An Unfortunate Situation

1. Apr 1, 2005

Dynamis

Okay, so today I had a physics test. I studied pretty well for it and was certain things would go well. I even took the initiative to go after to school the day before to get some extra help in understanding certain concepts.

Anyway, it's time to take the test and we begin. Our teacher tells us the test will be for the whole 70 minute period but we start like 7 minutes after the bell has already rung. So when we begin the test, I'm feeling pretty good because I think that I will do well. First I finish the multiple choice, which are pretty confusing because the answers are pretty much similar all throughout. Next comes the questions where we have to write down our calculations and show the work, etc.

Now these calculations questions are pretty tough in the sense that you have to really know your stuff and be quick since the test will most likely be a rush to the finish due to the lengthy nature of the questions chosen. When I first begin the calculation part of the test, I decide to do all the questions which I'm sure I'll get full marks on. As I'm running through the questions, I decide to do a few here and there, which I manage to figure pretty quickly. Here's the problem, when I come to one question, finding the tension and forces in a conical pendulum, I think to myself..."ah easy, this will be a breeze". When I begin the question, I look at it and realize that I CAN'T FIGURE IT OUT! I swear to myself that this is such an easy question but then I also think that I may be over looking something since there seems to be less information than usual. So in the end, I spend 15 minutes doing this question because it is worth quite a bit of marks. I should have moved on but I hate having spent so much time on a question only to have to move on to another question, wasting my test time and marks.

So, as I finish the question, I get that feeling that it seems awfully wrong. A bit more than halfway into the test, I find out my initial feelings were right as my teacher tells us that after reviewing the question due to other kids asking him what to do on it, he forgot to mention the radius to us in the conical pendulum question. At that moment, I let out a shriek and kind of murmur, "crap, I just spent 15 minutes on that question", gathering a few chuckles from my friends sitting around. So, I fix the question adding the radius to my given variables and finish the question in less than 5 minutes. In the end, this question has taken about 20 minutes from my time, including the time it took for erasing and fixing up etc. When the period is almost over, I realize that I have like hardly anytime left and have to rush through a few questions. I eventually do get through most of my questions but end up leaving 2 blank which I know I could have gotten to, had our teacher mentioned his error at the beginning of class and not so far in.

Eventually, crunch time comes and as he sees that no one has finished the test, so our teacher gives us 10 minutes more (which I only equate to being 3 minutes because of the late start). The test itself was a little too much for us I think too seeing that not one person was able to finish early, including the strong people in the class. The guy with the best mark in the class, sitting across from me, was frantically trying to finish his test as well. I was a little surprised at myself too, since I'm getting the second highest average in the class and yet found myself lagging behind.

So the time is up and our teacher comes around collecting the test papers. I plead to him my case that I should get a little more extra time for having been given the wrong information on the question, with HIM FORGETTING to add the radius. He says no and I say it isn't fair because I spent so much time on the question which had an error in it and wasn't able to finish the test, (mind you, this discussion happened in the span of like 10 seconds). He then all of a sudden goes pretty ballistic and says "You want to argue? You want to argue? You're getting a zero! You can keep your test now". At this point I'm pretty speechless because this has never happened in my life. He leaves the room, only coming back to say "You're getting a zero on that test, you know that right?" like 2 more times in front of everyone in the room (which was a lot because our physics room is a science help room with kids always coming in at this time because we wrote the test during the end of the day) because he sees me continuing to write. In response to his chants, I say, "fine, I'll go to the principle" almost out of defense because of the injustice I feel atm.

So at this point, I give myself the small amount of extra time needed because of his decision to give me a zero, since I figure I may as well just finish the question and give it to my chemistry teacher coming in the door in hopes of the physics teacher changing his mind. I even leave a 1 question blank because I rationalize that I just can't finish both questions I missed, even though it meant losing marks on something I would have gotten provided the right time... Thinking back though, the question I decided to give myself time on, I probably got wrong because at that point I was just so frustrated and angry/sad that he was basically giving me a zero.

By the middle of April, our marks for grade 12 go in and since I have physics in second semester, they see my full 1st semester marks but the half of my second semester marks because they decide around April-May on whether they want us or not. With this unit test being the only one we've done, my mark wiil be drastically low...The good news is, I've already been accepted by universities due to early acceptances based on previous marks. The bad news is, I need a scholarship for money (I'm not financially secure because my mom has cancer and dad lost his job for a while), but with this blemishing physics mark I won't get too much.

I've spoken to my guidance counsellor already, who told me I was in the right because it was the teacher's fault for not fixing the mistake and that he never had to be so drastic regardless. What I want to know is; do you guys think my physics teacher was justified in his actions?

BTW, sorry for the long post.

2. Apr 1, 2005

Danger

I think he should be shot and pissed on, but that's probably just because I had more than a couple of teachers like that myself. That's why I never finished high school. I had the same teacher give me zero on major things 2 years in a row (she taught 2 grades) because she was a raving Jesus freak and my reports were on science. :grumpy:

3. Apr 1, 2005

Grizzlycomet

Damn, I hate teachers like that He can't be allowed to give you a zero just like that though, can he? Can't you complain to someone above his head and try to get things fixed up?

4. Apr 1, 2005

Moonbear

Staff Emeritus
That's entirely unreasonable. Whether or not he softened up to give you a little extra time (admittedly, you recognized it was partially your fault for spending too much time on a problem you were having difficulty with when you could have moved on to another question and returned to that problematic one later...that's a test-taking skill to work on), he still was wrong to refuse to take your exam and to give you a zero just because you questioned his error. I've had students beg for time that I wasn't inclined to give them, but I didn't leave them with their test and a zero, instead it was more like trying to rip the test from their hands so I could get it and leave.

Did you talk to the principal about it yet? I think this is a situation where you AND at least one of your parents should meet with the principal. They might still be able to get your teacher to give you a make-up test or to make up the points in some other way.

5. Apr 1, 2005

Soilwork

Mate there is no way you have to put up with that.
It's the rest of your life so I mean he can't stuff you around like that.
Over here in WA if something like this happens you don't go to the principal, but you go the the curriculum council (they process your final year marks).
So you can try your principal first, but if he/she takes the side of the teacher with out really hearing your case then you should go even higher.
It's probably good to maybe explain your situation (the fact that you need a scholarship) to some of your classmates and get them to tell the principal what happened.
I just can't believe that it took him so long to realise that he hadn't given you the information you needed to do the question.
If this doesn't work then hire some guy called "Dazza the Bonecrusher" to pay you teacher and principal a visit ;)

6. Apr 1, 2005

Monique

Staff Emeritus
If after a reasonable discussion you still continued to answer the question without his consent, yes you would have been wrong since other kids were not given the time to continue either. Ofcourse the teacher had no right to go off, if you showed the right attitude.

You should be given the opportunity to take the test again, since you can't possibly keep a zero-grade.

7. Apr 1, 2005

Staff: Mentor

The teacher acted inappropriately. Talk to your principal as Moonbear suggested.

You might try to find out under what circumstances a teacher can 'arbitrarily' give a zero on a test.

8. Apr 1, 2005

Dynamis

Thanks for the advice-filled replies guys :)

The way I see the situation is that if you're a teacher and if you're going to give your students a test, then the questions on that test should be revised over and accurate. I think I was justified in asking for more time because I feel as though it was due to his error which cost me valuable time, time in which I could have completed the other questions with. I understand that we could have discussed the issue and had we, I think things would have been resolved but he just lashed out on me (from what I and others I spoke with saw). The thing about this teacher is, he doesn't just pick a random # of questions as test questions and figures to himself, "this should be fine for them". He goes through this whole elaborate scheme so that the amount of time we get is EXACTLY the amount of time required (and this time does not factor in any extra time for checking over or making mistakes and then having to fix them). This time is the time it would take to do the test perfectly, just running smoothly through the whole thing, no mistakes or anything. Its almost like the time a person would be able to use if everything was ideal, but this situation wasn't ideal....that's where I have the problem. I also personally believe his judgement for time to be a tad bit irrational since we get half the time to do quizzes than the other physics class who have easier questions, some of which are freebies... In other courses like calculus, our teacher gives us questions and then adds on more time to what she thinks would be the time required because her philosophy is that in math, kids, despite knowing their stuff are bound to make a few careless errors.

About the test taking skill of moving on when you're stuck, I recognize that that's the appropriate step to take in such a situation but I think this situation should be an ideal one where the question has all the correct given information. Had this question been completely fine and had I not finished the test because of being stuck on a question or w/e, I would have handed it in regardless, no questions asked. This has happened before too, where I missed a two mark question on a quiz because I never had enough time to get to it. The difference in that situation was that I stopped writing when the time was up because I acknowledged that it was 100% my fault for not finishing.

About approaching a higher authority on the issue, I don't know if that's a good move. My guidance counsellor said to first talk to the teacher, then the dean of science at the school (who I happen to be pretty tight with :) ) and then to go to the principle if nothing happens. The only problem with going to a higher authority is that I KNOW my teacher holds grudges. If I go to the principle, say for example, he'll probably become extremely biased towards me in terms of marking fairly. We have a major assignment due next week about Einstein's theory of relativity and it's basically a written report so I know he'll subconsciencely take off marks where any other student would probably be given the mark out of the benifit of doubt. So I reckon I'll just write him a letter and deal with him for now.

9. Apr 1, 2005

Monique

Staff Emeritus
Ask to take the test again, stay away from putting salt in wounds. But do speak up when you feel you're treated unfairly

10. Apr 1, 2005

Moonbear

Staff Emeritus
Based on those two pieces of information, it sounds like your teacher may write tests with the intention that only an extraordinary student will be able to complete it. In that case, not completing all the questions may be anticipated for most students. That's the way tests work, you have a certain amount of time to complete a certain amount of work. Developing a strategy to minimize damage is part of it. One could also argue that if you really knew the subject very well, you'd have recognized there was missing information and asked sooner if that was true, before spending a lot of time on the question. Sometimes exams just get typed wrong and information is missing. If nobody says anything, the teacher won't notice until too late. In that case, sometimes the best they can do is just not count that question.

So, I don't agree you were right to demand more time. You have no idea how many others were also stuck on that question for a long time, and the teacher did give the entire class a little extra time. It's really unreasonable not to expect to require a few minutes at the beginning of class for instructions and to hand out the exams, so that's not a very good argument either. Nobody just walks in, has the exam papers magically appear on all your desks and just leaves you to begin with no instructions. The next class needing your classroom was probably waiting outside already, and you can't hold up the next class as well. The entire class got the same amount of time, and that's fair. Using the time in the most appropriate way is up to you. Spending 20 min on one problem, unless it's worth 50% of the test grade, is not good planning. You also should not have continued to work on the exam after he told you you were getting a zero. That was dishonest.

However, simply giving you a zero for requesting more time is inappropriate as well. The appropriate response would have been to tell you to stop, hand in your exam, and tell you to discuss the matter later, after school or someplace else so you're not holding up the next class.

No, it's better to talk face to face. If you are afraid he'll hold a grudge and not grade fairly on other assignments over personal issues, when you meet with the dean of science or principal, tell them that at the same time.

Also, don't decide to change your story to make it sound better. Admit you worked on an additional question after you were told he would not accept the exam and you were getting a zero anyway. While it was wrong to think you should get points on that question, being honest about it, and admitting you would accept zero points on that question will show you are not asking for more than you deserve. So, I would say, basically, if you get to take a make-up test of some sort, the point value of those two missed questions on the first should be deducted to ensure you are given a grade that is fair to the rest of the class.

11. Apr 1, 2005

Danger

The best solution that comes me (and keep in mind that I've never been in an academic environment), out of fairness to all, is to scratch the whole thing and have the entire class take another test with completely new questions that have been checked by another faculty member beforehand.

If not, then fall back on the natural litiganous nature of Yanks. If that incident screws you out of a scholarship, sue the bastard for damages and make him pay for your education. You have plenty of witnesses.

12. Apr 1, 2005

Dynamis

I have to disagree with you on this one. I think teachers should make tests challenging to their students, but not so that only an extraordinary student will be able to complete it. I think the contents in the test should be what it taught to us and reviewed. Some of these questions, we hadn't even seen before...

Two students did and only after he admitted to having worked through the question, realized that there was a problem. Why couldn't he have revised the test before to ensure we weren't mislead?

I did not really demand more time, I asked for more time. Yes, I agree, it was not fair to the rest of the class that I got more time though but if they were in the same situation, they should have addressed the situation like I did.

These weren't a few minutes though. I live in Toronto, so I don't know how it works elsewhere in other schools, but with ours, we have 4 periods. Each period is for each of the 4 classes we have per semester. Now between these periods, (our lunch happens at third period where we take a break and come back) we have 5 minute breaks to go from class to class. So when our physics class started, the 5 minutes had already gone by...he could have handed out the tests then. After the second bell rung, indicating the end of the 5-minute-get-to-class time, everyone was already seated, but he had the tests out on his desk but kept going into the science workroom for some reason, I'm not sure about. So basically he spent 5 minutes doing that. For the next few minutes, he was doing something on his computer, I don't know what but after 7-8 minutes after the second bell rang, he gave out the tests. There are only 20 students in our class and we sit in rows, so he passed the test papers down, which we got within a minute. There were no instructions either, so there was no time accounted for that.

This was the last period of the day, so school was over when the period finished and no one had any classes to go to.

Yeah, once again, it may be different depending on your location, but here in Toronto, and Ontario for that matter, tests are not given a whole total sum. The test is divided into 4 categories. So there are like a certain number of questions for each category. With this question, it was worth a lot for the category, like around 30 percent if I remember correctly, so I felt quilty approaching it and not finishing it up because it was worth quite a bit. The category it was in, "application" is also the bigger category amoung the rest, so it outweighed most of the questions given.

At this point, I was angry and frustrated. I think many people would have done the same and continued to finish the question they were working on if told they were getting a zero regardless. Looking back on it, I should have not bothered writing anymore but when I was folding my paper to give to him when he walked away, saying I could keep it, while getting some other students papers. So at this point, I told myself, "what's the point...may as well finish what I'm working on". I don't know if its dishonesty, it's not like I'm lying to people not mentioning the fact that I continued to write, I told my guidance counsellors that I did finish that question even after he gave me a zero...I dunno though...

To Monique:
I don't think he'll let me take the test again, and I don't expect to either because now I know what was on the previous one, so I have some clue as to what will be on it. And ya, I do tend to speak up when I think something is unfair, I just never expected this :).

Edit: LOL Danger. I don't think the class should have to go through the trouble of having to redo that major unit test, but I think he can make the mark out of something lower altogether...I dunno. Lol, I like the idea about sueing him but I would need a Robert Blake jury to get him to pay for my university tuition, lol :rofl: Things were good between us though, I was never late, always attended class, wore proper uniform (yes..catholic school ...he never once had to get on my case for anything but I guess we were having a bad day.

Last edited: Apr 1, 2005
13. Apr 1, 2005

Danger

You could have mentioned that in the first place; I thought you were in the States somewhere. Geez, man, that's utterly typical of the Ontario school system. That crap I was referring to in my school days was in Essex County. I fought for 13 years to get out of that hell-hole, and I've never looked back. :yuck:

14. Apr 1, 2005

Moonbear

Staff Emeritus
Welcome to the real world. This is a somewhat old-fashioned style of test writing, and a lot of teachers have dropped it out of frustration that they never see those quality of students anymore, but there's nothing inherently wrong with it. Every teacher writes tests in accordance with the way they wish to evaluate their class. If you give a test everyone can finish and answer, how do you separate out the best students from the good students? You do that by including material that requires thinking about what was presented in class in a way that wasn't spoon fed to the students in lecture. It doesn't mean that in the end, you don't give anyone A's (or whatever your grading system is in Canada), but it means you might have found one student worthy of an A+ (in the US, that is an outstanding mark, which should be reserved for the exceptionally extraordinary student, although with grade-inflation, is given out far too liberally anymore).

It really sounds like your teacher is very old-school. Had there not been a problem with the exam, I wouldn't be sympathetic at all. I understand that you feel you were short-changed, and I think it was okay to speak up about it, and unreasonable for him to not accept your exam at all, although, when I was still in school, that was NOT considered unreasonable. When the teacher came around to collect the exam, it was now or never, no arguing, no wait a minute while I finish this last question, NOW; of course, you can probably tell I think that's one of those old-school rules that needed to be softened, as a student who has a legitimate question about the adequacy of time should be allowed to express that concern. Afterall, even if he didn't give more time, he could have decided to take it into account and start from a lower total number of points (perhaps whatever the best student was able to complete in the time alotted) to adjust grades up to what was possible in the time missed, or he could have opted to just not count the bad question (which still wouldn't have helped you, but you could have discussed that at a later time).

It sounds like this teacher is trying to prepare you for college level coursework. In a few years, you may look back and thank him for being tough on you and preparing you for what's up ahead.

Edit: I just caught that you're in Catholic school. Forget it. You're pretty S.O.L. They make their own rules and are big on the whole authoritarian, don't talk back, don't question, don't make a single misstep thing. They'll probably give your teacher a teaching award for his actions. That's why my parents refused to send me to Catholic school. They had both been through Catholic school and despite being very straight-laced people, even they thought it was too authoritarian (of course they were in school at a time when speaking out of turn meant the teacher erased the chalk board with your head or cracked your knuckles with a ruler; thankfully that part has improved.)

Last edited: Apr 1, 2005
15. Apr 1, 2005

Type 7

You have followed the correct course of action so far. Now talk to your parents about it. Then, as Moonbear advised, your next step should be talking to this teacher face-to-face. It might be that he was having a bad day for reasons totally unrelated to you or the test, or possibly he was embarrassed by his mistake. Whatever the case, tomorrow is another day and his attitude might be more amenable to a calm, well-reasoned discussion in which you explain to him your scholarship concerns.

He's already going to be on the defensive, so don't push it. Bringing the principal into it at this point will force your teacher to defend himself, rather than giving him the space to reach some agreement with you. No need to make an enemy of him if you can avoid it.

I suggest that you document everything that has been said and done by your teacher, your counselor, yourself, and any other school official to whom you have spoken. This includes any more conversations that you may have with them. Find out for certain when your marks will be reported and follow up on all this before that time, regardless of whatever agreement you reach with your teacher. He might or might not keep his word to you.

You may as well know right now that you will be encountering injustice of this sort throughout your lifetime, and the best way to deal with it is to follow the only approach that the Powers That Be respect: intelligent reasoning presented in a courteous and professional manner. You seem to have those qualities.

You will also discover that some battles are not worth fighting. Sometimes the wisest course of action is to do nothing.

Talk it over with your parents tonight. Let us know what the eventual outcome is. We are pulling for you! Good Luck!

16. Apr 1, 2005

Dynamis

Yeah, I wouldn't have minded if the test never had that error in it and if I had not finished due to my misuse of time, but the question which was inaccurate should have been addressed and I don't think I deserved to be given a zero right on the spot. My A will probably fall to a D now so great

Yeah, I'm a Catholic so I kind of have no choice. I have never been through the public school system, even though I wanted to go through one, so I don't know how things are there. But yeah, basically with him, he is pretty strict...

17. Apr 1, 2005

Dynamis

Thanks for the advice Type7, I really appreciate it. And don't worry, I'll keep you guys updated! Hopefully things will work out.

Edit: I'm going post-happy here, but thanks to everyone for contributing to this thread as well.

Last edited: Apr 1, 2005
18. Apr 1, 2005

BobG

This sounds so much like the discussions I've heard on referee forums (and like a few referee-player-coach-parent discussions I've heard on the field - where the argument winds up being about the argument with initial issue never even discussed).

Just sticking to some basics, though, I wonder how many teachers have actually learned how to construct tests, and how to use test results to evaluate both the ability of the students and the teacher.

Generally, a test should allow time for a competent student to finish, plus a little extra. While the types of problems a student has to solve on a test are probably pretty well set by the course objectives, the definition of 'competent' and its relation to time tend to be a little bit subjective. It's probably best to just measure how long it takes your average students to finish the test and use that as the baseline (not easy to do if you're using a new test each time around - if you want a new test each time, you pretty much have to settle for a set of skeleton problems where you insert new numbers each time around).

Ideally, the teacher analyzes the test results afterward. For example, if all the 'A' students miss a question while the 'D' students are all getting it right, you might have a problem with the question. Obviously, if none of the students can solve a question, it might not be a very good question (or may not have included all necessary data).

In this case, the teacher screwed himself by setting very aggressive time lines. If all students skip this question or if there's enough time that this question doesn't steal essential time from all the others, he'll be okay - he can toss it out. If it's so heavily weighted that no one can skip it, one bad question has trashed the effectiveness of his test.

On the flip side, how could the students who knew how to solve this problem not realize there was missing data? Hopefully, he doesn't routinely place a couple of 'curveballs' on the test - in other words, he shouldn't be putting questions on the test where the student has to create a new technique (unless you're talking about Junior/Senior level college classes or above - you're testing above "Comprehension"/"Application" level; getting into "Analysis" and "Synthesis" levels of learning). There's nothing inherently wrong with the required technique not being exactly by the book as long as the student has encountered the same type of situation in homework using a similar thought process. In other words, the work on the test had better not be very different from what the student has been doing in class/homework. Of course, what constitutes 'very different' or 'similar' can be pretty subjective. (There's nothing wrong in putting a few of these type problems in homework, even if the teacher has no intention of putting the 'tough' questions on the test.)

And, of course, ideally the teacher can endure the 'standard' measures for competency. There's a few that wander off in one direction or another, either wanting all of their students to get 'A's because everybody feels good that way, or setting standards much higher than those other 'merely average' teachers. A few forget the tests are just a measuring stick - the important thing is how much creativity and effort went into building the knowledge, not in how much creativity and effort went into building the ruler you measured the knowledge with.

19. Apr 1, 2005

franznietzsche

My family was catholic and i went to public school. I really don't get how you have no choice. Unless the public schools where you are are abysmally worse than the private ones, like inner city schools. But out in suburbia there isn't much difference.

20. Apr 1, 2005

Dynamis

Good post BobG. I pretty much agree completely with you. The only thing I don't quite understand is this:
This seems to be the common theme here; if you know what you're doing, why didn't you realize there was missing information. I, however, don't agree with that statement whatsoever. How is it my duty to read a question and decifer if the correct information is given. On a unit test where I know it will be a run for my money considering the duration of the test and time given, all I have on my mind is, "try to solve this question as quick as possible". If something isn't working out because the teacher has made an error, this issue should be addressed at the beginning of the test. I shouldn't have to sit there checking for mistakes because there is an expectation of the teacher that they give the correct information. If the information is not correct, tell the students at the beginning of class before they begin the test, not more than halfway in.

Physics, especially dynamics, is such a broad field with many equations in it as well. The whole unit covered 150 pages of physics! There were so many equations to know and use. When I came across the error, I was expecting to see the radius given because that was the only way in which u could get the angle to help solve one variable in which you would use to get the next. However, as I've said so many times, the r was nowhere to be found. Now at this point, you can look at the situation in three ways: Either 1) you're not looking at it properly, 2) you have no clue what you're doing, or 3) the teacher, the one who should know what the hell he is doing because he happens to be teaching this subject day in, day out, has made a mistake.
To me, number three never crosses me. Why? Because 2 damn kids already asked him about the same question and he didn't bring it up with the class; all I saw motion to them was, his hands in the formation of an angle with one moving weirdly....possibly trying to immitate the mass being swung around. So I figure, perhaps this is another one of his damn curve ball questions which we've never seen before but in which we have to use different equations to sub into each other . I proceed to do so, frantically trying out my methods. I get an answer and pretty well know its messed up...a little bit after I finish that question, I hear "guys, if you look at number 6, I tried to work it out and realize I forgot to tell you what r equals (o.5 m btw ). At this point I let out my shriek and figure to myself he'll probably give me extra time in the end and not to worry about it, I still have to finish the rest of this god forsaken test.

No I don't know how people can say to me, you should have known r was missing. How so? For centripetal acceleration, we wrote down 2 pages of how to derive the damn formula and why you get to it. Why does r have to be missing? Maybe you have to derive this too from the bazillion of equations already floating in your head.

As for mistake in the test, why should I have noticed there to be an error in the question when it slipped past the PHYSICS teacher himself. And it wasn't like I never knew what to do, after I got r, it all made sense. We students put faith in our teachers that they will give us the correct information. Its just like going to the doctor. For all you know, the medication they give you can be rat poison but you have that faith in them, assuming they know what they're doing and that they will cure you of you're illness. When you walk across on the street when the light turns green, you assume and put faith in the drivers that they won't run a red light. It's the same situation here, when I take a test, I put faith and assume the teacher is giving us the correct information. In this case, he didn't, fine, but what he did was unecessary and there should have at least been a compromise.

As for being in a Catholic school, I don't have a choice because my parents won't let me go to a public school. Public schools are corrupted according to them...