Standardized Test Subject
by Comma Chameleon
I have been teaching 8th grade for almost 11 whole years now. In this column, I will share my thoughts on teaching itself, the 13-year-old semi-human lifeforms I work with, and public schools; I will probably tell some funny stories; I may occasionally get emotional; and you will get a behind-the-scenes look into my classroom. No, teachers do not get plugged into a charging port in the school basement each night after the kids leave. They do get to come home to their families, and sometimes they write about the adventures they have and the shenanigans they witness during their long, tiring days in the classroom.
As a kid, you probably took some type of standardized tests if you went to an American public school at any point. They’ve been around for about as long as American public schools themselves have, and while I definitely have an opinion or three about them, I’m not going to get into that here. You’ve experienced them, and you may have kids who have experienced them as well, so you have your own opinions. But in case you have ever wondered what it is like for teachers who have to proctor (supervise; see also: babysit) students during the yearly, state-mandated standardized testing, here is a breakdown of Session 1 on Day 1 from 2019.*
8:09am: Started English Language Arts test. (We were technically supposed to officially begin at 8:05, but….) Students are officially allowed 110 minutes to complete it. The schedule our assistant principal drew up gives us 165 minutes until our outside break and snack. That is a lot of minutes. The desks are arranged in rows facing the front of the room. Students have laptops because the test is online-only.
8:12: As I’m Actively Proctoring (patrolling the classroom, basically), I spot a small beetle-like bug scuttling across the carpet at the front of the room. I calmly step on it, pick my foot up so I can go to my desk and get tissues, and notice it is upside down flailing its little legs. Without flinching, I pick up the poor suffering creature with tissues, squish it more to put it out of its miserry, and throw the whole bundle in the trash. If any students notice, they have no outward reaction. I have successfully not disrupted the testing environment, which needs to remain absolutely silent until all students have finished this session.
8:20: I have taped a printout of e.e. cummings’s poem “i carry your heart with me (i carry it in” to the side of my computer monitor and have decided to memorize it today. It’s not like I can do anything else! I stand at my desk and work on a couple lines, then repeat them in my head as I walk around the room. Once I have that bit down, I go back and add a couple more lines. And so on.
8:25: I set my thermos of coffee on my desk so I don’t drink it too quickly as I’m walking around.
8:39: A counselor peeks her head in to check that all is well. She says to text her or the AP if I need a bathroom break, since I am alone in the room with 18 teenagers (and a thermos of coffee) all morning long, and I have to supervise them during their outside break, too, leaving me no actual break for myself.
8:40: I pick up my thermos again. Coffeeeeee…..
8:45: The first student finishes the test. Yikes! That didn’t take long. I ask them in neutral language if they checked all their answers and made sure they did their absolute best on the written portion. They decide to go back and look things over again.
8:46: The second student finishes. I ask him the same neutral, non-leading questions. He nods (yeah, sure, I believe you, dude, you’ve shown an equal amount of commitment and rigor on your in-class assignments all year) and clicks “Submit.”
8:48: A dozen pairs of hands all typing at the same time sounds nice. I’m nearly done memorizing the poem.
8:50: Three kids are now finished. We still have 120 minutes, i.e. TWO HOURS, to go before our break.
(Note: the next 3 things I jotted down at the time, I recorded as occurring in the 9:00 hour. Alas, wishful thinking–and poor analog-clock-reading skills. I am an English teacher for a reason.)
8:55: I have the poem memorized.
8:57: Six kids are finished.
8:59: Just kidding, I haven’t memorized the poem. I keep messing up the ending. I go back to my desk to work on the last few lines.
9:05: Okay, I have it now! and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart).
9:12: Only four kids, of eighteen, are still working on the test. Everyone else is either staring off into space, bundled up into their hoodie taking a rest (let’s be honest: nap), or reading a book.
9:20: Three are left. Two of them, I know, are pretty slow typists.
9:25: The last of the slow typists is left.
9:26: For the first (definitely not the last) time, I have to shush a kid who’s off-task. He’s looking at a friend across the aisle and back one row and making silly faces, and they’re both struggling not to giggle. The testing environment needs to stay silent because one student is still testing. For the test to be “standardized,” every student needs the same standardized (silent) testing environment.
9:34: I have drunk my last sip of coffee. I am sad.
9:37: All students are now finished testing. I collect their pencils, scratch paper, and testing tickets on which are printed their names and super-special access codes to get into the test. We have an hour and thirteen minutes until our break.
9:40: The same kid is making faces again. This time I have a whispered Talk with him. He decides that putting his head on his desk for a rest is a safer option than remaining upright with the temptation of silliness right there.
9:42: I text my assistant principal to request a break. He comes in to babysit my class for a few minutes while I am out. After I use the staff bathroom, I spend two more minutes stretching in ways that would be very awkward if I did them in front of sleepy teenagers. Taking slow laps around the classroom is not good exercise, and I don’t want my hips and back to be sore from slow walking and standing all day.
9:49: Now that I’m back and everything is put away, testing protocols can stop. We can talk, move, and breathe easier. I have a book activity planned, then coloring sheets for the rest of the time. What a wonderful use of more than an hour of time in this institution of education.
After all of that, and our 10 minute outside break and school-provided snack (single-serve packets of Cheeze-Its, Teddy Grahams, Chex Mix, etc.), we will spend 98 minutes on the Math test, then it will be lunch time. In the afternoon, the students will attend their regular electives, and teachers who were testing in the morning get their planning periods during that time. And then we do the same thing for two more days. Plus a day of Science testing at the end. Is it May yet?
*Last spring, in 2020, the world had basically shut down just before the standardized testing window opened, so online-teaching 8th graders Language Arts and Social Studies while “homeschooling” my then-kindergartener and also trying to hang onto a few of my own brain cells in the process did at least mean I didn’t have to do this particular nonsense that year. Small blessings.