Grading Part I: Speaking Tests 2.0

It was that time of year again.


I wrapped up this joyous occasion with my first grade students just a few weeks ago. I’d been dreading this monstrous task since March, the start of the 2016 school year. While class rules and rubrics were being created, I successfully wheedled my way out of second grade speaking tests, but my school won the fight for first grade.

Some changes were definitely in order. Instead of feeling pressured into making sure each of my lessons translated into a perfect speaking test topic, I reduced the number of topics tested from 10 (last year) to 3. Concerns about cheating arose in a conversation with my first grade co-teacher, so I ended up creating three different topics for each day of the week – on days when I had multiple first grade classes they were always scheduled back-to-back, so cheating wasn’t likely to occur. Given that I recycled a few questions and built off of general concepts from my class instead of specific topics, it was still considerably easier to come up with a list of questions. I was also excited about the idea of giving each class different topics in part because I didn’t want to be stuck listening to variations of the same speech 200 times. Although they randomly drew their topics, every class somehow seems to weasel their way into choosing the easier topic the most frequently. Hmm. Coteacher leniency behind my back? I allowed them to change topics if they really felt they couldn’t do well with the topic they chose, but this resulted in an automatic grade penalty.

However, the biggest and wisest adjustment I made was not requiring students to speak for the full two minutes. Yes, that made for some super brief speeches, but since last semester, time was the biggest problem – my largest classes always ran over into passing periods and sometimes into the next class period – I knew I had to do something about this. And what a wonderful decision it was.

My smallest classes finished with a little time to spare, enough for me to address the class, give encouragement and finish up the grades – saving me a lot of time.

In my largest classes we started 5 minutes earlier and usually the bell rang with only 2-3 students remaining – not bad. I never went all the way through a passing period like last year. This year, I also had a lot of first grade classes in pairs – back-to-back class periods – so limiting their time was a wise choice.

I still fell into the usual bias of grading more harshly in the first class and easing up later on. This time I also required them to use specific phrases and vocabulary from class at least 3 times, and not doing so would cost a student 30 percent of her grade. This really hit some students hard. But listening to all the other students who incorporated multiple phrases into their speeches and some who emphasized them to make sure I heard – thank you students, this was more helpful than you realize – I know the requirements I gave weren’t too difficult. It wasn’t exclusively lower level students who forgot to include the required phrases or vocabulary.

As of now I’m done with speaking tests, after catching the few stragglers who were absent on the day of their test. Fortunately, I also wasn’t forced to test the special needs students who are technically enrolled in my classes but on most days don’t show up – they have their own activities and programs and so they’re often pulled out of regular classes. Thank goodness I don’t have to go through that grading farce, painful for all sides.


If I were to do speaking tests again, I wouldn’t dread it as much as before, and I feel much more equipped to evaluate students’ speaking in a productive way.


But as I would soon discover, grading still sucks.


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