When the students get a question or two wrong, they bring them to me and ask me to explain why. Sometimes I am tricked by the questions because they are worded so poorly e.g. Google translate from Turkish to English, that even I have difficulty, or they are about a topic that is so foreign to a Turkish student (I guess you'd call this test bias in America) that I can see why they would have trouble. Take, for example, the multiple choice question a student had yesterday. It was about cats. Now, I don't know a single person here in Turkey who has a pet cat. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of wild cats and I think they are allowed to roam freely because they clean the dumpsters of leftover fish and chicken and keep the restaurant floors crumb-free. But, getting back to the test question. It used a sentence structure like this.... "Cats can _____ but they can't _____." The student chose (sleep/swim) and at first reading that seemed like a logical answer. Seriously, are we ever taught that cats can swim? The only reason I know they can swim (even though they don't like it) is because we tried giving our pet cat a bath and he definitely figured out how to swim when he realized he couldn't dig his claws into the poreceline. But how is a Turkish student going to know that? And the answer they chose was letter B and it's a timed test and, actually I thought it was a pretty good answer. But, the correct answer was really D, (swim/cook) and of course that's the better answer because the only cat who can cook is Garfield and he only makes lasagna, or does Jon cook that for him?... But seriously, I wasn't helping her with English, I was helping her with test-taking skills and the fine intricacies of a cat of which I can't ever see as being really that important.
And now let me jump ahead to today. An 8th grade English teacher brought me a test booklet from a last year's 7th grade practice test and asked if I would write 5 test questions from the reading passage so he could recycle the test again this year. I said, "Sure." The 6 or 7 line reading passage was about Ghandi. In the middle of the passage there was such an abrupt transition, that I'm pretty sure the original test writer was "cutting" and "pasting" on his computer and put his cursor in the middle of the sentence and deleted a couple of key words like "South Africa", "returned", "left", etc. I, for the life of me, could not tell when Ghandi left London, where he held some of his non-violent demonstrations, and when he returned to India. So I opened Safari on my phone and read some background information. I ended up rewriting the passage and five questions and handing it back to the teacher who was enjoying some tea and resting time. I threw in a couple of the "Ghandi did all of the following except:" types of test questions to be tricky, and I added my own sense of humor in "Ghandi married at age 13 because he fell in love." The correct answer was "It was common practice at the time" as in, it's still common practice here in Malatya to become engaged at a young age and marry early. (14, 15, 16..etc. with parent's consent.) There's an entire essay on why I think I was funny with my options for answers but this is not time or place for my humor so I'll get back to the topic at hand. Testing..Aaah, I also kept the teacher's day stress free by giving him the answers to the questions.
On a positive note, I asked the 5th graders to bring in baby pictures and write using past tense (which they just started) and present tense comparing themselves from babies to now. They loved this assignment and did some of the best work I've seen all year! Their grammar would not pass a test but their meaning, intent, and communication is beautiful!