3E test organizers in the dock over violations

During the investigation, the 3E organizers had argued that the test was a kind of English proficiency evaluation, rather than a competition, a claim rejected by the commission.

Shanghai education authorities say that the organizers of a popular English test are in serious violation of local laws and regulations, including operating without license, false advertising and fake invoice.

Thursday's announcement came a day after the organizers announced that the new “Elegant English Evaluation (3E)” would be held between April 14 and 22 at some place in neighboring Jiangsu Province, which could be reached from Shanghai in one hour by Metro Line 11. They also began accepting registration for the test on their WeChat account from Thursday.

The Shanghai Education Commission said in a statement that it would look into the problem in cooperation with its counterparts in Jiangsu.

The commission said that it had launched an investigation, in cooperation with other government departments, in December when it found that “China Elementary and Middle Schools Bilingual Education Association Co Ltd” organized the test across the city with the help of 27 training organizations.

The authorities talked to all the training organizations, who promised to stop organizing such events in the future.

The investigation also found that the company was registered in Hong Kong and had never been registered with any government department on the Chinese mainland. It has been promoting itself as “China Elementary and Middle Schools Bilingual Education Association”, though the name could not be found on any inquiry platform of government departments. However, it could easily mislead the public into thinking it was a social organization.

The Shanghai Bailinge (or Bilingual) Business Consulting Co Ltd, another company it set up in Shanghai to run the test, was also found have operated beyond its approved business scope, which only includes business information consultation, graphic design and marketing consultation. It’s also under suspicion for making false advertising claims and using fake invoice, the commission revealed.

Neither of the companies has the license to provide educational training or organize activities like academic competitions.

The commission added that it was also illegal for “China Elementary and Middle Schools Bilingual Education Association Co Ltd” to authorize Shi Zhikang, a retired professor from Shanghai International Studies University, to do business on its behalf.

During the investigation, the 3E organizers had argued that the test was a kind of English proficiency evaluation, rather than a competition, a claim rejected by the commission, which identified it as a kind of competition disguised in another form and criticized it for disturbing education order in the city.

“All tests that give students scores create (unwanted) competition and bring extra burden on them,” the commission said in the statement.

Shanghai has been going after illegal training organizations that add to students' burden in recent years. It has introduced new regulations, which took effect on January 1, to ban them from organizing academic competitions or similar activities.

The 3E organizers had also argued that the test had nothing to do with school admissions but in some of their self-promotion activities the test was cited as a “ticket to famous schools”.

The commission said several government departments had talked to organizers of the 3E test in January and ordered them to stop running the test.

It also reported Shi’s problems to his university and handed over the case pertaining to the Shanghai company's suspected criminal activities to local police.

The commission’s statement on Thursday quickly drew parents’ attention as the “evaluation” — with four levels in written test and three levels in orals — has been so popular that tens of thousands of pupils take the test each year. The belief being that the pass certificate will bring big advantage to students when they apply for admission to popular private schools.

“I felt my heart had been pulled up and then down within a day,” Sha Qingyi, a mother of a 10-year-old student, told Shanghai Daily.

She was still debating in the morning about registering her son after hearing the news that the test would move to Jiangsu and some of his classmates had already signed up for it. The commission’s announcement in the afternoon made it easy for her to decide.

Sha's hesitation stemmed from the fact that there were doubts about the test in December when its website suddenly turned inaccessible during the investigation. Parents began worrying that the exam had been canceled — a big blow to their children’s hard work and preparation over the previous years.

Though the commission has banned local schools from accepting certificates of off-campus tests or competitions as preferences in student admission and asked the schools to publish their promises to obey the rule on their websites, it has done nothing to diminish parents' craze for tests like 3E.

“We know the rules, but we all believe that it would impress the schools’ admission officers if they see the information (about the test) in the application,” said Sha. “I could not take the risk while other students were taking the tests.”

“Now I feel relieved to have given up the test since it’s illegal,” she added.

The commission said it will enhance its supervision of training organizations during the winter vacation.

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