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.
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.