Writing Tests

A lone sticky note reading “6.11-6.17 – Writing Tests” arrived on my desk one morning. This was all the notice I had. I didn’t know what grades, or what subject, or why it was starting on a Wednesday. But I knew that somehow I was involved.

Through many different people and nonchalant conversations, I learned it would take 20 minutes of my class time for students to do the writing tests. What kind of writing test was unknown. I would do 3rd grade one week and 1st and 2nd grade all of the next week.

“We’re doing them in your class” my coteachers all said, which should’ve given me a clue.

But sometimes the “conversation English class”  (my class) is seen as a joke. Both by students, parents and admin. It’s not preparing students for the college entrance exam. Thus it’s not preparing students for anything. I’ve actually had a class interrupted by coffee and snacks – the teachers needed to have a big meeting in my classroom. So in came the kettles, coffee cups and chairs.

This was one time. But when they said “we’ll be taking the test during your class” – I read between the lines: “we can’t interrupt any other class.”

On Teachers Day, one of my classes was interrupted by writing letters to homeroom teachers. But writing all in Korean. So “writing test” could have meant a Korean writing test. I really didn’t know.

A few minutes before it began, I tracked down my co-teacher. “So, uh, what should I do?” I was hoping ‘you can just lesson plan and I’ll come get you later’ would be the answer. But alas: “You can stand in the back of the room.”

Cool. I will stand in the back of the room.

I watched students begin to write in English – finally answering my question of what test I was even supervising. 4  students pushed the paper away without even trying and went to sleep on their desks. One boy, a “special child” like they like to say, looked at me, then at his paper. And then back at me. Why was he even there?

As I vigilantly watched, I began to wonder: who will be grading these? Andrew? My coteacher? A side of me wondered if I would, but it seemed far-fetched. When the midterms happened, I wasn’t included in the grading even after they had to re-grade it after complaints.

The test finally ended. My coteacher shuffled the papers into place and walked me out of the room.

“Yewon Teacher was supposed to tell you that you’ll be grading these.”

Of course I will. I thought. I wasn’t mad, I think deep down I knew it would be my job.

So in that moment I was charged with grading over 800 writing tests. I had no idea what the criterion were and in the end I had to re-read many of them after I was told what I should be reading for. As of writing this, I think I have finished grading about 650.

While grading them I ran into many problems. Students would write a perfect essay but make one or two mistakes. Thus they had to get 9/10. Which I thought was crap because a different student could make countless spelling and grammar mistakes, but as long as they stuck to the prompt and wrote 50-70 words they too would get a 9/10. So I’ve argued to my co-teachers that we need to change the criteria to allow for X number of mistakes before the student can lose a point. To my disbelief they have actually allowed this, so I have single-handedly argued for almost 50 students to get the perfect score they deserve.

Perfect scores are rare and discouraged here. Chris has been doing speaking tests this past week and when one teacher saw his 10, 10, 10, 9 etc over his shoulder they decided it was “too many” and that Chris was grading wrong. Forgive him if the students are actually doing well !?

So by my arguing to give more points, my school has shown a very logical and compassionate side that I actually wasn’t expecting.



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