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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Testing Time

I resist testing. It just seems so pointless. Last month was the national exam for seniors so all high schools here shut down for a week.

A week ago my co-teachers announced that we would begin semester tests and yearly tests and district tests so that means there will be no more teaching for the rest of this year. I made up 2 exams for each grade level, then scrambled the questions so that kids sitting at the same desk don’t wind up with the questions in the same order. Then I gave my co-teachers the master copies so they could get them reproduced. I pay for my own copies for the students but often the “real teachers” get money from individual classroom funds and quite honestly I hate testing so much I wasn’t about to fork over my tiny subsistence allowance ($4/day) to pay for copies of tests.

This past week when I asked what we are doing in each class the co-teachers said that they had already administered the tests I made up and I needed to teach them something! I only see my students for 1 or 2 class periods each week, so I really don’t know what’s going on for the 2 or 3 English class periods when I’m not there. I had some review questions prepared so that’s what I taught.

Then on Saturday one of my co-teachers gleefully announced that we would be going over tests all this week so that we were “free.” I wasn’t polite. I just turned and walked away. I come all the way from America, giving up 27 months of my life to teach English and I just can’t get into the cultural adaptation that a “good” day is a day when we have a good excuse not to teach.

The actual testing is painful. Normally I join a teacher and watch the kids do “cooperative testing.” But this past week I supervised some classes on my own. The sample national tests that we’re using were way too hard. I had just finished grading some of them and the scores were 20 – 55%. The smartest kids got only 55% right on a multiple choice test! (With the “help your neighbor” philosophy in full force!) The teachers don’t seem to care. I get the feeling that students are supposed to do horrible on the first round of tests so that the teacher can lecture them about studying harder! Never mind that the teachers themselves can’t come with the right answers or that some of the questions are worded so poorly that even I can’t come up with a correct answer – or on some questions it seems to me that several answers are correct!

The “remedy” (remedial test) is that the teacher gives the kids the same test as a “take home exam.” Because there aren’t enough copies, she gives the test to one student in each class. I assume that the kids will just pass around an answer sheet and each copy that with their name on it so they really don’t individually need tests anyway but maybe this is also something that the class fund takes care of. Maybe.

The “minimal standard” at my school is 75%. That means that every student has to achieve that level of competency. Testing is a way to document that our students are achieving the minimal competency. Ultimately every student will be given a score between 75 and 95.

It’s a system that encourages corruption. The scores mean nothing. There is a kind of end of the year frenzy at my school. The teachers are positively gleeful that they don’t need to teach any more and the kids are on “test mode.”

I watched one boy sit and talk to his neighbors for a full 40 minutes and not write down one answer. His obvious strategy was to wait till the end and get the answers from his friends. When I couldn’t stand it any longer, I brought him up and sat him down beside me. I read each question to him, slowly pointing at each word and then asked him which on the 5 answers could be correct. I translated a little – this teacher allows the kids to have dictionaries. He actually was able to figure out several questions, and I could tell he was surprised. When I sent him back to sit in his real desk, so I could work with another kid and he again chose to just talk to his friends. It’s enough to make you want to pull your hair out!

I’ve tried to understand the cultural benefit of cheating. Hypothetically, if the kids cheat a lot and everyone in the class achieves the minimal competency, then the teachers don’t have to cheat when they grade the exams.

I’m not saying that the teachers or the students at my school cheat. I don’t want to jeopardize the standing of my school. Any Indonesians who are reading this blog should know that all this is all an assumption. I think my school is about the same as every school in Indonesia.

I’m trying to look at what is happening and tell myself that all is well in the world and things are exactly the way they are supposed to be.

I wonder if all our western values of “individual achievement” are a little on the crazy side too. Maybe it IS better if the group as a whole succeeds.

Okay, this is a stretch, but maybe the survival of our species is dependent on us acting more like bees or ants and putting the common good before our individual good.

Maybe I just individually need to learn patience and deep breathing and this is a chance for me to grow into the much better person that I’m invited to be.

End of semester vacation is scheduled to start Monday June 27th. That means I have 5 weeks of pre-tests, (called try outs), real tests, post-tests, grading and report making! It’s a little testing of my commitment to hang in there and feel the breeze in the midst of the heat wave.

Some things I am truly thankful for:
This week two new Peace Corps Trainees will come visit my site and spend 2 nights at my home!
My extension cord that provides power to the little fan on my desk quit totally last week (I've taken it apart and rebuilt it 4 or 5 times)and I was able to get a new bigger, better one made at the electrical store!
One of my co-teachers loaned me some traditional clothes: kabaya – long tight shirt and lacey, flowery long sleeve top so I can wear the appropriate thing (with a jilbab of course) to our grade 12 graduation ceremony!
We have new baby chicks in the yard and in box in the kitchen at night! (It's okay, Dr. Leo, I'm very cautious about bird flu and don't go close.)
I found a secret spot down a narrow path where 2 rivers join and sometimes I go there on my morning walks!
The smell of diesel in little butter tubs under the feet of the dining room table truly doesn’t bother me as much as it used to! (And it really does keep the ants off the table!)
And I’ve come to love that cold splash of water on my hot body twice a day when I wash all my cares and my sweat down the drain!

I keep telling myself this is just a test. In the event of a real emergency I will be given instructions on where to go and what to do!

There’s a little gecko crawling on the floor near my toes.

Love you guys, Colleen

1 comment:

  1. This is a tough to hear you say:
    "I come all the way from America, giving up 27 months of my life"