context: The recent grading scandal is seen by some as the result of flaws embedded in far-reaching reforms in the ‘Zhejiang Plan’. The reform’s systemic problems will likely be carefully scrutinised and avoided by other pilot provinces.

The grading scandal reveals an equity-efficiency dilemma in the design of examination policies in Zhejiang, comments WeChat account E-Youxue (a leading provider of online assessment tools). Equity means that students are provided equal opportunity for equal outcome, regardless of where or when they take an exam. Yet, Zhejiang’s test designers could not ensure the two English tests scheduled for one exam cycle were equivalent at evaluating students. If test grades are not curved, students who only take a harder test are at a loss. If grades are curved, students will prefer to take both tests to maximise their chances, which increases burden of preparation and exam costs.

The Zhejiang Plan is rather problematic as the final score is taken as the arithmetic sum of three ‘raw’ grades from mandatory tests and three ‘curved grades’ from optional tests, says E-Youxue. The mixture of non-curved and curved grading lets the ‘bad money drives out good’, as less skilled students can speculate in the weight average grade system and outperform more skilled students. The flaw is magnified when the exam becomes a ‘repeated game’ as it can be taken more than once in a year. Such an arrangement undermines gaokao’s credibility because it will no longer able to ‘sort the best’.

Contrary to its original goals, the Zhejiang Plan leads to increased burden of learning and teaching, less opportunity equity and less efficient use of educational resources, concludes E-Youxue. Customised course-taking and testing require more learning input, a larger supply of teachers and investment in educational infrastructure. Such a budget is not affordable for stakeholders—students, teachers, parents, schools and examination authorities—at present.