Around 100,000 tenth grade students in Germany’s most populous state of North Rhine Westphalia (NRW) took part in a statewide English test last week, according to Spiegel. High stakes were involved for the teens, because the test makes up 50 percent of their final English grade, which then determines whether they may go into a higher level curriculum.
But some of the teens found parts of the test far too difficult. In an exercise to test listening comprehension, students were played a speech by British Prince Harry, which Bergisch Gladbach native Dario Schramm said was so mumbly, that they could barely understand a single word.
Students were not the only ones who found the speech indecipherable.
“It was too difficult, it was beyond what you could have expected,” said Brigitte Balbach of the teacher association Lehrer NRW.
“[English] teachers, even native speakers, reported back that they themselves had big problems in understanding and solving the listening exercise.”
Balbach said it wasn't just the content of the speech that was hard to understand, but also the technical quality of the recording.
Another part of the test used songs from the South African singer Miriam Makeba, but Schramm said that her “African slang” was also difficult to comprehend. And when the test discussed the topic of Apartheid, Schramm said the vocabulary used had not been taught in their English lessons.
So Schramm launched an online petition last Thursday on the same day as the test to protest its difficulty and call for a retake. As of Monday afternoon, the petition had collected more than 42,000 signatures.
"We think it is important that students in all of NRW are given a central final exam that is feasible," Schramm wrote in the petition.
The group Lehrer NRW is supporting the petition, saying that test exercises that lack practical relevance should not ruin students’ final grades.
Balbach said that she was set to broach the subject at a meeting of the state teacher representation council in the capital, Düsseldorf, to find a solution.
But another local teaching association, VBE, expressed scepticism about having students retake the exam.
“It means double stress for school kids,” said VBE chair Udo Beckmann.
Instead, Beckmann suggested to first wait for the tests to be graded, and then if needed, the grades could be corrected accordingly.
“If the tests in fact turn out to be as bad as people fear, we advise that the evaluation grids be re-arranged to reflect reasonable and fair performances by the students,” Beckmann said.