My Unfailing Optimism was Severely Shaken!

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

When I thought things could not get worse, but only better; I have been confronted with harsh reality… The crushing news came in Wednesday and I have to admit I reacted physically by literally throwing up! My first reflex was to jump on that computer of mine and write a post… Then, I thought it would be wiser to calm down first because I would probably (well… certainly) have used a language that does not suit my classy and sophisticated personality. Actually I was ready to go on the rampage and attack almost any living soul on earth (that bad!)!…

Yesterday, although I felt a little less vindicative, I chose to postpone my writing and I took Dave to the movies instead of having our regular class: I truly believe in the therapeutic virtues of pedagogical activities when frustration level reaches a critical point. Although I could feel he was upset with the news as well, I thought he was displaying stoicism under the circumstances: something I cannot do myself… you see, I am French… therefore I have character and I have been cursed at birth with a latin temperament (or should I rather say “temper”???). Anyways, watching “Astérix aux Jeux Olympiques” had an immediate soothing effect on both of us… We crowned the afternoon with a beer and some nachos on a patio, on the Québec side of the Ottawa River. That was the perfect setting to discuss calmly about the next step to take following the negative response from the PPC (Personnel Psychology Centre).

I doubt the lady who wrote that response will ever come across my blog, but I would suggest her to adopt another tone when addressing people’s requests or comments. Although a psychologist, she totally lacks interpersonal skills! Without mentioning writing skills… because the explanation she gave to justify the Commission’s decision not to review Dave’s results (in spite of their own wrong doing) is not clear at all… I suspect it is on purpose: more confused the explanations are, chances are the reader will feel inadequate regarding the technical aspects of this field of expertise and, consequently, will drop the case. Too bad for her, but Dave will only bring the issue one step further on a higher level of the hierarchy (that alone should annoy her enough! A little taste of her own medicine will be more than a beneficial lesson for her…)…

In that maze of lies and hiding games, I must say though there is at least one sensible individual among the PPC staff who attempted to attenuate the impact of such a decision on Dave’s spirits… of course, probably being one of the last in the PPC food chain and one of the last survivors of a dying out species (i.e. reasonable, fair, understanding, humane), she does not have the power to overturn the decision that was made… but she took the time to write him an email inviting him to call her if he ever wished to discuss the issue further. What struck me was that she did not cc that memo to any of her supervisors… rather unusual in the Public Service of Canada!

Without getting into details right now (at this point I do not have all the info I need to confront the Commission and, then, prove them wrong), the current debate (which is of a very intellectual and statistical nature) is around standard scores vs raw scores. Apparently, the cut-off scores of the 80 question version of the written test were standard scores, but the cut-off scores of the new 65 question version of the same test are raw scores. To make a long story short, this is the reason why the PPC refuses to convert Dave’s results into percentage. “It would not be appropriate or meaningful”… to quote the nice lady! Pardon me? What are we talking about here? Between October 1, 2007 and June 2, 2008 people’s marks would not have been their raw scores?

I have been contacting people who have taken the 80 question version written test while it was in effect… none of them ever received the usual form officially issued after having taken either reading or written tests showing their marks and the cut-off scores for each level (all of them in raw scores). Only one of my contacts did not get back to me and I suspect his answer will be exactly the same: no official documents to prove anything! Unless he got one in October… he was one of the first candidates to take the 80 question version (he failed so he had to take the test again in February)… before the standard scores came into effect… Because I think the shift occurred some time after the new test was implemented (after the Commission realized the failure rate was dramatic!)…

Right now, it is where we stand… in the middle of something that is even more complicated than anticipated… furthermore, the monumental flop of the written test reform would have been shadowed and covered up (I have a document claiming that the 80 question test was a valid and reliable measurement tool… and most tested people achieved their levels… why to convert their raw scores into standard scores then? And why to come up with a new 65 question version?)… Questions, questions, questions… and so far, no answers! I do believe it is time for the Commission to account for its flaws and wrong doings and to be transparent… It is the least past, present and future tested civil servants deserve…

This blog moved here, if you ever are interested in reading more on those issues…

Imagine the Consequences… If Only THEY Knew!

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

Finally, Jenn and I managed to get together for that “celebration” drink yesterday… I really enjoyed our time together although it was pure madness in the weather department! Sunny wall-to-wall, then five minutes later, pouring rain! Indeed we cannot really plan an entire evening on a patio this summer without occasional tropical rain… Oh well… we are Canadians and we are tough, aren’t we?

We ended up at Heart and Crown, a popular Irish Pub in the Byward Market… I really enjoy going out with my students: I teach them French and about my culture, in return I learn alot from them… For instance, yesterday, Jenn told me she would “teach” me a little bit more about Irish traditions and customs. Then she showed me the symbol on our place mats and I realized she was wearing a gold ring with the exact same design. She explained to me that, if you were wearing it with the tip of the heart towards you, it meant your heart was taken and you were not available… on the other hand, if you were wearing it with the heart pointing to the world, it meant you were indeed available and open to meeting someone. I thought it was very sweet and subtle at the same time! I went to bed last night knowing I had learned something new…

That being said, we still have not heard anything regarding Dave’s appeal… He filed his request last Wednesday, consequently tomorrow there will be a follow-up! We cannot let these people breathe for too long, otherwise they settle in their bureaucratic ways and then, we do not hear from them in weeks, even months! We already lost more than six months, enough is enough! He cannot afford to stretch this situation any longer… and there is nothing like pressuring for answers to keep people moving on issues! When it comes down to harassment (if you do not harass bureaucrats, you will never see the end of anything! It is deplorable, but there are no other ways… unless you are ready to wait forever!), I am a pro! And, honestly, I am fed up with this whole story… I only want to see it solved, so we can move on and prepare him for his oral test… Should not everything be solved to our satisfaction and should it become a little ugly, it is comforting to know his directorate fully supports him! However, I doubt anyone involved will take the risk of seeing this whole story become known on a large scale…

Speaking of spreading… Imagine for a second what would happen if the candidates who took the written test between June 2 and June 13, and missed their targeted level by one or four answers (which means they will have to re-write soon!) knew about the truth???

In a previous post, I had pointed out the discrepancy between the cut-off scores of the new written test (65 questions) before and after June 16. Since the new test came in effect June 2, we are talking about only two weeks!!! During that short period, candidates needed 51 good answers in order to get their C… then, candidates who wrote the very same test a bit later (on or after the 16th) needed 47 good answers to get the same level… Janet, who took the exam during that “floating” period got her C with 52 good answers: that was close! Imagine she would have had 50 good answers… she would have failed, right? But, on the 16th or after, she would have succeeded with the same 50 good answers. I do not know how many people write SLE tests each week… Normally, a testing room holds 40 people and there are tests each working day (in many different locations)… How many people took the written test between June 2 and June 16? A lot!!! And… how many missed their levels by 4 answers??? Just imagine if they knew about it… because of course, it was not publicized… it came to my knowledge because I happened to know a couple of individuals who were tested during those two weeks and after…

When I started this blog, I was not anticipating much traffic since I was writing about issues that concerned only a very small proportion of people (mostly located in the NCR area)… I was amazed when I found out it actually generated regular traffic. What suprised me the most was the terms used in search engines: obviously these people were looking for legitimate information regarding SLE tests in the Public Service of Canada (and they landed here instead!)… I could not figure out why! I always assumed people about to go on second language training were provided with some sort of package containing all the info they needed and all the useful links to the Commission website… NOPE! I was told everyone is more or less left in the dark and has to find information by “googling” on the net. In French we call this le système D for DÉBROUILLE-TOI! (or DÉMERDE-TOI!)… Incroyable, mais vrai!

One would think transparency is required so that people can be well informed before they go on training… Well… I thought so… I know why Jenn had to wait for almost three weeks before she got her results… The Commission was probably wavering about “should we change or not the cut-off scores on the written exam? If so… how many good answers?…”

Okay, they finally modified the pass marks… but, what about the ones who failed during the period these bureaucrats were pondering upon what to do and how to do it? Of course, the cut-off scores between June 2 and June 16 have been eradicated from the Commission’s website (if they ever were posted!)… and who will go back there regularly, unless it is publicly known the cut-off marks are changed from time to time? No one!… This is probably why the decision-makers just keep sweeping everything that could be alarming under the carpet… much easier to deal with, don’t you think?

This blog moved here, if you ever are interested in reading more on those issues…

The Longest 45 Minutes in Canadian Civil Servants’ Lives…

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

Dave went on appeal regarding his SLE results yesterday… All involved offices met to discuss his case this morning… and he should get a verdict soon! I truly believe this issue will be solved to his satisfaction: I do not see how or why it could not be! What he requested is reasonable and fair… We shall see!

In the meantime I thought I could post a de-brief a student of mine had sent me a couple of years ago, right after his oral testing… I really do not know why I kept his email for so long! Perhaps because I thought it was a great description of what he (and others) had to go through in order to get his C level. Ian was a sweet guy in his early 30s back then, but kind of stiff! I spent two months with him, preparing him for the test… We had numerous clashes and, despite I agreed with him 100% most of the time, I never stopped making his life miserable so he could perform at his best. And he did! He got his C “haut-la-main”… Ian was against the use of words like enchanté, merveilleux, magnifique and the use of his hands while speaking French (like Francophones do)… Gawd, did he ever give me a hard time! Finally I convinced him to use both so he would sound and look more natural… He just had to pretend he did not know the real meaning of these words and forget who he really was for 45 lousy minutes of his life! Later on, he thanked me for having pushed him in this direction…

Here is what he wrote me the very same day (count on the military type to be detailed in his description) he was tested:

«The waiting room is civil service chic. Lots of emphasis on function and little on aesthetic value. It’s kind of like a hospital waiting room. Still the chance to people watch, but instead of trying to figure out who is the most sick, I found myself wondering who looked the most stressed. My vote went to a girl who was mumbling French expressions to the ceiling and sighing loudly! After waiting a few minutes, my examiner came out to get me. I would suggest that people be prepared to engage in small talk WHILE walking to the exam room – can take a minute or so to navigate the maze of exam rooms.

The exam room itself was about half the size of the classrooms at school. Cozy for two people, but by no means uncomfortable. The examiner sits at a desk with a computer behind her. I sat off to one side. I was even offered water – all part of the process of putting me at ease I suspect.

The tape recorder was about halfway between me and the examiner. I do not think that the mise-en-train was recorded, but I’ll admit to being a little fuzzy on this detail. The examiner did not read from a prepared script at any point in the interview – she was clearly bouncing off what I said in the interview to move to the next question.

The mise-en-train did not go exactly as planned. “La fin de semaine” was not on the list of topics, and I didn’t want to discuss sports because it’s boring. I hoped she would pick “cinéma”, but before we even got there I tried to defend why I had only selected two topics (instructions said to select AT LEAST 2). I said that I was too busy and didn’t do much but work. She said we could always talk about other things in a hypothetical way – e.g., what sports would I like to discuss if I had the time? The conversation went a little all over the place (I mean in a good way, but it certainly wasn’t restricted to just one topic). She asked me what I had been doing with the summer and I opened the baby (pandora) box (sorry, didn’t want to, but it seemed inevitable given that the mise-en-train didn’t have the topics I’d expected). I tried to steer the conversation to C.R.A.Z.Y – with some success. She cut me off because she wanted to see the film! I offered a few general observations without giving away any details and made sure to say it was better than Hollywood films and that it was “magnificent”.

The actual oral exam began with the typical questions – where did I work, followed by the famous responsibilities question. She didn’t pick up on order paper questions, but did press for more details on committee appearances. All other questions (opinion and otherwise) started from this point. The examiner was clearly bouncing from one thing to the other without a clear set of questions. Even opinion questions started from (i.e. not necessarily directly related, but at least a bit) work related stuff. Examples? Why did I have too much work? Why couldn’t the government hire more people to handle increasing workloads? Why was there more work in a minority government setting? What did I think about the government burning out young people on the job? Did I think that people with kids (note the baby related theme emerging again – but wait, there’s more…) got preferential treatment compared to people without families? What do we do in a prep session with senior officials before a committee appearance? What happens in committees?

I will also note that the following questions were NOT/NOT asked : What are your tasks? Please describe the organizational chart of your directorate/division/group/ministry. Finally, I got absolutely zero long questions of the type others have received. There was no script for the examiner – she was clearly making up questions as she went along.

The wheels may/may (repeat the word for emphasis – it’s a military thing) have come off the cart during the jeu de rôle. The topic? You guessed it – baby related. Scene was that I was talking to a colleague who worked in the same directorate and she’s expecting a baby. Her career is important to her and her husband and they’re looking for advice on how to handle parental leave. Is 12 months too long to be out of the workforce? Should they divide the time? How does it compare with the private sector? I think I did not too badly once I got going, but I stumbled out of the gate. Details are little fuzzy…

The wrap-up phase of the interview passed in about 30 seconds. Then I had to fill out a form again – right in front of the examiner. I was a little annoyed that I had to fill this out right then and there – since I had to indicate my level of education and my rank at work. Don’t see what bearings any of that has on the exam so I was upset that I had to provide it. Oh well, I signed as required.

I also had to leave my sheet with notes in the room. Mercifully, I had taken all the notes in French, so I don’t think that represents a problem. However, if students are planning to take notes during their exams, they should know that they will leave them with the examiner before they walk out of the exam room – and they may wish to write as much in French as possible (rather than taking point form in English).

The final thing to do was to complete an evaluation of the exam experience. The front part of this form was optional (again place for name, rank, education, etc.), then included 30 multiple choice questions. I was to fill this form out in the lobby – if I wanted. I thought about it – even started the process – then decided that I was suspicious of people matching my form to my exam, so I left without completing it.

So that was the exam experience. Total time in the exam room – about 40 minutes. The examiner was fair and pleasant. I got the impression that she was asking more general questions rather than specific ones, but that may just be wishful thinking on my part (i.e. the more general the questions, the more likely I was being evaluated for the C level, rather than the B ranking).

I‘m generally happy with my performance and I don’t think that I misinterpreted any of the questions. The whole thing was more of a conversation that started with my responsibilities, rather than a series of random questions. That said, I made mistakes and struggled with some vocabulary, but I’m going to cross my fingers and hope that it was enough for a C.

My final comment is related to the small talk with the examiner in the hallway – both before and after the exam. I watched other students as they met their inquisitioner (sorry, examiner) and it seemed like one awkward meeting after another. If nothing else, this first impression is vital and it is worth investing a few minutes to practice to make sure that things get off on the right foot. I think I did okay on this score, but it is definitely something I will take more seriously the next time around (hopefully 5 years hence).»

Ian took the old version of the oral test, the one I do believe left some room for some creativity along the way… Now that a computer is choosing questions randomly, I do not think there is room for any conversation at all. His advice about “small talk” is very clever… it is important to connect somewhat with the assessor because, this kind of testing cannot be 100% objective… and, if the evaluator likes you and thinks you are charming, chances are you will be in a better position to get your required level! Never forget this: people are not robots and, until the day you will be tested by a computer alone, you can still make a good impression on the examiner!… SO!… Make sure you smell good that day and you are not wearing the stinking socks you had on your feet when jogging the previous day!

This blog moved here, if you ever are interested in reading more on those issues…

Another Falling Down on the Job!

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

 I am always flabbergasted by how some great sensible ideas end up into something… well, how to say this?… Indefinable would be the word… I think…

Last week, I accidently found an interesting article by Kathryn May that had been published on the Front page of The Ottawa Citizen October 7, 2006. At the time, the president of the Public Service Commission, Maria Barrados, was announcing that the federal government was about to introduce a new oral language test in order to improve the failure rate of senior anglophone civil servants. The Commission was also planning to revamp the written tests.

She kept her promise because, as of today, all three tests (oral, written and reading) are in effect! It actually took between one and almost two years to come up with these new testing tools… considering the legendary bureaucratic slow pace of any government, I would say it is not so bad! It could have taken much longer…

By now, everyone knows how skeptical I do feel about the new tests. Of course, both written and reading tests desperatly needed a new “look” (the old ones were just not measuring anything: except perhaps people’s abilities to translate literally). I am not convinced the new trend will really evaluate civil servants’ knowledge of the second language… there is still too much emphasis on useless details and “mots-liens” and not enough on verbs, grammar and syntax. But, I must admit it is much better than it used to be… therefore, there is hope! If I hang on there long enough, I might see the end of this tunnel before I do retire!…

What caught my attention in this article was the description of what could be the new oral test. Right at the beginning, it was stated that it would not be any easier (no surprise there!), but the format would be updated to better reflect the latest trends in language testing (some examples of these “trends” maybe? nope!). In other words, an only 30 minute artificial one-on-one “conversation” with an evaluator and a tape-recorder in the middle of the table had to be replaced by something less intimidating… I do agree on this one: I have been told many times that it looked like a police interrogation, minus the two-way mirror!

I do believe at the time Ms. Barrados was interviewed, her panel of experts was still in the brainstorming phase of the project… because everything was in the conditional mood and highly hypothetical (though somewhat reasonable and kind of enticing!). According to her, the test would still be grounded on a conversation with an assessor, but could be built around discussions about a video or a presentation both, the candidate and the tester, would have watched together (how picturesque! side-by-side… like two good friends at the movies! any free pop-corn with golden topping and pops?). Another option would be candidates “shadowed” at work to observe how they use their second language on the job.

The president suggested that, with the new test, civil servants would also know why they failed and what they would need to get ready for the next one… reminding that, with the old test, people did not know why they had failed… ???????????????? I do not know where the president was during all those years, but for having listened to dozens of tapes and read reports on the reasons (I did not always agree with) for failure, I can assure you those people DID know!

Almost two years after this interview, the new oral test has been implemented June 16, 2008. AND! It has no resemblance with whatever was suggested by Ms. Barrados back in October 2006. How can we contemplate an idea and, then, end up with something like this? I told you: Indefinable is the most appropriate word I could come up with to describe such a process…

Les Bonnes Intentions Tuent!

This blog moved here, if you ever are interested in reading more on those issues…

In Desperate Need of a Good Statistician or Mathematician!!!

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

Today, we received Dave’s results… He got a B on his reading test (44/65) and an A (42/80) on his written test. Of course, action will be taken not later than next week. But, in order to go on appeal before the Public Service Commission, it is necessary to be well documented… something we both worked on at lunch time. The more we dig into the problem, the more discrepancies we find! And, honestly, j’en perds mon latin en ce moment.

I will try to explain this phenomenon at the best of my abilities since I do not quite understand the system at this point.

Let’s go back in time and let’s take a look at the cut-off scores for each level (B, C, E). If it is not clear, I cannot really help it…

Reading test (65 questions):

  • B = 38 (58.5%)
  • C = 51 (78.5%)
  • E = 59 (90.8%)

Written test – in force before October 1, 2007 (55 questions):

  • B = 31 (56.4%)
  • C = 44 (80,0%)
  • E = 51 (92.7%)

Written test – in force as per October 1, 2007 (80 questions):

  • B = 46 (57.5%)
  • C = 57 (71.3%)
  • E = 63 (78.8%)

Written test – in force as per June 2, 2008 (65 questions):

Between June 2 and June 16, 2008

  • B = 38 (58.5%) *
  • C = 51 (78.5%) *
  • E = 59 (90.8%) *
* same cut-off scores as for the reading test (65 questions)

As per June 16, 2008

  • B = 33 (50.8%)
  • C = 47 (72.3%)
  • E = 57 (87.7%)

Consequently, Janet (someone I never talked about before today) who took the written test on June 2, 2008 was evaluated based upon the cut-off scores in force between June 2 and June 16. She got her C by 1 point (52/65). Jenn who took the same written test on June 16 was evaluated based upon the cut-off scores in force as per June 16. She got her C missing the E only by 2 points (55/65). Finally Dave who took the 80 question version of the written test on June 16 and June 20 was evaluated based upon the cut-off scores of the old version (prior to June 2). He got an A missing his B by 4 points (42/80).

It is where I am at now!… in total dismay… unable to make sense of this non sense… What throws me off is all those different percentages! I suspect no one ever calculated the cut-off scores on 100… like they do in all schools (from grade school to university)! What about, for instance, saying that people need 55% to get a B, 75% to get a C and 90% to get an E? Whenever the number of questions would be changed, it would not modify the pass mark…

  • B = 55% 44/80, 36/65 or 30/55
  • C = 75% 60/80, 49/65 or 41/55
  • E = 90% 72/80, 58/65 or 49/55

I do not think we need Einstein to figure this out, do we? To quote Dave: “This is like wading into swamp… no wonder so many people would turn back!”

If there is anyone out there who is good with numbers and does understand the calculation system of these cut-off scores, please do not hesitate to come forward and explain it to me!

This blog moved here, if you ever are interested in reading more on those issues…

Imbroglio or Quiproquo? Make your Pick!

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

Can things get more confused than they already are? Of course! Who likes simple, concrete and clear stuff anyways? The Public Service Commission of Canada certainly does not! Vivent les trucs compliqués! Create confusion and, then, you will make sure no one will ever challenge you or what you do… It reminds me of the last referendum question on the independence of Québec in 1995: I am convinced a panel of linguists had worked for months to come up with a question so confusing (but grammatically correct with perfect semantics) that many people opposed to separation were tempted to answer OUI… Big mistake! Because they would have been saying YES to independence…

Today, we finally received Jenn’s results : she got a very strong C… she missed the E (exemption) only by 2 points… Congratulations girl! I was not expecting anything else from you! I am so proud! Now we can go for that drink and, trust me, I intend to celebrate our victory over the system BIG TIME!

When the written expression test was modified on June 2, 2008… although it had been shortened by 15 questions (65 instead of 80)… the Commission had stated that the required marks for each level would remain the same (unless I was misled by confusion… see, I am not used – yet! – to the government culture regarding the wording of their texts… perhaps I misunderstood the message after all!)… I thought it was odd and quite unfair… I am no genius in maths but I know how to count my small change: 46/80 (57.5%) vs 46/65 (70.8%) for a B, then 57/80 (71.25%) vs 57/65 (87.7%) for a C and, finally, 63/80 (78.75%) vs 63/65 (96.9%) for an E does make a huge difference!!! Hopefully everyone agrees with me on that!

After a close look at the results, we realized the scale had actually changed. Jenn got a strong C with 55/65… after a quick check on the Commission’s website, we found out that the marks had been modified (again!):

  • B = 33/65 (50.8%)
  • C = 47/65 (72.3%)
  • E = 57/65 (87.7%)

From my analysis, having for starting point the marks required before June the 2nd (80 questions), they substantially lowered the standards for the B level, they slightly raised the standards for the C level and… they dramatically raised the standards for the E level (that makes sense!)… Are you still following me? I admit I have some hard time trying to figure this out myself… so be patient!

Since I do not think like them (whoever “them”are!), I just do not get it! Indeed I am more lost than the survivors of Oceanic 815 in the TV series LOST… et c’est peu dire! When I will have an answer, I will let you know… for now, I am speechless!

That brings me back to poor Dave… Because of our request for special accommodations (okay, they did accommodate him regarding the formatting and the time… but, for the rest, in your dreams!) placed in January, they gave him the 80 question version of the written expression test on June 16 and June 20 (keep in mind that this version was replaced by the 65 question version on June 2 and therefore declared not valid after that date!). Consequently, he will need 46 good answers to get his B (57.5%)… with the 65 question version, he would have needed 33 good answers (50.8%). Is it fair??? Well… count on me to shake the tree because I will not be satisfied with whatever results he will get… and I will fight it until we get satisfaction! And… since they screwed up made a mistake on the reading test as well, I know we have everything in hands to win this battle… and I will not give up!

Unfortunately, this story is true… it is a perfect example of “reality is sometimes beyond fiction”… I think the Public Service Commission of Canada should have a door plate with this inscription on it:

“I do not avoid confusion… I create it!”



This blog moved here, if you ever are interested in reading more on those issues…



Plague… Do you know what Plague is?

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

PLAGUE (Merriam-Webster):

  1. a) a disastrous evil or affliction: CALAMITY b) a destructively numerous influx
  2. an epidemic disease causing a high rate of mortality: PESTILENCE
  3. a) a cause of irritation: NUISANCE b) a sudden unwelcome outbreak

My life has been hit by plague!… A few days ago, I lost a credit card and you can easily imagine the ensuing burden, but! I took it with philosophy since no one had purchased a luxury car with it. Then, yesterday, my automatic garage door literally collapsed! Since my vehicle was not trapped inside, once again I took it lightly… such annoying problems can be fixed, one way or the other. Although I have no control on those, I still have the power to fix them… which is reassuring. Actually I know this epidemic series of small catastrophes are triggered by my current state of mind: I have no more patience left, I am in a bad mood and, as a result, I am careless regarding everyday stuff… I know I was a little too rough on the garage door remote control and I also know I did not make sure my credit card had been put back where it should have been. Consequently I am guilty on all counts!!!

Real plague, on the other hand, is to be trapped into the gears of an incredibly bureaucratic machine that jam at the least sneeze or burp, and being unable to do anything about it! I am not pointing my finger at anyone in particular, though behind any mistakes there is inevitably someone… anyways knowing who is responsible for this mess is not that important because I truly believe errors occur because of a complicated deficient system.

You certainly remember Jenn and Dave from previous posts… Jenn wrote her SLE test June 16 and, as of today, she still did not get her results. Normally she should have received them by last Friday, at the latest… what did happen? We do not know because no one is returning her calls… and, from experience, I doubt anyone ever will! There is not much we can do at this point in time, except WAIT

Dave went for his final round yesterday afternoon : he wrote his Reading test and I felt pretty confident because he is really good in this area. Actually, I was convinced he would get a C rather than the required B. But! my confidence collapsed when he called me and told me they had screwed up made an “error” (once again)!

Six months! We waited six long months before getting a date for his evaluation due to our accommodation request! One would think, after such an endless process, that everything would be perfect

Wrong! It was a mess! Upon his arrival, he has been given the test which was formatted following my instructions but, contained 65 questions… since he did not have the official document with him, he did not argue and wrote the test: he had 2.5 hours to do so… obviously, not enough time and he could not finish! We had requested the short version of 50 questions instead of 65… This morning, we searched his computer and we found the document he had received from the Personnel Psychology Centre at the Public Service Commission: indeed, he was supposed to answer 50 questions in 2.5 hours. I was smoking!!!

He left a message with the person who had taken care of his request at the Personnel Psychology Centre, he wrote an email (with the attached document as proof) to the person in charge of the second language tests in his Department requesting they mark only the first 50 answers of the test he wrote because he refuses to write it again! He has been told they would get back to him some time Thursday… THURSDAY?!?!?!?!

This is PLAGUE: Calamity, Pestilence and Nuisance!!!… So… losing a credit card, having a broken garage door, soaking in the never ending rain and dealing with daily frustration is a joke compared to that!… Try it some day and you will see everything from another angle, I guarantee you!


This blog moved here, if you ever are interested in reading more on those issues…


Change is Good Donkey!…

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

Indeed change should be good… unfortunately it is not always the case! For the past months, I have seen many modifications to the second language evaluation tests in the Public Service: around September 2007, the reading comprehension test’s content was modified (still 65 questions, but longer and more technical texts), in October, the written expression test went from 55 questions up to 80 (of which 30 were texts to read), then at the beginning of June, the latter was cut by 15 questions (too many complaints on the lack of time). Finally the last one of those newbies is the new oral test version that became effective June 16. Apparently we are in the middle of a “school” reform here, but not necessarily in the students’ best interest!

According to the Public Service Commission, people who were assessed with the new oral test during the pilot said it was top notch (well, they did not use those terms but the report was so enthusiastic!)… Strangely enough, I met a couple of people who had been selected to be in the pilot and they said the new test was more rigid than ever… and of course, they failed! Since I am anything but gullible, I tend to believe the people I met rather than the official report! I wonder why!!!…

The former oral test, although rigid, left the door open on “some” creativity and original thinking. At the beginning of the interview, there was a warm-up period so the evaluated person had the opportunity to relax while speaking about hobbies or personal interests. Then there was the series of typical questions related to work (where do you work, what is your position, what are your responsibilities, etc.?) followed by questions on hypothetical situations and personal opinions. At the end, there was a role play (usually a common situation between colleagues or an employee and a manager). In other words, it was easy to anticipate what would be the questions. Generally the test lasted 45 minutes and it looked, more or less, like a conversation… what I am saying is: it was “possible” to turn it into a conversation; something outgoing people used in their favor!

The new test is quite different. It lasts 20 to 40 minutes and is divided in 4 specific activities:

  1. Answer questions
  2. Listen to conversations or voice mail messages
  3. Answer questions on their content
  4. Speak (2-3 minutes) on one of the topics proposed by the evaluator (or the computer?)

There is no room at all for any conversation format. The most innovative part of this new test is that all the questions are selected randomly by a computer (don’t worry, there is still a human being there to ask them! for now anyways…)! Prior to the test, people are asked to fill in a form (something they are used to!), which form is scanned so the computer can select the first series of questions… Do I have to mention that ALL questions are work related? I did not think so either… Same with the questions on the tapes, the computer selects them. The recordings are played twice (with no interruption) prior to the questions… I guess it is also intended to test people’s retention. I know I could not pass such a test: I cannot remember the details of a conversation, especially if this conversation is of no interest to me… same thing with a long voice mail message: I will retain the general content but will easily forget about the specifics! EITHER IN MY MOTHER TONGUE OR MY SECOND LANGUAGE!

When I have trainees to prepare for the tests, 4 or 6 weeks prior to the torture, I have no choice but teach them to the tests (something I truly hate!). With the former oral test version, it was quite easy to come up with questions and role plays similar to those that would come up during the interview. Now? Blank!… those tapes could be about anything… the proposed topics could range from work perfomance evaluation to hiring policies (I know for a fact they love asking questions related to human resources… or should I rather say: they loved?).

This whole reform’s purpose is to better standardize the tests. I am asking you: do you think a language can be “quantitatively” measured? Personally I do not believe so… only “qualitatively”. And, as long as the experts will persist in their utopian idea that it can be done, we will sink deeper and deeper into chaos… unless we already reached the bottom with this last reform…

This blog moved here, if you ever are interested in reading more on those issues…

A Little Common Sense would not Hurt? Would it?…

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

Still wrapped up in the Jenn and Dave’s saga, this morning, I came across another non sense… Because of special accommodations, I had requested (6 months ago) that Dave’s FSL tests should be formatted to suit his special needs and that he should be given more time (because of its duty to accommodate, the Public Service Commission had no other choice than accept my request, though the paperwork took forever!)… Consequently, he wrote the first part of one test Monday morning and he will write the second part Friday morning.

In the meantime, we are still working on those practicing tests (useless to say that this exercise is totally draining and frustrating, without mentioning it does not really help!) trying to develop strategies that will allow him to pass his B level… because, right now, it is about anything except knowledge of the language. When there is no reasonable solution to a problem, we are still left with the creativity card, aren’t we? The question is: how can we go around the problem with a minimum of collateral damages? I am not a trainer this week, I am a strategy coach… one who yells on top of everything! I do admit I lost my temper a couple of times this week. But, Dave is a great guy and he does not take it personally… Heureusement! Nevertheless, this process is excruciating for the two of us… He fails, I fail also!

Would it cross your mind to give a Grade 5 class a Grade 12 test? I hope not!!! It would be a disaster for those kids’ self esteem and self confidence, wouldn’t it? Well… believe it or not, the experts who design the tests measuring the Canadian civil servants’ abilities in their second language apparently think it is fair to submit everyone to the same tests, disregarding the level they are required to obtain. The gap between an A and a C is huge! Someone with an A level can hardly get by in the second language… Someone with a C level (although ranked as barely functional) is expected to grasp (almost) all the nuances and subtleties of the language… The B level is somewhere in between and its definition has never been clear to me: my understanding is that it is the minimum level you must have in order to be able to fill in any position with the government (only a few positions are described as unilingual English), but this is only temporary since, sooner or later, those positions’ required level is turned into a C.

Would it be that complicated to have two different tests: one to assess the B level and another to assess the C level? Since the actual tests’ content targets both levels, it would take less than one hour to sort out the questions pertaining to each level and then split the test in two… of course, there would not be enough questions on each test, but adding a few more would not be that painful! Anyways it would certainly be less painful for the panel of experts than it is for people who have to write the tests the way they presently are… All it takes is a little common sense! The question is: is there anyone left with such a basic and essential quality in a machine where everything is buried under red tape administration, bureaucracy, documents with no significant content or message?

Language training in the Public Service, after 35 years, is now out of proportions (and somewhat out of control)… This is something (it appears) that was never actually regularly assessed, reviewed, scrutinized or submitted to quality control… I do believe it is only a matter of time before the bomb explodes! Based upon the Canadian Law on Official Languages, it is impossible to rewind the tape and go back prior to 1972… Bilinguism is here to stay (like it or not!)… But, the whole process has to be studied and put back on track with a maximum of efficiency and a minimum of expenses: so much money has been and is currently wasted on this massive training of the Public Service workforce… it is time tax payers enjoy a break!… All it takes is a hero with a bit of common sense

This blog moved here, if you ever are interested in reading more about those issues…

Don’t we have a Law on Access to Information (ATI) in Canada?

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

I usually do not write that often… mainly because I have so little time to myself, spending hours on the road going from one client to another. But, today, I have a break (sort of!) since Jenn and Dave are writing their SLE test. I am kind of hyper, waiting for them to update me on how they did… so I decided to keep my mind busy and focus on something else. Hopefully, this way, time will fly and I will worry less!

What will happen if they fail? Well… they will not have any other choice than going back to be re-tested in one month! In the meanwhile their training contract will be extended (something that rejoices the Language Schools!)… I have seen people spending almost two years away from their jobs in full time training: enough to discourage even the bravest warrior!

Here is how the system works… three or seven days after civil servants have been tested (writing and reading), they receive an official letter with their marks (e.g. 49/65) and the level they obtained (B). If the latter is not the one required for their job position, they are invited to apply for another testing date (it may take more than a month, depending on the monthly date tests are updated: they cannot re-write the same tests). At no time, they can refer to the tests they wrote and there is no document of any kind to give them feedback. Consequently they are in the dark, as well as the individuals in charge of their training. For some inexplicable reasons, those tests are unavailable (even under the Law on ATI) as if they were classified TOP SECRET although they do not content any threat to national security!

On the other hand, there is no such fuss regarding access to tapes. When they are assessed on their oral skills, the whole interview is recorded on tape. When they get their results, if they ever failed, they receive a document pointing out their weaknesses so they know exactly what to focus and work on to make sure they will pass next time. If they wish, they can book an appointment with their trainer/teacher and, together, they can listen to the tape and “see” where the interview went wrong. They are not allowed to take notes but, at least, they know what they have to improve in order to achieve their level.

I do not see why something similar could not be arranged for those who wish to learn from their mistakes in previous writing/reading exams. Of course, I am not suggesting that they get their copies back! This would degenerate into the biggest smuggling in the History of Canada! I just can imagine government employees distributing (or even selling) copies of those tests to the ones scheduled to write within the same month! Although I am not convinced it would help since no one can memorize 65 questions and long texts… yet it would give a pretty good idea on the type of questions asked!

Actually, access to their tests could follow the same procedure as access to their tapes… People could request an appointment with their trainer/teacher and sit in a room with plenty of time to go through the whole tests. It would definitely ease the training process and… the pain! But it seems nobody cares! The Government certainly does not… the civil servants adopted the attitude of defeatism and… the schools? They are not interested in accelerating the process because they are in this business for the $$$… More often their students fail, longer the contracts are… they have no interest in blowing the whistle and seeing their profits decrease! I do think differently… I do not run a school, I do not make my living based upon volume… I built my professional reputation on quality and results… and anything that could help me to target specific needs for a specific goal would be more than appreciated!

I think I do know why access to their tests is denied… first because I suspect no one ever really asked for such access. Unless hundreds (or perhaps even thousands) of civil servants push the issue, I do not believe anyone else has interest to make those tests available. Those who design the tests would not want people starting to file grievances or ask for a review of their tests because they found mistakes : imagine someone like Jenn (and many others) who missed her level by 2 answers having access to her test… based upon the previous tests content, we assume there are potentially enough mistakes (I included some in my post A Breath-taking Plunge into Hades) for her to be able to have her results modified! Such access could provoke unwanted reactions among civil servants, but also among the Public… nothing like this stays secret for very long and, then, the Press would make sure every single Canadian who pays income tax is fully aware… after all, who is paying for this massive training?… No Governement (previous, present or future) would want such a far-reaching possible scandal… Let’s be realistic here: not all Canadians agree on the Official Languages Law and Policies… something like that would only give them ammunition…

But… whatever the reason is, under the Law on the Access to Information, every single civil servant who fails SLE tests has the right to ask! The question is: who will be brave enough to ask first???…

This blog moved here, if you ever are interested in reading more on those issues…

« Older entries