Thursday, November 27, 2008

On playing the exam game

I have just returned from a rather harrowing parents' evening with my elder son. I met with two biology teachers, two physics teachers, two maths teachers and three PE/sports science teachers. We started with biology. The news was not good... and it went down hill from there!

Every single teacher told me that he talks a good talk. That, in conversation, you think you're dealing with a remarkable child, but then you see his written work and you discover he's actually not all that. His predicted grades are shocking: Cs, Ds and Es. They all complained that his homework is poorly done, if at all (one teacher claims never to have received a single piece of homework back from him - my sons swears he has given him homework into his hands on several occasions).

My son has been speaking with easy confidence and obvious enjoyment about what he's learning at school. The teachers think he runs a good bluff, and is gifted at blagging, but then, when it comes down to 'what matters' he can't deliver the goods.

At one stage, I was quite literally in tears. I wasn't sure how much more of this I could take.

But, blessing of blessings, the PE teachers were the last we saw. First up was the sports science teacher who had just given the class a tough assessment in which my son had scored a solid-but-not-stellar result. He said the magic words: "This is one very bright child who doesn't play the exam game. BUT... if he wants to get the results out of this system that will serve his purposes going forward, he is going to have to play the system."

The last two PE teachers told me that my son is scoring stellar results on their assessments. They had been worried that he would prove unable to walk the talk. Unable to reproduce in a written environment what he can do in a spoken one. It seems that, in respect of PE, he has got this sussed. Why? Because he loves the subject. Because anatomy and muscles and training and all that malarkey pushes all his buttons in the way that learning and learners do mine. So he had inadvertently figured out how to take his verbal reasoning skills and put them down in writing. We talked about how he needed to find a way to transfer that magic to his other subjects.

So on the journey back from the school I confessed to my son how much I loathe the assessment process. How misguided and misdirected I consider it. Then I launched into an analogy... as I am wont to do:

When I go to South Africa, I enter the country with Sterling in my pocket. This helps me not at all in South Africa. Even though the Pound is a far stronger currency than the Rand. Even though the British economy is (even now) in far better shape than the South African economy. If I want to buy something in South Africa, I need Rands. So I go to the forex counter and I exchange some of my Pounds for Rands. I use the Rands for as long as they serve my purpose, and then I return home to the stronger economy where I earn and spend Pounds.

This is what my son is going to do going forward. He knows that his Verbal Reasoning currency is stronger than that of Test Scores. He also knows that in the land of Education, the currency is Test Scores. So when he enters the exam room, he will exchange some of his VR currency for TS. He will think about how he would make his case if someone were to ask him the exam question in real life, and he will provide a written version of his spoken answer. He will trade in TS for as long as he needs to. He will use TS to buy what he desires and then he will return home to the land of VR where he excels.

Mercenary, yes. But until they change the system to one which ceases to disadvantage my son and others like him, these are the cards we hold. This is the currency we need. I resent it with every fibre of my being, but I will can't stand by and see his career prospects being limited because 'the system' can't see how bright he is!


Harold Jarche said...

Have you seen the website on Smart boys, bad grades?

The upsycho said...

@Harold Bless you, bless you, bless you. No, I hadn't. I had begun to doubt myself. Worse - I had begun to doubt my son. Maybe I was just one of those pushy parents who wanted to believe that her kid was smart, and refused to see reason. But there are flaws in this argument, too.

I feel another post coming on!