The Test Give-Back
When they don’t do that well on a test, it’s a real test of a teacher. They didn’t, this test on static forces, friction, inertia and bridges, even though we totally busted a gut trying to correlate it to standards, to what we had taught, to 21st C skills, blah, blah, blah. Did the answer sheet first with my colleague and everything!
Here’s the worst-case scenario: “This was a stupid test.” “It was unfair – you never taught us this”. and in the carpool, they tell their friends and evesdropping parents that the teacher sucks and doesn’t like them.
If I respond defensively to comments in that vein, it goes downhill from there and, in the past, a bad test give-back has sent my relationship to my students down the tubes. Curving the scores, giving in to point-grubbing tends to accidentally reinforce the griping.
Resilience in the face of a set-back is such a huge life skill and one that I’m still trying to be humble enough to learn myself. It’s what I want for them from this test taking experience.
I did grade leniently on those few questions where there seemed to be real room for misunderstanding and I did correct grading mistakes. But all individual questions were answered individually, after I’d gone over the test with the whole class and students were writing in their journals. That keeps a kid with an axe to grind from getting the floor and allows me to make calm judgements. The opportunity to redo for up to a c+/B- grade helps diffuse ire too. It makes it worthwhile listening to the answers, rather than just another nail in their coffin of failure.
It really is awful to do badly on a big test – I failed a clarinet exam when I was in 8th grade and gave up clarinet because of it, convinced I was rubbish. Stupid and sad, especially when I discovered 30 years later that decent at music after all. Shared the story with them, and of Edison and his 1,000 failed attempts at a light bulb. We talked a little about what they had learned from disappointments in other areas, especially sports, and made the link to this test.
Then they got to write what they personally learned from the experience – what was successful for them, and what they’ll do a little differently next time. Lovely to read their insightful comments, one student with Asperger’s especially, turned around from being totally upset. Plus it was good to pick up on the few students who were still pretty hot about it and talk it over with them.
By today, everything settled back into our groove of fooling around with balls and straws, discovering Newton’s Second Law of Motion.