Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Fake Test Key

A couple of weeks ago, I told the story of how I called a misbehaving kid's mom in class and had him tell her what he'd done. Today, the story of the fake test key.

One thing I told my kids on the first day of class was that I really liked all of them (almost true), but that I only trusted them as far as I could see them and sometimes not that far. You see, what American educational culture has done is put a focus and emphasis on the grades made as representative of the learning. Hence, an A is supposed to designate that you've mastered 93 to 100% of the material and so on down the line.

Well, what kids have figured out is that colleges don't really care about the knowledge as much as they care about the grades, so if your grade is an A, but you really only know 75% of the stuff, it's the A that matters. Hence, cheating, or slightly worse, studying only for the test and then immediately forgetting the material (much as I did in my year of French in college [sorry, Dr. Prill]).

I saw one of my jobs as a teacher to try and fight this tendency as much as possible, so I did everything I could to stop cheating. All books had to be in the bags at test and quiz time. I was not a teacher that graded papers or read the paper while the kids were testing; I watched those kids while they tested. They used cover sheets. I called the names of kids whose eyes I saw wandering (even though I knew that they, like me, might just be seeing where their neighbors were on the test compared to themselves [although I had a bit of the wandering eye for cheating in high school too]). I even tried to make my tests as nonobjective as possible. In other words, not multiple choice, matching, or the like. Most of mine were essay or short answer. However, I did have to do those multiple choice questions sometimes and here's where the story starts.

I knew I had some people in a class that would cheat at most opportunities. So, one day I devised a scheme. We had a multiple choice test on a certain topic and before the class came in, I made out my key as usual. And then I hit on the idea. So I made a fake key. Now, making a fake key is not easy. You can't miss the obvious questions, unless the kids are simply looking at the answers. So I probably missed 12 out of the 20 questions on the test. I then set it beside my desk and carefully stepped on it. I wanted it to look like it had dropped off my desk and I had stepped on it on my way out without noticing it.

When I came time for class to start, I was deliberately a couple of minutes late, and as I came up to the door, I heard, "There he is!" "Hurry" and I knew it had worked.

Well, the kids worked through the test and since all of them were there that day, we checked it in class. As I started giving the answers, I could see confusion on the faces of some of the kids. The answers weren't coming out like they thought they were. At the end, I told the kids what I had done and while they were initially a bit upset, when I explained that the point of the exercise was to show them the importance of studying and that if they had studied, they would have recognized those answers were wrong, I think they understood.

Next time: how I invented a nonexistent plot line in a test about a novel.


scott said...

That is so stinking cool.

Kat Coble said...

I had a lit teacher who would throw test questions in about non-plot minutae to make sure you read the material thoroughly. To my mind it backfired though. No one was as interested in finding out the main plots and themes of the novels as they were in memorising stupid details. "Oooh. They're eating dinner. What food are they eating? It'll come up on the test."

This has always irritated me.

Malia said...


Phil said...

Yeah, Kat. That annoyed me too. That's why I only asked about things that were important, whether the kids thought they were or not.

greg said...

good one. I wonder if anyone would have said anything about it (or turned in the cheaters) if you'd given them more time before letting them in on it?

Purgatory Penman said...

There are as many philosophies for testing as there are teachers. Let's go back to the Socratic method. Will you lead us back there?

Kat Coble said...

Yeah, Kat. That annoyed me too. That's why I only asked about things that were important, whether the kids thought they were or not.

I'm sorry. I should have made it clear....

I wasn't saying you were doing the same thing. It's just that your story put me in mind of that story.

After all, none of us in the lit class were cheating.

I guess it all falls in the "clever teacher testing methods" category in my brain.

Tony Arnold said...

Great story Phil. The only thing that troubles me a little is the assumption of mistrust.

And technically from a legal standpoint, this was entrampment. :-)


Phil said...

Well, Tony, here's the thing. I only assumed dishonesty because I knew at that point how kids thought and what lengths several of them would go to for grades.

Was it unfair to assume that on all kids? Yes. But in assuming it, I ultimately protected the kids who didn't cheat. Would that work in the "real world" if police did it? No.

But as I informed my kids, my class was not a democracy; it was a benevolent dictatorship.

Jonathan said...

This reminded me of my 10th (?) grade government/civics class where we had a student teacher for a few months. His name was Ed Gressick. The last test he gave us had a matching section, and the letters spelled "EDGRESSICKLOVESYOU".

I'm also reminded of a friend of mine who grew up in Franklin. He realized that the TV in his classroom was the same model as his family's TV at home. He would bring in the remote and very slowly increase the volume while the class was watching a video. Eventually the TV would be blaring, and the teacher would turn it back down to a reasonable level. Then my friend would start slowly turning it up again...

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