When a test is a barrier

Sam is taking two online classes this fall, one in word processing, another in spreadsheets. I’ve written before about the requirements he needs to “upgrade” from a certificate to an associate’s degree in computer technology. He’s just four classes away. It’s very exciting.

Both of this fall’s classes are in another department at the community college, and both required him to thoroughly read the syllabus and take a quiz over its contents. The students have to get a 100 on the quiz (they have unlimited attempts) before they can start the class. In a way, its a brilliant way to underscore the importance of reading and understanding the course requirements. In some of the larger lecture classes I’ve seen, professors spend the first day of class reading the syllabus to the students. And I’ve seen students drop once they realize the expectations.

Sam sailed through the syllabus quiz for one class but not the other. We’re not quite sure what has happened — we suspect, actually, there is a scoring problem — but it is yet to be resolved. I sat with him yesterday as he tried, again and again and again and again, to secure that perfect score. Before I helped him devise some evaluation strategies, he had no idea how to figure out what he was doing wrong.

It was like being thrown into the ocean with no clue where to swim to safety. You can imagine how wild and panicked a person’s thinking might get. And then, when you consider the true stakes how angry you could get.

He can’t get the keys to the rest of the online kingdom of the class until he does. An email to the professor about the problem has brought only the suggestion that he drop the class.

And that brings me to the point of this post — there is testing and then there are barriers.

When I was in junior high school, a gymnastics unit was added to our curriculum, probably in part because of the wildly popular Olga Korbut and the amazing things she did at the 1972 Olympics.

I saved those Seventeen magazine pages with a story and photo about her for ages.

Our instruction was pathetic. Our teacher couldn’t do any of the moves, and was continually recruiting a student to demonstrate a move to the others (with that student likely demonstrating that move to the teacher for the first time about 90 seconds earlier.)

Once “demonstrated,” we could practice on the equipment, serving as spotters for each other. At the end of the unit, we had to perform the different moves for our grade. We were scored on our ability to do the moves — nothing about the rhythm and composition of a routine, our body poise, or other criteria used to evaluate a gymnast.

The test was sequential and, theoretically, based on difficulty. Our teacher had no idea what was a hard move and what was easy, in my opinion. But, you couldn’t test for a B if you couldn’t do all the moves needed for a C.

Because I couldn’t go from a crouch on the beam to a standing position using only one leg — a “C” level move — I was not allowed to test for any other grade levels, even though I’d been working on all of them, as were my classmates, for six weeks.

Lots of girls didn’t get the grade they deserved for having taught themselves gymnastics.

That’s not instruction, and that’s not testing, so don’t make like its the bar exam.


  1. TXsharon on September 7, 2011 at 4:41 am

    So harsh and uncaring. It’s not necessary.

  2. TXsharon on September 10, 2011 at 1:44 am

    Thursday when I picked Adam up from class, he didn’t want to talk, at all. He seemed sad. Finally, late in the night he told me that his philosophy professor asked the class who had read the assignment. Adam answered that he had but, fearing he might get questions he couldn’t answer, he added that he was not sure he completely understood what he read. His instructor ridiculed him and got the rest of the class to laugh at him. Naturally, he felt horrible.

    But, that’s not all. Tuesday he went to the music department to get advice about the possibility of majoring in music. He wants to do soundtracks for movies and he is pretty darn good at it too. He was told that he should stick with engineering because he should have started his music career a long time ago.

    He is 16 for crine out loud! Sixteen, with 18 college credits and a 3.8 GPA. What’s wrong with the jackasses who are supposed to be teaching our young people.

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