Assessment is Sometimes Heartbreak

Naomi EpsteinIt’s that time of year again at the high school. The twelfth graders are about to take a series of final exams before graduating. Every year there are a few students who break my heart. But this year one student seems to stand out in particular.


We’ll call him P. Just like the other heartbreaking students before him, he “bought” the school system’s slogan “hard work = success”, worked hard, did his homework, missed very few classes and reviewed the material. Unlike those other students, he remembers vocabulary items better than most of the students in all my classes. He’s curious about words, and brings in brings in words he encounters online. Even more remarkable, he demonstrates a more extensive world knowledge than many of the other Deaf & hard-of-hearing students I teach.
This week we had another Mock Exam in preparation for the finals. Unseen reading passages are the main and most important section of our final exams. Students at his level are required to answer questions that summarize the main idea of a paragraph and demonstrate a command of vocabulary and grammar.


The topic of the unseen reading passage was changes at NASA. P. knew what NASA was — not something to take for granted in my classes. He remembered to use the highlight-marker the way we practiced. P told me proudly that he had remembered some of the words without using the dictionary.
Once again P. got the lowest grade in his class: a barely passing grade. Lower than students who, to put it politely, are not model students at all.
Despite all the ways we work on reading comprehension, he can’t seem to integrate the information in the text well. Some things (in every test) baffle him even after we discuss them in mother tongue. In the aforementioned text there was a paragraph explaining how in the past only NASA employees could work on space projects (today the situation is different, that is one of the changes presented). P. simply could not understand the answer to the question related to who used to pay the people who worked on space projects (P. was able to translate the word employee correctly into his mother tongue). We discussed it for 10 minutes afterwards and he still did not see the connection between the word “employee” and how it implied the source of the payment. I tried to give examples closer to his reality, (in mother tongue!) such as the fact that I teach him at school (I’m not his employee) vs. a private tutor who could come to his home (he is then the employer). P. still didn’t understand it. Other students did not have a problem with this question!


After every test P. looks so disappointed to see his peers get higher grades, while he barely gets a passing grade. He knows he works harder than they do. He looks at me and what can I say?!!
We just continue practicing…

Published by

Naomi Epstein

For the past twenty-five years I have specialized in teaching English as a foreign language to deaf and hard of hearing pupils in Israel. I began my career as an elementary school teacher but have taught high-school for the last 21 years. I have a B.A. in Deaf Education, a B.E.D. in EFL and an M.A. in Curriculum Development. I'm the author of two textbooks for these pupils. I am both a teacher and a teachers' counselor. As a firm believer in the quote: "Be the change you want to see in the world" (Gandhi) I have found that sharing with others, networking and reading have helped me keep my enthusiasm for teaching burning bright. I've recently discovered the joys of audiobooks - I now read books AND listen to them while doing housework! Naomi's blog: Visualizing Ideas

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.