Students taking language placement tests may fail on purpose
AT A GLANCE
From Sept. 2003 to Aug. 2012
Spanish placement tests:
1,391 students scored a 0
10,079 students score at or below 296 (the score needed to advance to the next level course)
French Placement tests:
324 students scored a 0
1,800 students scored at or below 281
German placement tests:
78 students scored a 0
507 scored at or below 328
The Language Learning Center offers placement exams in Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.
They are looking into adding exams for Arabic, Hebrew and Italian.
Academic and Spanish adviser Shawn Gralla sits in his office in Kaufman Hall, Room 115 everyday with his door open. Among the myriad of rushed hallway noises that leak into his office, he also hears students talk amongst themselves.
Occasionally, he listens in on a conversation about students purposefully failing their language placement exams.
Both Gralla and John Verbick, director of the Language Learning Center, admit students do intentionally fail, however, there’s no concrete method to find out exactly who is and who isn’t, they said.
The students purposefully fail the placement exam because they want to take an easier class, Gralla said.
“They think they want to make an easy A,” he said. “They’re looking for five hours of an A.”
From 2004 to 2011, an average of 199 students scored a zero on a language placement exam, according to the test results. By August of this year, 144 students had scored a zero on the placement test.
Verbick attributes students failing to get into an easier class to a number of things.
“Students are under a lot of pressure,” he said in an email. “Financial concerns, maintaining scholarships and overall GPA, pressure from parents — you name it.”
This pressure sometimes causes students to purposefully fail. While there is no way to definitely tell if a student has intentionally failed, sometimes there are indicators, Verbick said in an email.
“While it can’t be proven using data, any time a student is done with the exam in under 5 minutes, it’s a good bet they’ve just found a way to spend a lot of time, energy and money on a course that will be entirely too easy for them,” he said in an email.
The test results provided to The Daily did not mention how long the students took the test nor did it provide names. The documents provided the score, date and type of the test.
Most instances of intentional failure occur with students who are taking the Spanish placement exam, Gralla said. This is just because of the sheer number of students taking those tests compared to other languages.
More than 50 percent of all students enrolled in language classes study Spanish, Verbick said in an email.
As well, out of the 16,651 language placement exams taken since fall 2003, 13,380 tested into a Spanish class, according to the document.
Thus, it is probable that the largest number of students purposefully failing is testing into a Spanish class, although there isn’t any data to back that up, Verbick said in an email.
Of the students who took the Spanish placement exam 1,391 students scored a zero, which is more than 1,000 students the number of zeroes scored on the French placement exam and the German placement exams each, according to test results.
Students are required to take the language placement exams if they plan to continue in a language in which they’ve had two or more years of instruction during the last five years, according to the language placement exam guide.
When students purposefully fail the exam, they’re doing themselves a disservice and wasting their time, Gralla said.
“You’re here to challenge yourself and to move on in whatever your classes are to get better at what you’re doing,” Gralla said. “If you’re faking the level, it’s not hurting me, but it’s hurting you. Additionally, students in search of an easy A by purposefully failing don’t normally make an A in the class, Gralla said.
This is because students are bored in class, he said.
“Bored students don’t do well in class,” Gralla said. “They don’t intellectually or mentally participate and … in a language class, a big portion of the grade is participation,” Gralla said.
Thus, while the students’ skill level suggests they could make an A in the class, they end up making a B, “because they’re blowing everything off,” Gralla said.
As of right now, students aren’t required to sign a waiver stating they have taken the placement exam to the best of their ability. Students only sign a waiver to verify they have taken less than two years of a foreign language or it has been five or more years since their last course, Verbick said in an email.
While there is not a department-wide push to combat the problem of intentionally failing, in the Spanish department, students “with a noticeably high level of proficiency” are referred to the first or second year Spanish coordinator or to Gralla. These people will help students get into the best class for the level of language proficiency, Verbick said in an email.