How to Confuse Students: Tricky Questions

Most tricky questions are the misguided product of a teacher thinking they’ve created a valid or rigorous assessment. Validity is when the assessment measures what it’s supposed to measure. This usually means that assessments show that students know what was taught. When it comes to teaching a language, teachers lacking Second Language Acquisition (SLA) training tend to select the wrong thing to be measured (e.g. grammar, cultural facts, etc.). These things usually include tricky details, which lead to tricky questions. Validity then becomes an issue when these teachers use such assessments as evidence that they successfully teach “communicatively” or “for fluency,” when they’re only assessing memory and knowledge about the language system and its speakers. Rigor then muddles things up.

Rigor is not well defined in most school systems, but people (i.e. parents, admin, evaluators, colleagues, etc.) seem confident when they BELIEVE it’s not there. As such, teachers are under pressure to create assessments that seem rigorous, but these assessments just end up being longer (i.e. obtrusive), complex, and downright sneaky. Here’s an example I lifted from a teacher’s assessment. It’s a weak example, but serves our need for the purpose of discussion:

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