Test Anxieties

Exams start tomorrow. The kids are hyped—as in nervous, anxious, and overwrought. Unfortunately, that translates into explosive behavior, especially for Turkish kids, who lean a bit toward the exuberant end of the behavior continuum. Today was wild.
Testing in this country is a whole different game than in the U.S. It’s everything. Kids are tested to get into school, to step up to better schools, and to go to university. Because the system is short on educational opportunities, exams have inflated importance here. In the U.S., many students study for tests, while here it’s the rare student who doesn’t. At least a third of my 62 students (bright kids to start with) have private tutors. In the U.S. I might have had one or two (out of 130) with tutors.
Tomorrow is the first of five days of semester finals. Each exam is 8o minutes long, and the students sit two exams per day, for a total of 10 exams. Teachers proctor an exam each day as well as a 40-minute study hall every other day. We spend the rest of our time correcting.
Oh, yes—there’s another difference. Grading exams in Turkey is tantamount to hell. I only have 62 students, but I spend an average of a half hour on each exam. That’s a LOT of time! Welcome to our lockstep world. It’s all about moderation.
Here’s how it works. We have a team of six ninth grade teachers teaching nine sections. All the students take their exams at the same time in nine different rooms. Once they’ve finished, three or four exams are xeroxed, and every member of the team grades them separately. Next we meet to compare our grades, standards and expectations. (Lawsuits are common over perceived grading inequities.) OK, then we hibernate to grade our own exams. Our focus is language as much as content, since Koc strives to be a bilingual school. Depending on the grade level, 30 to 40 percent of the grade is based solely on language. That means meticulous marking.
Once we finish grading all our exams, we take the next step in moderation. We exchange a number of exams with other teachers who grade them a second time to ensure consistency within the grade level. If there are inequities, grades are adjusted to meet the standard.
Whew! It’s a lot of work—difficult work! As a teacher who comes from a performance-based assessment background, the focus on testing is painful. For the students, it’s even worse. With testing comes pressure, which these kids feel intensely. My IB seniors get a little frantic before exams, fearful that our class has dealt with the subject matter differently than what they’ve heard from other classes. The differences between teachers and their teaching styles isn’t valued as much here as it is in the States, and I understand why. It’s all about exam grades rather than actual learning. Do I sound biased? I am.
There was an article in the newspaper this week about some private schools in Istanbul that teach to the tests. Rather than following the prescribed curriculum, they spend class time on practice tests to prepare for the 8th grade exam. That’s a no-no, but I have to admit, I wonder why. If the system is test-driven, why not teach to the test? There was another newspaper article mentioned by one of my Turkish peers about abolishing oral grades completely. (Oral grades are the in-class work and homework averages.) Why have teachers? All we’d need is exam proctors. What is this world coming to?
I’m ranting.
I’m rambling.
I’m tired.
It’s exam week, and I had a bad day.

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