Friday, November 11, 2011

Welcome to the Circus

Conducting tests in Moldova have so far been so vastly removed from the way tests are taken in the United States that I struggle to even call them 'tests.' For the most part within the American school system tests are conducted with each student presented with a test and each student is expected to complete the test on their own with no help from their books, peers, cell phones, or teachers. Undoubtedly there will be someone in a class that will try and cheat but usually they will do it in the most discreet way in order to avoid being caught. If a student was caught the test would be taken away and the student would receive a zero. In most circumstances if a student was found to be supplying answers to another student both students would have their test taken and given a zero as well. This at least is how I remember tests being conducting in America while I was a student.

But in Moldova....

If you were to walk into a classroom during a test you would assuredly witness the following:  dictionaries, textbooks, copybooks, and cell phones on the desk and all being utilized, no restraint in talking, students sitting near each other passing their answer sheet back and forth, and white out pens being tossed across the room. The best way I can think of to summarize the difference is to say that, in America, tests are an individual assessment. But in Moldova tests are a communal, collective assessment.

If I were to try and implement an American system into my classroom I would spend probably the whole period policing every individual student and most likely collecting every single test book and grading them all a zero after about 5 minutes. However, I have I learned to accept that change can not happen over night and have limited myself to small successes. For instance when I conduct tests now I try my best to cut down on the amount of obvious cheating by telling students not to talk, which basically means not yelling answers across the room, and I have learned to accept the low roar of constant whispering that occurs between the two students that share a desk. I collect any answer keys that are thrown or passed across the room but for the most part turn a blind eye to the students that are staring a little too long at their neighbors paper. Whenever I do have students that cannot handle even this level of academic honesty and I move them to another part of the room they simply stare at the wall or draw on their paper. For some of them I wonder if they have ever taken a test on their own at all.

Ive had a lot of ideas of ways I can make the situation better but most of them just will not work in my situation. For example one thing we used to do in my American school was varying the test so that it was impossible to cheat off of your neighbor because they would have a different test. However, this is not feasible for the most part because most schools do not have a copy machine, or at least if they have one they limit the amount a teacher can print to just a few sheets,  and most of the time tests are written on the blackboard and students simply copy down their answers into their copybooks.

One last thing. In Moldova the grades students receive is seen as a reflection on the teacher. So most teachers tend to grade students a lot more leniently than most American teachers. Even a student who has done no work or shown any learning will still receive at least a 4 and sometimes higher (the grading system being out of 10 points, 10 being the best). Because of this propensity for grading students higher it is very difficult to punish students who do not follow testing protocol because they are well aware that the teacher will not give them a failing grade and cheating offers them the chance of getting an even higher grade with no real work, so if they cheat they might get a better grade and there will be no consequences. Also because this is the system that the students are all familiar with, and all the teachers for that matter, you can say that it is a part of the culture. Because academic dishonesty is so well ingrained into the school environment I do not think I will be able to have any real positive effect on changing anything but it is definitely going to be one of my main goals for my Peace Corps service.

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