was three to eleven depending on the subject.

In Korean, the gap in the stanine of 1 was five points, with the highest standard score being 132 and the lowest being 127. Math A, which students hoping to major in science take, showed the largest gap, 11 points (145-134). Math B, which students who want to study humanities take, had a 3-point difference (140-137) in the stanine of 1, and 8 points in the stanine of 2 and 3.

When the standard scores of Korean, Math and English, three major subjects that universities count, are added, the gap is as large as 20 points among students who got a stanine of 1 in all three.

Kim Young-il, the head of the Joongang Institute, said, An eleven point difference in stanine 1 is three questions worth three points each. In the absence of standardized scores this year, universities will have hard time picking out the best students in the same stanine.

When standard scores are applied to the college entrance standard, students with high standard scores sometimes get lower stanines because of different combinations.

Student As total standard score is 391 while he gets three stanines of 1 in all three subjects. By contrast, Student Bs total score is 407 even though he gets the best standard score in a stanine of 1 in Korean and Math, and the best score in a stanine of 2.

Student A is in a stanine of 1 in all subjects, but in the standard score, A is 12 points behind student B who has a stanine of 2 in English.

When the scores of students are calculated according to the universities own systems, the reverse results become clearer.

In the case of Seoul National University, student A , who gets 117 points (Korean 36 + Math A 45 + English 36) is 4 points ahead of student B, who receives 113 (Korean 36+ Math A 45 + English 32). Korea University and Yonsei University are no exception.

As the grading system does reflect well the gap in the scores, universities face many challenges. As the 2008 test does not unveil any other data except stanines, universities cannot raise any questions. said, Kim Gyeong-beom, a fellow of the Office of Admission of Seoul National University.

inchul@donga.com