A country full of B's and C's

on Wednesday, 14 April 2010
A few hours ago, a teacher asked me a very intriguing question.

Adrian, how would you grade an individual in an oral test?

Of course, the teacher was referring to the SBOA or School Based Oral Assessment and her attempts to try to evaluate her students who are having zero competency in English. A fruitful discussion soon sparked between us and we shared our ideas about how we grade individuals orally. Many issues soon came up and I'll talk about all of them soon in my other blogs. In this blog, I would really prefer to open up the issue of:

What is the value of an A vis a vis a B, C, or D?

Importantly, when we say,

This student got a C in his oral assessment.

What does that really mean? How do we value the C? I mean, as far as laymen impressions go, we all know that A is the dream and it's damn good and an F means your English is probably rotting somewhere in the gutter.

What about the B's and C's?

How would you say that this student was a B and not a C? What is the empirical standard? What are the measuring instruments used to validate that a person was a B speaking person? I know this sounds a little fuzzy; trust me, if this has got me to think, I'm pretty sure you, reading my confused thoughts are riding on the same ol' truck. Here's another way to look at it: imagine each sentence below was spoken orally and you are supposed to grade their levels based on these sentences.

My teacher is very the fantastic because he is very good in his teaching.

My teacher are very fantastic because he makes very good teaching class.

My the English teacher is the best teacher because he good in teaching.

Him English teacher very good in his teaching class in my class.

My English teacher is very fantastic is because he has very good teaching method.

Now, none are of the A category. These students should not be failed either (at least I won't fail them because their messages are completely comprehensible). These are perfect examples of B's and C's.

So, which one is a B? C? Do we count the number of errors when they speak? I'm sure some of you reading almost immediately begin to correct the errors and think that the value should be based on the number of red ink on their sentences. Remember again, this is an oral test. Even if you did have the liberty to correct their every sentence individually (which by the way, in my opinion, complete bullshit if you say you can), are the syntactical rules in spoken English exactly the same as that of written English?

I'm pretty sure your answer to the last question is "Not really,"

Going back to the question:

Which one is a B? C?

Based on my discretion,  I would grade all of these answers a C accept for the 4th sentence which would get a D. This has nothing to do with intrinsic knowledge about Universal English Standards, it's plain ol' Adrian's experience in life of using English and his own damn validation of what's good and what's bad. Fair? Not fair? Let's try not to judge too soon first.. read on...

If all variables are set aside and the only things taken into consideration are the capability of a student conveying his/her message(s) and variety in utilisation of English sentences to convey more effective messages; the 4th sentence lacks that of the other sentences. I try to quantify that by saying that in the other sentences, the students try to say 2 things:

1. The teacher is good/fantastic.
2. The reason behind that claim.

The 4th question only has a claim without reasoning. This is of course believing that there are no other sentences besides the ones mentioned above. This is a typical method used by almost all teachers to give grades. Compare, contrast and then make an eventual grade based on the first grade given. If the first sentence deserved a C, the second sentence had to be more effective or proper to get a B. This completely skips the process of quantifying a B and instead just focuses on the exact quantification of a C, and revolving around that grade (better or worse). Again, judging already? Wait, I'll get more empirical about the formal standards soon enough, patience...


I'll ask another brain-wrecking question. How do you say in the beginning that the first sentence deserves a C? and in oral assessments as well?

If you take a look at the M.U.E.T. oral standards (see, told ya), they say things like:

Highly expressive, accurate and appropriate; hardly any inaccuracies.
Expressive, accurate and appropriate but with minor inaccuracies.
Generally expressive and appropriate but with occasional inaccuracies.
Fairly expressive, usually appropriate but with noticeable inaccuracies.
Lacks expressiveness and appropriacy; inaccurate use of the language resulting in frequent breakdowns in communication.
Inexpressive and inaccurate use of the language resulting in very frequent breakdowns in communication.

*Taken from the scheme of the M.U.E.T. band standards in Communicative Ability.

Note the bolded words and then ask one more time.

Which one of those words refer to the C? Which one of those words refer to a B category?

If you feel you can pinpoint out exactly how it's done, give me a holler.

I appreciate your awesome effort in trying to spark a debate.


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