A space to reflect on my readings and musings, scattered and rescattered


PSAT Proctoring

I sit here proctoring an exam. Twenty-one young people--all about fifteen years old--sit before me utterly silent, calculators and #2 pencils in hand, bubbling in empty holes on their PSAT answer sheets. Many of them were particularly exuberant and playful when they walked into the school early this morning--teasing and joking with one another, gently pushing and slugging, scowling and name-calling, smiling and laughing at one another. I'm chalking it up to anxiety--right alongside the handful of headaches and tummy aches--because I never see them so rowdy this early in the day. After they'd all found their room assignments and the handful of little test-takers under my charge had sauntered in from the hallways and settled in to the classroom a minute or two beyond the 9:00am start time, I passed out the 39-page test booklets and fold-over, purple printed answer/info. sheets. I then stood at the front of the room deconstructing how to bubble the 2 full pages of info. sheets right along with them, puzzling through the questions that were at times utterly confusing even to me--a seasoned test bubbler.

As we worked together completing this form for 40 mins, students grumbled, sighed and got confused but stuck with it, figuring it out right along with me. They asked the usual, "Do I have to mark my race? Can I mark more than one?" And, of course, cried out in exasperation over forgotten social security numbers and zip codes. As we worked through the blanks, my mind raced through all the high-stakes, stardardized tests I've taken--this one--the PSAT, the real SAT, the ACT, the GRE--a couple of times, the GRE English,three teacher certification exams in Missouri and, when I moved, three more teacher certification exams in NYC. As I recall all of these exams that were requirements of my career in one way or another, it does not escape me that I'm teaching students a valuable skill as we work our way through the seemingly endless circles with our #2 pencils--that impersonal, computer-assessed exams will be part and parcel of the rest of their academic existence. From the SATs they will sit for--likely more than once, the Scantron exams they'll take in over-sized psychology and science courses at large public universities where they'll be number 787 on the quiz clicker to the myriad of professional certification exams they'll take for their respective fields.

I never really feel good on these standardized exam days. I feel like we've all gotten short-changed. And I think we have. This isn't what education is supposed to be, but it's also what education has become. If my students want to move on to careers where their talent, intellect, and innovation is truly valued, they have to learn to bubble effectively, erase completely, and read and understand directions that sometimes confound this teacher.

At the end of the each of the 5 sections, which I logged on the white board up front, I wrote silly things like, "Woot, woot! Wer're over half way done. :)" and then, "We're 80% thru! Yay! Hip Hip Horray." They rolled their eyes and shook their heads at me as they stifled smiles. When the test was through, I was the dragon lady teacher. I checked over each answer sheet and helped them correct errors. They sorta wanted to bludgeon me, because their friends from other classrooms were already in the hallways whooping it up. Yet, instead of letting them enter the mayhem of the hallways without reflecting on what they'd just accomplished, I quieted them down once again and quite simply said, "Congratulations, you've taken your first step to going to college. You should be very proud." As they filed out of the classroom, bumping into one another, pushing to get out of testing zone relatively unscathed and into freedom, I patted them on the backs, smiled, and congratulated them again. Then, I went and sat at my desk and let a few tears fall for the pride I feel for these children I'm growing to love and frustration at yet another injustice of our educational system.

I think for a moment about the dissertation I'm writing on literacy and technology in education and dream of all the wonderfully creative design projects we'll do this year with laptops on our desks, all the books we'll read and share with one another sitting on our bean bags, and all the interesting topics we'll discuss and probably even heatedly debate. Alongside these exciting valuable learning activities, I also resolve not to forget to teach my students the code too--to teach them to be good little test bubblers so that they have access to the really good stuff in the world of education. I can wish these tests didn't matter, don't have real consequences, but they do and kids need to know how to be good little test-takers right along side being designers, composers, and dreamers of new worlds. Perhaps it will be their over-tested generation that creates the new way of doing things that we so desperately need.


At 5:30 PM, Blogger DDAngel said...

I thought it was gonna be my generation :'(. *forgotten* This blog entry sound like the end to a story. And yesh! the power of the bubble!!!

At 7:48 PM, Blogger alg said...

moving post, dj. i couldn't agree more. i'm glad you are a cheesy "woot woot!" teacher-- i think, although they may roll their eyes, they appreciate the upbeat-ness.

At 2:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can see you sitting there making them erase the bubbles that strayed too far outside the line. :*

Post more often, plz. Kthxbai

At 9:08 PM, Blogger td said...

ddangel, i hate to tell you, but i think ur the same generation as my students now...born in the same decade and all! so, um, yeah, can u do something about the bubbles?


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