TBILISI -- The good news is that we can be pretty sure they didn't cheat. The bad news is that, according to preliminary results from the Education Ministry, the overwhelming majority of Georgia's teachers failed their qualification examination.
According to the ministry, 86 percent of teachers failed to achieve a score of at least 60 percent on the mathematics exam. Ninety-one percent failed chemistry; 96 percent failed physics, 83 percent failed social studies; and 77 percent failed biology.
Only in geography did a majority -- 51 percent -- manage to pass.
About 26,000 teachers took the exams this year.
The shocking results triggered an immediate blame game.
Results 'Nothing New'
Sergo Ratiani, a member of parliament from President Mikheil Saakashvili's United National Movement, told RFE/RL's Georgian Service that the policies of Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili's Georgian Dream coalition -- which took over the government after elections in October 2012 -- led to the result.
"The training and methodological assistance for teachers that was conducted over the last few years was not conducted this year," Ratiani says. "Georgian Dream [made a great] effort to discredit the examination during the election campaign and this created the expectation that the exam wouldn't be as difficult as it has been in the past."
But education experts say the results are nothing new.
Tamar Mosiashvili, an education specialist with the Civic Development Institute in Tbilisi, was a little surprised by the controversy over this year's results, which she notes are similar to the results observed every year since the examination was instituted in 2011.
"I'm just surprised why this issue has gotten so much attention this year, since we have gotten the same statistical results already for three years now," Mosiashvili says. "In those three years, only 9,895 teachers managed to get the certificate. We may not like this reality, but it is our reality."
The examination is intended to gauge the level of teacher preparedness and help the government design programs to improve qualifications. Failing the examination does not mean being disqualified from teaching. Eventually, the government plans to use the examination as part of a mandatory certification program for educators.
'Results In 10 Years'
The Education Ministry's National Examination Center, which administers the teachers' examination, also seems to be dismayed by the poor results. The center's deputy director, Iva Mindadze, says the government should focus less on the examination and more on developing a long-term approach to raising the level of teaching.
"The government should direct its resources toward teachers. But not toward helping individual teachers through the examination process," Mindadze says. "Rather, it should be used for improving the teaching profession in general. I think a lot of resources need to be allocated to the education of future teachers."
Mosiashvili agrees that improving teaching is not something that can be done overnight.
"Should we be constantly thinking about, for instance, the professional development of some 60-year-old teacher?" she asks. "Or maybe it would be better to reflect on improving our university program and on attracting bright young students to become teachers? If we start thinking about these issues today, we will see the results in 10 years."
Of course, that's probably not the answer that the parents of children getting ready to return to school in September want to hear.
RFE/RL correspondent Robert Coalson and RFE/RL Georgian Service intern Ana Lomtadze contributed to this report from Prague