What Happens to me During Standardized Testing

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Imagine being locked in a room with 30 middle school students. You have never met these students before.  The students are quiet because they are taking a test, and your job is to monitor them.  You may not speak or answer any of their questions. You may not sit. You may not check your phone or email-- in fact, your phone and computer must be turned off and your phone left off campus.  You may not draw, write, or have anything in your hand besides testing instructions.  You may not even stand in one place for too long, or look at a spot on the wall for too long. For the next SEVEN HOURS, your job is to walk around the room and watch 30 students take a test.  And if you don’t, you will get fired, audited, or some other scary word. 

For public school teachers across America, at least once a year this nightmare becomes a reality.  It is called standardized testing.

As with many other aspects of the teaching profession, it is impossible to convey to non-teachers exactly how mind-blowingly boring it is to administer a state-mandated test.  (Lots of hyphens in that last sentence.)  In fact, I bet it comes off as whiny. Some of you may even be saying, “Why, I would love a day to sit around and do nothing!”  No, no, honey.  First of all, you’re not sitting-- you’re walking.  Second, I’m betting that any other time in your life that you THOUGHT you were “doing nothing,” you were actually doing a lot.  Looking at magazines in a doctor’s office, listening to music on your iPod in line at the post office, checking your phone while waiting for a friend to show up for coffee-- you were doing plenty.  Even if you really did have nothing to do, chances are you were at least allowed to gaze off into the distance and come close to nodding off.

I dread standardized testing more than anything else at school. And while I’m particularly prone to being dramatic and/or overusing superlatives, I can say with certainty that that is the truth.

I go through 7 phases during standardized testing:

Phase 1: Optimism

In the Optimism phase, things are ok.  I’ve passed out the tests, things are going smoothly, and I am pleased with the silence that only happens when these kids have been threatened to do well within an inch of their lives.  “This won’t be too bad!” I think.

Phase 2: Recognition of the problem

Less than an hour in, I remember why I hate standardized testing. I have ran out of lists in my head, already having completed Groceries, Errands, Things I will Do this Summer, My Pop Culture Crushes in Chronological Order, and Foods that Start With the Letter D (there are hardly any!). I have looked at each child’s face and determined in my head what animal he/she would be.  I have tried (and failed) to mentally translate T. Pain’s “Whatever You Like” into Spanish and French.  I’m running out of things to think about, and definitely not running out of time.

Phase 3: Determination

Determination usually follows a break of some kind, usually lunch.  In Determination, I manage to pick myself up by my bootstraps ever so slightly. The sugar in my bloodstream kicks in, and I’m certain that I can get through the rest of the day. “Alright,” I tell myself.  “You can do this.  Plenty of people in history have been bored.  And you’ve got twice the imagination those poor suckers do.”

Phase 4: Resignation

I have resigned to the idea of ever experiencing happiness or sunshine again.  The sugar rush is over, and I am only capable of thinking, “I will die here.”

Phase 5: Delirium

I am only capable of thinking, “Wabbits, wabbits, wabbits.”

Phase 6: Relief

Yes! The announcement to turn in testing materials. I skip down the hallway.  Literally.

Phase 7:Flashbacks

Occasionally, I’ll have testing flashbacks.  They’re not pretty.



P.S. No idea why #4 has tiny sharp teeth and an underbite, but it has been making me laugh.  Probably because I tested today. 

Just like when I blew up that crate, yo

Friday, March 16, 2012

If you've never read the Hunger Games, you should just skip this post.

If you have read the Hunger Games but have an aversion to other forms of pop culture, you still might want to skip this post.

For the past few weeks, my students have been working on projects as a wrap-up to our Hunger Games unit.  I let them choose between art, writing, and performance-based projects, with several choices in each category (record and edit your own movie trailer, write your own fan fiction chapter, design a movie poster, etc). There is nothing more fun to me as a teacher than watching my students be their creative, weird selves, and I can practically see their synapses firing as they work hands-on.  Winning for everybody!

As I was watching them work, the same sentiment kept coming up.

"You guys are so lucky!" I'd say, watching students use my Nerf arrows to stab each other dramatically in front of their "cameraman," poised with my iPhone. "I don't remember doing anything this fun in junior high.  In fact, I think I only smiled three times." 

"I'm so jealous," I told one student as she quietly edited her partner's script. "I wish I was in 8th grade again."
"You were in 8th grade once?"
"Don't look so surprised."

I kept wishing I could be back in 8th grade to do one of these projects.  The only thing I remember about 8th grade English class is thinking the rest of my class were complete idiots for not understanding sentence diagramming. The only thing I remember about the rest of middle school English was a friend and I almost getting kicked out of my 7th grade class for laughing hysterically during "Rikki Tikki Tavi." That's it.  Sentence diagrams and a weasel.  No projects, no technology, no laughing.  Well, unless we were reading a story with a hilarious name.

On the last day before Spring Break, my students presented their projects.  I was blown away.  They put so much time and energy into these projects (I imagine partly because my rubric was almost impossible.)  Look at this movie poster one of my students drew!

After everyone had presented, I told my students how today had been my proudest day as a teacher, and how I was so amazed at their creativity and talent.  Then I told them how jealous I had been watching them, and how I had been wishing there was some way I could participate as their teacher.  By the time I got out my guitar from the closet and sat down, they were already screaming.

My dear readers, I give you: my first song.

"Hunger Story"
Original lyrics by: Love, Teach
Melody by: Taylor Swift
(to the tune of "Love Story")

Verse 1: 
We were both young when I first saw you
Outside the bakery I was starved
You threw some bread
Luckily it missed my head

I see Effie at the District Reaping
See her make her way through the crowd 
And say, "Primrose"
I couldn't bear to see her go

Then she drew Peeta Mellark, the boy with bread
And Claudius said, "Don't you eat that nightlock yet!"
And I was crying in the hovercraft
Begging you, "Please don't go,"
And I said,

Peeta, take me to the cave that's by the stream
I'll forget that you are Merchant I am Seam
Girl on fire and the boy with the bread
It's the Hunger Games, but, baby, we'll stay fed

Verse 2:
So I sneak out to the roof for some fresh air
The windchimes blow, and you whisper, "I dare
For them to see
That they don't own me..."

See the lights at the Capitol party
See you tell Caesar how I stole your heart
Is it a lie?
Or just a method to survive?


I got tired of waiting
Wondering if your fever would ever go down
My faith in Haymitch was fading
When I saw that parachute floating down
And I said,

Peeta, let me get that backpack from the Feast
Just lie back now, have some syrup, go to sleep
You'll be unconscious, I'll fight Cato
Just like when I blew up that crate, yo

Peeta, run there's some mutts about to eat us all
An "X" on his hand, with my last arrow Cato falls 
Is this in my head? I don't know what to say
Claudius gets on the speakers and the Anthem plays,

"Only one victor; the two of you will have to choose."
Death for one would mean that we both lose...
"Wait, wait--stop!  We'll get you out of this mess,"
District 12 victors, baby, just say, "Yes."

I don't claim to have any kind of singing voice, but they made me feel like I was T. Swift herself.   Even if I did cheat in the bridge by making "down" rhyme with "down".

It was a very good day.