So Saturday is the last day of the first quarter. In case you didn’t know, the school week is six days long, and most people who don’t work in schools also work six days a week. The six day work week is a holdover from Soviet times when everybody worked six days per week because, as I’ve been told, “there was so much work to do.” I’m not sure whether there was actually that much work for them to do, but I guess that’s really not important.
Anyway, Saturday is the last day of the marking period, so that means it’s time to decide final grades. Maybe I should begin by talking about the test I created for the students of my classes. I teach fifth, seventh, two eighth, ninth, tenth, and eleventh grades. So that means I have seven different groups of students. This sounds like a ton of work, but you’re thinking like an American. Each of these classes only meet twice a week, except for the fifth and seventh grade classes which I have three times a week each. Each class has around twelve to twenty students in it, and except for the fifth and eleventh grade classes I have been teaching the exact same thing to each class. Basically, all the students know English equally badly, but the fifth graders are too young to settle down and pay attention when I tried teaching them like the other classes, and the eleventh grade class I teach with a different teacher (I team teach every class with my counterpart, a local English teacher).
My exam is not difficult. Of course I would say that, I made it. But really, honestly, it’s not. The only things that have been taught to the students over the past four weeks are the verb “to be” (am, are, is), articles (a, an), negation with “to be” (am not, are not, is not), and conjunctions/contractions (I’m, I’m not, aren’t, isn’t, it’s, he’s, you’re, etc…). This is not a lot to learn, and even though the students were told (in good Russian) what to do on the test, I still didn’t take off points when they didn’t use a contraction when that was the whole point of the section. Every section in the test had an explanation of what to do in Russian, an example of how to do the problems in that section, and then the questions themselves. All questions were in the same format and used the same vocab we had been practicing every class on the blackboard and for homework.
The students cheated on, and bombed the, test. Two rules were made clear to all students at the beginning of the test, one, no talking, two, look only at your own test. I then proceeded to stand in front of the class and watch for cheating. Maybe they’re idiots, but turning around to look at the person behind you is kinda obvious. And the excuse, “I was just looking, I didn’t write any of it down,” it’s pretty worthless. Yea, I know you didn’t write anything down, I took your test before you had time to. My other favorite was, “but I didn’t know I couldn’t use my book,” when I caught him reading through his text book for answers. My response was, “then you’re stupid.” Yes, I did tell him that, and it was fair.
Even with cheating, or maybe because I caught or scared most of them, grades were poor. A quick note on grades: they are done one through five, with a five corresponding to an A and a one to an F. When I graded the tests, many were blank, others were filled with a, an, are or is put at random in blank spaces where answers were supposed to go, a few students actually did do very well. There were a total of ninety-five points available on the test, one point per blank (ex: __ Africa _is_ _a_ continent. Question value, 3 pts). My grading guidelines were as follows: 95-75 = 5, 74-60 = 4, 60-40 = 3, 39-20 = 2, 19-0 = 1. So even with a 42% (40/95), a passing grade, at least half the students in every single class failed my exam. Many of the kids had scores in the low thirties and twenties, while there were a few very clever students (probably about 20%) who managed to get scores of 15/95 and below. I wanted to fail all of them, they earned it.
Unfortunately, the Kyrgyz Educational System does not allow failure. No, students are not punished for never taking notes in class and not paying attention, they’re just not allowed to fail. I was told by my counterpart that we are not allowed to give out more than two grades of two per quarter, and are not allowed to fail a single student for the academic year. From what I’ve heard, universities here are not better, except for the American University of Central Asia. So when marking down grades, it didn’t matter how the students did on the one and only test of the marking period, we could only fail two of them when more than half of each class deserved to fail.
Had I been given the grade book, I would have failed them. Although, the way it works here is that after failing most of my students, the principal and vice principals would probably come and told me I couldn’t do that. I’d stand firm. These kids really earned their grades. Eventually they’d give up and let me give the grades I knew the students deserved, only to go and change the grades themselves when I wasn’t around. Regardless of whether the grades I gave were accurate reflections of the students’ work, those students may not fail. They may be completely unable to think and devoid of all knowledge when they graduate, but by god they will graduate, and graduate on time.
Am I upset about this? Yes. While I was warned about this while in training, actually seeing it and being unable to do much of anything about it, is so much worse than hearing about it. I took a stand on one student in particular because during the test she had told other people answers. Then I took her test away. She continued to tell people answers even though I’d already taken away her test. I then invite her to leave the class. She declines my generous offer. In the end, I give her an offer she can’t refuse: I throw her book bag into the hallway. This is a big deal. While people here shower about once or twice a week in winter and re-wear the same clothes for a week at a time, the ground is definitely too dirty to put your bag on or to sit on. In a nut shell, it was as if I’d thrown all her school stuff in the school dumpster. She sure left class quickly after that.
Well, I guess the good news is that because it’s the end of the quarter, I get a week off next week. And after seeing first hand how grades are given out, I need the break.