Sevcik's Blog

A year in Cairo Egypt

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Placement Exams

This weekend we conducted a day of placement testing for all children who are interested in being St. Andrew's students. For a couple weeks I was feeling a bit overwhelmed trying to figure out how this all works and what my role in it should be, and I had to depend on staff to guide me through what needed to be done. Thankfully Mariam stepped up to spend a Saturday morning with our staff, teaching them (and me!) how to administer the tests.

When I arrived at work Saturday morning there were loads of people waiting for the exams. Here comes nervous excitement! Hadaf lined the students up according to height, starting with the smallest children. Scattered around the Guild Hall were a dozen tables covered with a series of exams and a handful of colored pencils. Each table had two chairs; one for the teacher and one for the student. Each student had to start at Pre-Beginner and if they passed at a certain level, they move don to the next placement test. So on and so forth.

It's certainly not a fail-proof system, of course. Not exactly standardized testing here, and I knew that each of us was going to administer the test differently, catered to our own understanding. The two main rules were to not give the answers, and to never speak in Arabic, which apparently has been difficult to control in the past. After going through the process, I can see why. You so want the child to do well and find ways to help them understand what is being asked.

I totally thrived on giving out these placement tests. I was so excited to be spending time directly with the children and trying to help them feel comfortable. Some of them were so very scared and shy. When I first met a prospective student I would slowly say, "My name is Sarah" while making outrageous hand and body gestures to make it obvious I am saying my name, just in case they didn't know any bit of English. Almost every child knows this phrase. The next question (before getting to the test) is, "How old are you?" I had 5 year-olds tell me they were "twenty" with some confidence. Adorable!

I met with a huge range of students that day, from children who couldn't figure out how to draw a line from a picture of one ball to a picture of another ball, to one child who soared through all five exams (this was a unique case). There was one young woman who was probably about 17 or 18 years old and has a moderate to severe mental disability. She was so frightened and kept stuttering as she was signing up for the exam. Peter asked me if I could work with her, because she knew me from the time I've spent with her family in The Arc and once at their home. He said she wouldn't feel comfortable with the other teachers. I was delighted to work with her, but also so sad when we worked through the exam and she only received 7 out of 41 on the Pre-Beginner exam. At the age of 17, I don't believe there will be a place for her at St. Andrews, and all I could do was say a prayer for her and thank God that in America we have resources for a case like this.

The exam itself is quite difficult, and I now have a greater understanding of just how bias tests are in regards to culture! These children had to know things like gingerbread man and dinosaurs and words like "robbers" and random things like weird-looking teenage guys with long hair wearing a duck inter tube, snorkels on his head, a coke in one hand and a hot dog in another, running. (I know, odd.) In one question there is a goofy picture of a personified pencil sharpener. In one exam children are asked to write the dates. One question is "Today is _________, __________, ___________." The next is "13/01/2005________________________" and the last is "Yesterday was ________________________." First of all, time is expressed very differently in different cultures so in general these questions might be strange, and secondly, I don't even know what they are asking for the student to do!

All in all, it was so fun to watch these kids try to come up with ANY English they knew to get through these exams, even if it made no sense at all. Fiona told me that in class once, Rob asked, "What is the opposite of tall?" and one student shot his hand up and yelled, "Small fish!!" Ah, so cute!


  • At 5/24/2006, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    For my English placement tests, I put in some hard questions to discern the cream of the crop. They had to correct this sentence: "All people like President Mubarak." I wanted them to put "Some people like President Mubarak," but the vast majority didn't catch that. And I even had people write "All people love President Mubarak." Oh, to be free to speak out against one's government. And I also had a guy answer "gost is invispol" for the opposite of "descend." I figured he meant "ghost is invisible," but I'm still not sure what he thought "descend" meant. Good times. -Lrw


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