I used to teach English at a University in Mexico. During one of the classes, one of the girls brought me fresh baked cookies made from a regional recipe from her home state of Sinaloa. I think she liked me.

One day, she begged me for a 9.5 on her English exam so she wouldn’t lose her scholarship.

Her family wasn’t rich. They couldn’t afford the university fees, so it was vital to her future to keep the scholarship.

She asked me, “What can I do to get a 9.5? I’ll do anything to get the grade.”

Can you hear The Police singing “Don’t Stand So Close To Me?”

Sorry, it’s not that kind of story. It wasn’t anything like Gordon Sumner’s (Sting’s) song.

She was a lovely, salt of the earth girl who just wanted to get ahead in life to help out her family.

The problem was she was in an advanced English class but her English was almost non-existent. She could hardly string a sentence together.

How did she get in an advanced class?

Simply put, placement tests are rubbish. They grade people on grammar instead of how they can speak the language.

That’s why I did something I would never do now.

I got her to study grammar.

I had her study very specific pieces of grammar that had nothing to do with what she needed to speak more English. Instead we just focused on the grammar for the upcoming exam.

She learned things like irregular verbs. The past tense of “see” is “saw.” The past tense of “put” is “put,” not “putted.”

She learned to conjugate verbs in the pluperfect.

She didn’t know the meaning in the sentence but she knew exactly how to conjugate the verb in the required tense.

She learned only what was going to be in the exam. She filled in the gaps where the answers go and she got the 9.5 she needed to keep her scholarship.

Mission accomplished.

She still couldn’t speak a lick of English, but speaking English wasn’t the objective. Passing the exam was the objective.

What I did is called teaching to the exam.

Teachers all over the world do this. They teach to the exam, not to real life.

You can’t blame them. They are under pressure from administrators to have their students pass the standardized tests. As teachers, the system judges them on averages of the exams.

Helping kids leave school with skills for real life counts for nothing. The sterile meaningless exam average is what drives the system.

!Qué lastima! (What a shame!)

Fortunately for me I am no longer part of that broken system. I said adiós to that farce a long time ago.

All I have to do now is give people what they need and want.

I‘m not judged by a board of education. An administrative bureaucrat has no power over me.

My students don’t have to pass written tests. Instead, they speak Spanish in real everyday life situations.

All I care about are the testimonials of my happy students from all around the world who can now speak Spanish.

I am judged by the only people that I care about, my students.

So far, my grades look good.




P.S. That girl could hardly write English either, yet somehow she got a 10 out of 10 for her essay. The teacher must have “accidentally” written the wrong number down in the results column.