• July 29, 2016
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Lithuanian methodologist Danutė Skiauterienė: exam grades are subjective

Conversation with Lithuanian methodologist Danutė Skiauterienė from a school in Eišiškės, Šalčininkai District Municipality, about problems with Lithuanian language exam, teaching syllabus of the subject, missing textbooks and poor work of the National Examination Center.

Lithuanian language exam is getting more and more difficult not only for students from national minorities schools but also for senior student who are Lithuanian native speakers. This year, 10,1 percent of all those taking the exam as a state one didn’t manage to pass it. Is it really that hard?

An instruction of grading this exam looks like a legal act and consists it’s four pages long consisting of various requirements. On the other hand, examination papers are marked by people and the grading is subjective. Somebody likes a particular paper, somebody else doesn’t. For someone a subject of an examination paper was developed properly, for someone else it wasn’t.

Only 0.83 percent of Lithuanian students managed to get a “100” at this exam, including your student Daniel Rogoża from school in the Eišiškės.

An instruction is strictly imposing particulat requirements to a student  who is just forced to speak in previously learned words given by a teacher. In the case of Daniel, we were a little bit worried before the exam as a paper restricted by some frames is not really his style. Daniel writes mostly essays and that is why I think, if he had taken this exam last year, he would have gotten much fewer points because a structure of a paper has changed a bit this year, students can write in more free way. That’s why we were thinking whether to write a traditional paper that he does not write very well or to write in a way he is the best at, which means writing an essay.

In national minorities schools, students are more likely to choose an essay because in a literary paper two works have to be compared while basing on literary knowledge and there is no place for one’s opinion or considerations. In my opinion, it’s way harder and that’s why essay is more popular choice. I recommended Daniel to choose this form of a paper because he is better at writing it. After all, if a paper was graded well, it only depended on an examiner. This time, apparently, two things met: Daniel was writing the best he could and his paper was read by a person who was able to see how good his paper was. Daniel, except works included in syllabus, was also reading many more positions. You can say that in terms of read readings, he outdone even me. His score is not such a surprise then. I saw his examination paper and I showed it to others. It’s really a paper of a very talented student. He has a versatile personality. It is a luck for a teacher to have a student like this with whom you can talk not only about school readings but also politics, culture and everything. Sometimes, it is a teacher who have to try and read a bit more to actually match a student. It is really a great luck.

What is the most difficult in preparing for the Lithuanian language exam?

The problem is that while writing a paper, student cannot show their creativity. Although creativity is welcomed, on the other side – standards of grading imply that a student cannot cross some frames and show his full abilities. Let’s say that after reading some literary work and analyzing one of its aspects, a student is asked during his matura exam to analyze a completely different aspect. Nothing unusual then that a student might feel disorientated and cannot understand what he is exactly asked to do. Another thing is that a list of required readings contains works of 32 different authors. Although we have a lot of classes, we just jump from one author to another. Some works are more deeply analyzed that other because we lack in time.

So is the syllabus overloaded?

Both Polish and Lithuanian schools have the same program hours. I think it’s also Lithuanian school’s problem. Material is very extensive and we have to rush through some readings. To read with no hurry, to analyze and read a whole work, not just fragments from ‘’Excerpts’’, to taste a work is a very hard thing. If there were less works and authors, we could slowly discuss all aspects and stop for a while by every work.

It’s interesting that foreign language like English and Russian are being passed by students without any problem (English was passed by 97,9 % of students in Lithuania, Russian – 99,35 %) but Lithuanian was failed by 10 %. Why is Lithuanian the hardest?

English exam has a specified pattern and structure and while preparing for it, a student gets no surprise at the actual exam – an exam has the same structure. It’s similar with math: for all years, students solve exercises that later are expected to be on the exam. At Lithuanian language exam we never know what topics we get. There are thousands of possibilities and you cannot prepare yourself for all of them. We just discuss all the authors, their works in various aspects, we consider a variety of vital topics. An essay is a paper about life. Literature is to confront your thoughts with it, to use an authority. Please, imagine an average 12th grader who is an immature person with a weak life experience.  What can an 18-year-old say about masculinity – one of this year’s topics- not knowing about such things at all?

Are this year’s topic of matura from Lithuanian surprising for you? Were they may be a disappointment or a delight?

I was delighted when I saw that required readings were analyzed by us. I knew there were no surprise for my students. Even if someone hadn’t read them, he at least heard about them during classes. Those who were absent and didn’t read it didn’t pass the exam.

What were the classes’ grades? Where they compatible with your expectations? Were you expecting them to be as they were?

I was expecting such scores. Three of fifteen students passed the exam with a score above 90 points and I consider such a result really good. The Daniel’s “100” was not a big surprise as well, I was only worried about a person that was to check his paper. One of students didn’t attend classes and didn’t read readings as well so he obviously didn’t pass the exam, according to my expectations. In the whole region, a number of students who achieved more than 90 points was only 5 so the score of my class is very good.

In a scale of Šalčininkai District Municipality, among 137 students, only 3,65 percent (5 persons) passed the exam with a score between 86-100 points. A vast majority – 85 persons, which is 62,04 percent passed it with 16-35 points. How do you see these scores?

Of course, unification of the Lithuanian language exam happened too quickly. One could have taken it sooner as until 11th grade we study according to national language program. In 11th grade, students learn Lithuanian according to their native language program. Another thing is that syllabus in too extensive and reading habits are weaker. On the other hand, if a student is willing to study, he is motivated and talented, a program is no such a big deal. But I admit that this rush is not a good thing. Another thing is that all odd number classes start to use new programs this year. These programs are written but there are no textbooks. Next school year, I will start to work with my 9th graders according to the program which is quite good, systematized but there are no textbooks available. This means that a teacher will have to search for literary works and copy them. It is said that many materials may be found on the internet but student do not like to read that way. A book has to be on a desk so a student could highlight a thought or mark a word he doesn’t understand and it’s impossible in the internet. It wasn’t fully considered and prepared.

Are there textbooks missing for all classes?

Yes, for all, both in national minorities schools and in Lithuanian ones. Teachers are already preparing plans of educating according to the new program but what textbook we will use is still an unknown thing. Paper will have to be bought to copy reading’s fragments for each students to use during every lesson. It’s because there is no book that would consist of all necessary stuff. Everything is getting done in unstructured way. There is no common system.

Is there any sense in requiring an outstanding knowledge of Lithuanian language and literature from students who know for sure that they have a scientific mind and will study architecture, economics or medicine?

I think that you have to know the language, however it shouldn’t be so important when trying to get to a university. The most vital is thing is for it to be complex. I think, there is a lot of politics here. Going back to the exam, in my opinion, there are students who find school exam too hard. They are just not talented. I think, the exam could be made more easier or a diploma could be given to student after participating in a class. What is this school exam for students who have no motivation? A student can fail it, then goes on a vacation and then has to pass it. I don’t understand what’s the purpose of forcing those who cannot do it to pass the exam. A school exam lost its value. There is no system in which everything is fine from A to Z. Now, someone will come with some idea, write a project that is painfully being implemented. There is no strategic thinking in education,  I would say.

This year’s Lithuanian language exam was a record in terms of appeals (1 112). After filing them, most students got higher grades than they originally got. How do you evaluate this fact?

I definitely think it is really bad. It means that the National Examination Center is not doing a good work. If the exam is so important and decides about getting a place at university financed by a state, there shouldn’t be so many differences in first and second grading of the exam. An exam paper must be graded very carefully. Justifications of examiners that they were tired is ridiculous. I read that 1 person was grading 16 exam papers per day. I would say that there is no way I could grade so many paper in just one day. It is irresponsible. When a person is reading a paper and knows that somebody’s life is at stake there, I think that 16 papers with 500 hundred letters each per day is too hard to notice every aspect of a paper. Even if it was about only a few appeals, it would be bad as well. There are different people among these 300 examiners. I wouldn’t trust myself too much either. How could you grade an essay? I don’t know. This exam itself is a problematic issue. It should look differently. I think that specialists would have to find proper ways that would help to evaluate student’s knowledge. The Examination Center has a lot to do to be able to grade papers objectively. Now it’s subjective.


Translated by Aleksandra Nowakowska within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.

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