Unified school-leaving exams yield worst results ever

Photo: Filip Jandourek

Nearly 19 percent of students at Czech secondary schools have this year failed their final examinations. That’s the worst fail rate since unified tests were reintroduced four years ago. The Education Ministry says too many students are taking the exams – but some experts believe they might just be too difficult.

Photo: Filip Jandourek
Math has once more proved to be most difficult subject in Czech secondary school-leaving exams. According to figures released by the Education Ministry on Friday, over 24 percent of students failed math this year, followed by German, where the fail rate was 21.7 percent. In English, meanwhile, it was 9.5 percent, and only 6.5 percent of students failed Czech.

In total, 18.7 percent of the roughly 87,600 students failed the exams, held in April and May at secondary schools across the country. That’s the worst result since 2011 when the unified tests were brought back after a gap of two decades. Education Minister Marcel Chládek believes the fail rate is due to the large numbers of students sitting the exams.

“I don’t think the problem is a sharp increase of the fail rate because in 2012, it was 18.2 percent. The problem is the high fail rate as such. That makes the system no so effective, also financially.

Marcel Chládek, photo: Filip Jandourek
“We’ll have to review the whole system and the numbers of students who sit the exams. I believe too many students take the exams, and this is reflected in the poor results.”

Prior to 2011 each of the country’s 1,300 or so schools designed their own exams. The authorities believed this seriously undermined their value, and also made it difficult to compare individual schools.

But the new system means that students at every secondary school, from elite grammar schools to vocational schools, take the same exam. Minister Chládek is now questioning where future car mechanics and hairdressers really need to prove themselves in the same way as prospective nuclear scientists.

Some experts, however, question the minister’s approach. Ondřej Šteffl is the head of Scio, a leading Czech educational consultancy.

Ondřej Šteffl, photo: Eva Dvořáková
“Students who take these exams now will be at the peak of their powers in around 2045. We have no idea what the world will be like then, and we should provide them with some basic general education and enable them to requalify, to graduate from university, and to advance their professional careers. And instead, we are considering cutting their access to education.”

Instead, according to Ondřej Šteffl, the difficulty of the exams should be adjusted. In international testing by the OECD, Czech students did much better in math than in languages, a result contradicted by the results of the school-leaving exams.