I came across a tweet today from a small test prep company that was intriguing enough for me to check out its twitter profile. Unfortunately, I was greeted with this description:
helping students defeat evil college admissions monsters since 2007!
When you’re in the test prep industry you see a lot of similar hyperbole about the evils of the SAT, ACT and any other standardized test out there. I admit to engaging in some of this myself. But upon further reflection, I’m vowing to erase any sort of references to nefarious test writers who are out to trick unsuspecting students. It’s easy to guess why teens feel this way. Standardized tests are a big deal for them, and it’s often easier to blame the nasty test makers for lower than anticipated scores than it is to admit that maybe a bit more studying would have helped. What gets me about the above is that adult professionals are essentially perpetuating conspiracy theories, not to mention fostering a sense of learned helplessness when it comes to college admissions exams. Now for a little Freud-ish navel-gazing to try to understand why we pros find it so easy to hop on the test bashing bandwagon...
First, we want our students to like us! Having a good working relationship makes sessions more fun and possibly more productive/effective. It’s easy (arguably TOO easy) to find common ground by commiserating over the evils of The College Board. However, our job isn’t to be our students BFFs. Laughing about malevolent test makers does more harm than good. More on that in a moment.
Next, I suspect there’s some unconscious self-preservation happening, too. By shifting control for his/her performance to the student, and by extension, the tutor, we’re sticking our necks out a bit more than is comfortable for some. Blaming the test makers for deceptive practices shifts responsibility for lower scores onto the test itself. It’s not OUR fault the kid bombed the math; it’s those dastardly test makers!
Finally, like our above advertisement, a lot of test bashing really comes down to marketing tactics. We think that if we speak in the language of our test-hating students, they’ll be more likely to purchase our services. If we can position ourselves as the “cool” tutors who are sympathetic to the plight of high school students, we might make a few more bucks. While I’m obviously not against selling myself, I’d rather be seen as the imperturbable sort who instills confidence in both parents and students.
So enough about why we talk this way! On to why I think it’s important we stop doing it. In short, it sends the wrong message to students by taking control for their performance out of their hands. If the test is really out to get them, why do we bother with test prep at all? We wouldn’t be in this business if we didn’t believe that prep makes a difference (at least I hope not!), so why would we give our students the wrong impression? I want my students going into test day feeling confident and that they are in the driver’s seat. They’re not helpless pawns facing certain doom; they’re capable kids ready for a challenge!
So I’m pledging to stop grinning whenever a student tells me about how a question tricked him into getting it wrong. Who’s with me?
* Wanted to give a shout out to Akil Bello of Bell Curves for this great post on "trickiness" for students. Read it.