Watering the Tests

Last Friday I delivered my first test to my students.  A two-page affair, I expected them to do very well as the questions were remarkably easy examples of either the fill-in-the-blank, complete-the-sentence, or solve-the-equation varieties.  They struggled with both directions and content, however.  I blame both my own teaching—not covering the material sufficiently—as well as the layout of the tests.  It was not always clear for some questions, for example, which phrases the student was to choose from.

Also, as I should perhaps have realized, the directions were all in English, not Georgian, and thus exercises that were intuitive to complete for me were not for them.

To remedy this, for this week’s test I’ve rearranged some of the questions to make it more clear where the blanks begin and end in the sentence, added Georgian instructions, and, in a novel suggestion from a few different students, altered all names to common Georgian examples so as to make the male-female and first name-surname-full name distinctions more clear.

I sincerely hope that this will result in both higher scores, faster completion times, and better comprehension.  The goal, after all, is for them to learn the content.

“Learning the content” brings us to my main reason for making this post: my students’ ability to understand and retain the content I am teaching them (or attempting to teach) is being crippled by the absolutely rampant cheating during test time.  Last Friday I experienced the following:

  • Having to tell the same students multiple times that they were not to use their books (“Ara tsigni.  Ara tsigni!  ARA TSIGNI!!”)
  • Shhing students repeatedly when they discussed content, not directions, across the room
  • Watching one particular student stand up, lean over his neighbor, and obviously read the paper of the student on the other side of his neighbor, circumventing the fact that I used two forms of the test to deter cheating

And so on.

Keep in mind my students are adult police officers and secretaries, all over the age of 21 or 22, most (if not all) with college degrees and some with military rank.  I spoke to a few of my fellow volunteers about the cheating in their classrooms and heard even worse stories.  One described it as being a scene “from another planet” and all that I spoke to said they gave up trying to deter it after a certain point.  I guess my stamina is greater than most, though, as I continued to walk around the room, closing books and demanding quiet throughout my four classes.

We were warned at orientation about the prevalence of cheating here in Georgia.  It’s tolerated, sometimes encouraged, and always explained as the Georgian way: “Georgians helping each other.”  That’s fine for nation-building and governing: I’d rather the individuals and associations within my government worked together in order to function anyway—watch seasons three through five of The Wire to see the opposite of this effect.  But it’s not at all suited to individual assessment of knowledge.  In fact it defeats the purpose.

But then again, maybe they are getting something out of it even if they cheat.  I know that today, when I explained a class exercise by giving the first few answers to one of my students who has trouble understanding directions and showing him how I got those answers, that he seemed to understand better than if I hadn’t.  Maybe if the “helping” culture of cheating really is helping, and not just giving answers, they will take more from this class than they would otherwise.  Time will tell I suppose.

A funny endnote: Today I asked them to work in pairs on a few exercises in their workbooks.  Invariably, they instead fell silent and worked on their own.  Give them a test and tell them to do it individually, and they’ll work together.  Tell them to work together, and they’ll work alone.

Georgians are weird.

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