Saturday, August 30, 2008

Unfair Judging

I was (and still am) really upset by the judging for the local speech contest. It wasn't anyone's fault, really, but due to various reasons, I truly feel that my third year student was robbed of a prize medal in the contest.

Of course I was naturally biased in her favour since I spent so much time coaching her and she's my favourite student in the school to boot, but even taking that out I can honestly say she deserved no less than third place (and probably should've gotten second).

Out of all the students, her enunciation and pronunciation were the clearest, and her intonation, pacing and stressing were the most natural (although of course there was still a lot of room for improvement).

Since she's a more soft-spoken student, her delivery wasn't as loud as other students', but considering that the topic of her recitation was Hiroshima, I thought she was appropriately restrained.

And again, although I was biased, I obviously wasn't completely off the mark since Allie ranked her second and Bryan (who wasn't judging but watching) also said he thought she was one of the best ones.

It kills me that even though Allie and I had her ranked, respectively, second and first, she didn't even get third place because the two Japanese judges ranked her sixth. Also, because Allie and I awarded fewer points overall (and the prize rankings were based on overall points rather than ordinal rankings), the rankings were skewed in favour of the Japanese judges.

Again, I'm not blaming the Japanese judges--coming from a different culture, they naturally look for and emphasize different things in their judging--I'm just frustrated that the system wasn't designed to mitigate/compensate for inconsistencies in judging. (And honestly, I made quite a few mistakes in my own judging; in more than one instance I awarded far fewer points than I should have.)

Also I'm a little mad that I was so careful about showing favouritism towards my students that I gave my (third grade) student a far lower mark for pronunciation than I felt she actually deserved. If I had said "To heck with this!" and given her the 50/60 I felt she deserved (instead of something in around 40), that might've been enough to compensate for low rankings from the Japanese judges. (In one of the other grades, the third prize was awarded to the student ranked sixth, sixth, and fourth (or maybe fifth?) by three of the four judges simply because one judge skewed the results by rewarding 51 points for pronunciation!)

What makes it all the worse is that the student herself thought she would get at least third, and she's really humble and in fact usually underestimates her own abilities! When I talked to my JTE today, she told me that she spent several hours after school consoling this student.

It's really heartbreaking. I'm usually pretty decent at letting things go (because obviously dwelling on things doesn't change the past) but more than 24 hours I'm still seething at the injustice of it all.

So I sent an email to my supervisor today to make the suggestion that the speech contest prize rankings should be decided first by ordinal ranking and second (in the case of a tie) by total points. I'm sure there are problems inherent in this method of judging as well, but it seems to me that this would help to negate anamolies in judging (like if I ended up giving everyone low/close scores because the person I thought was the best really deserved 70 but I only gave him/her 60) and allow each judge's ranking to carry equal weight. (Maybe my logic is wrong, but I feel that the overall rankings were skewed in favour of the judges who awarded points with greater disparities between the scores.)

Of course it won't help my student (or me, or my JTE) to feel any better about this speech contest, but if my suggestion ends up being adopted, at least I could hope to avoid this feeling of a student being robbed next year.

(Maybe I'm just justifying myself, but I don't think all of my frustration comes from my student getting shafted. I was also upset when the student I didn't feel was the best choice for third place ended up getting it because of a judging error/inconsistency. And I don't mean to detract from the students who were actually awarded prizes, either, because, I mean, I know all of the students worked really hard to prepare for the contest.)