It’s that time of the year again! Time to start administering standardized tests. At my school, we will administer three tests this year, all of which will probably take away about 20 hours of instructional time. Oh, but don’t worry, “these scores are an accurate representation of how much our students know”. As my school prepares for the first set of tests this week, I can’t help but think about how much I despise proctoring standardized tests. Like, I think I would rather go to the dentist or sit in a professional development day, because:
1. They force us to lie to our students: When students ask, “Why do I have to take this test?”, I am forced to make up some answer: “Oh, well it is going on your transcript for college”. The idea is, eventually, these tests will be used to determine how competent students are, and whether they have the necessary skills for college. But, not right now. So, I have to lie to my students that the test they are taking this week could potentially “reject them from a college”, even though the test scores will not come back until probably AFTER the students already got accepted into college. Or, I can tell them, “Well, your test scores allocate school funding, so if you do well, then we can have money to buy cool, new SmartBoards”, which is also a lie. I personally am a terrible liar, so when this question comes up, I usually just tell my students, “Um, well, it’s a good practice for all the other standardized tests you will have to take later on in your life”.
2. I have to stifle my natural nurturer tendencies and not help anyone: Like most people, I went into teaching because I LOVE helping people. I love handing my knowledge and wisdom down to other people and I love making someone’s life a little easier, a little more meaningful. I recently proctored the ACT, and as I was actively walking around during the reading section, I saw a bunch of students “reading the passages carefully” and “annotating” and, wasting time. All I wanted to do was halt time, tell the students to read the questions and THEN look for the answers in the passage, without reading the entire passage. But, alas, I must stifle my natural nurturer tendencies and watch the students make mistakes and waste time because I am not allowed to help anyone. If a student asks a question, all I am allowed to say is, “I am sorry, I can’t answer that question for you”. So, if the WiFi goes out, or the student’s test booklet somehow has a hole in it, I can’t help them.
3. I can’t tackle the pile of work that is accumulating on my desk: One of the great things about teaching is there is always something to work on. There is curriculum to build, assessments to grade, research to read, grades to input, e-mails to respond to, goals to create, papers to copy, etc. And, while I am proctoring standardized tests, I am not allowed to do any of that. I have to walk around and stare at kids taking tests to make sure they don’t cheat on these very important tests that they care so much about. What usually ends up happening is I create a list of all the stuff I wish I could be doing in my head (because, of course, I am not allowed to write it down). I start feeling really anxious, thinking about all the stuff I could be doing, but can’t, because I am staring at kids taking tests. And, once the test is over, I scribble it all down so I don’t forget.
4. I have to sit through redundant trainings: Every training is the same. “Sign your life away”. “If a cell phone goes off, the test is invalidated”. “Keep time to the very second”. But, then of course, each test also has it’s own “trademark” rules: No sleeping. No extra reading material. Oh, but they can bring a book to this test. No late starts. No bathroom breaks. Let one student go at a time. No calculators. Yes calculators. No scratch paper. #2 Pencils. Only login under your student ID number. Seat in alphabetical order. Oh wait, don’t seat next to people they know. Honestly, it gets really confusing, and the manuals are at least 100 pages long with “specific instructions for that test” (but, of course, since I am NOT allowed to do anything else, I usually have that manual memorized by the end of the test).
5. I must watch students suffer: Walking down the hallways and looking into classrooms of students standardized testing is really depressing. They look so miserable. They aren’t allowed to talk. They aren’t allowed to eat. At some tests, they aren’t even allowed to drink water. When CSAPs were around, students would finish in five minutes, and be forced to sit there, silently, no sleeping, no reading, no nothing for the next fifty-five minutes, which resulted in some interesting forms of self-entertainment (making pencil ramps out of the math tools, counting ceiling tiles, tying and untying their shoes, attempting to Morse code their friends in a different classroom). Yes, I know their lives could be WAY worse, and that there are kids in other countries that don’t even have the luxury to go to school. But, watching kids suffer is still horrible.
6. It’s a product of Big Business: In teaching, we get new programs all the time. First, we use eModo, then we use Moodle, now we use Schoology. This is all because some big corporation came in, presented their product, and the school district purchased it; it’s all about making someone else rich. As a humanist, I reject this philosophy. I don’t believe someone should be making money off the suffering of the innocent.
7. I am not allowed to be witty: I am not sure if you ever pay attention to the dull, dry, and boring scripts we have to read, but it’s pretty terrible. And, knowing that my students will be suffering for the next four hours of absolute boredom, I wish that I could make some kind of funny remarks to lighten their moods a little. You know, like add a direction: “If you notice the kid sitting next to you smells bad, please suck it up and don’t move your desk out of the allotted 3X3 area”. Or, when I read the direction, “No tobacco products”, add a snide remark about, “I guess someone must have burnt through their test for THAT to be a rule”. Or, add in, “When you are done, you may read a book or put your head down”, “but, please make sure you keep your drool in your mouth”. But, I can’t, because I must, again, stifle my natural witty tendencies and read exactly what the directions say. It’s so painful.
8. My mind must be idle: I get SO bored “actively proctoring”. There are only so many pathways up and down the aisles one can take without being too distracting. It’s always really great when you end up in a teacher’s room that contains a plethora of things to look at. I end up creating games for myself. I like to discreetly look over the shoulders and try to answer some of the test questions myself (but, of course, if I noticed a student answering a question wrong, I have to stifle that natural teacher tendency and just let them fail). Sometimes, I rank the kids from lowest to highest perceived intelligence level, based on their test taking speed, handwriting, physical appearance, and magnitude of the scowl on their face. Last time, I practiced my three-step line dancing moves down the aisle. And one time, I wrote people sonnets (of course, before the test, I researched rhyming words so I would at least have those to my disposal). And, with the new wave of standardize testing done on the computer, my role as a proctor is no longer to make sure kids are taking the correct test (since the computer locks the section), and I can’t answer any questions, but rather to just make sure students aren’t cheating. Can’t they make a robot for that?
9. My professional expertise is offended: I spent countless hours reading, writing, discussing, studying, and a good chunk of money to earn my college education. I would like to think I am somewhat of an expert in English, and I would like to think I have something special to share with the world. But, alas, I can’t. There is this new rule that only licensed teachers can proctor. I am not sure what credentials I have that an un-licensed teacher does not have, but I personally think it is professionally offending that part of my job description is, “stare at kids taking a test”. Like, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out.
10. It’s always changing: Because “Big Business” is always trying to make more money, new tests are always outputted. There is this new push to tie teacher pay to standardized testing scores, which in theory, makes sense. However, if my kids are taking a new test every year, and I am not even allowed to know what is on the test until they take it, that makes deriving instruction a little difficult. It would be like having to take your driver’s test, but not knowing beforehand that you will be doing it all blindfolded. And, some tests are done on the computer, some on paper. Some are written, some are just fill in the bubbles. All of which, not only must I teach my students the content, but I must also teach them how to take the test itself. Like, how to drag and drop the periodic table. Or, how to fill in the bubbles (legit, I have had to go over this with my freshmen classes before). So, the scores students receive could potentially not even be reflective of their knowledge, but rather whether they know how to take that particular test or not.
….didn’t we decide a few years ago that we COULD leave children behind? So, can we please stop standardize testing so I can just do my thing and teach?