Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The perfect PLAN

All freshmen, sophomores, and juniors were subjected to either the EXPLORE or PLAN test this morning. These are pre-ACT instruments to measure academic growth. Or something like that. Also subjected to these standardized tests were teachers--those of us lucky enough to be homeroom teachers had to administer them to our students.

While the tests might be boring and difficult for students, they are downright torture for the administrators. We have to read the directions, keep track of time, monitor the examinees, and ... and nothing else. Not allowed to read or grade papers or log onto the computer or review the new contract or anything. So it's more than two hours of just existing.

Are you capable of just breathing and doing nothing else for extended periods of time? I've never been good at it.

Today I decided to watch my students. Carefully. While this was probably against the official rules, I took notes on what I observed.

Test 1: English: 50 questions in 30 minutes
Out of 25 in my room, the number of students I saw:
  • sniffling/requiring facial tissue: 3
  • playing with pencils while reading: 4
  • looking up at the clock every couple of minutes: 4
  • wearing sneakers or gym shoes: 22
  • not wearing their shoes during the test: 2
  • biting fingernails: 2
  • bouncing one or both legs: 2
  • pointing out to me that there are 5 minutes left and that I need to announce that there are 5 minutes left: 1 (actually, there were 5 minutes, 15 seconds left, so he was early, nyah!)
  • done at the 5-minute warning: 2
Test 2: Mathematics: 40 questions in 40 minutes
I'm not necessarily supposed to look at the questions, but I like to glance at a few, just to see what the kids are up against. In the math section, I think I got the first six without trying very hard. Then there was one about renting a bicycle for $5 for one hour and $7 for two. At those rates, how much would it cost for seven hours? I thought about it, and I immediately thought about the times I've rented bicycles, and I couldn't remember a single time when the pricing structure worked like this. It has always been per-hour or per-day, none of this sliding fee scale or whatever it's called. And then I thought, this is why I wouldn't do so well at the math test; I know it's all just phony, made-up crap. So instead I paid attention to my students, and saw:
  • quietly saying "bless you" when someone sneezed: 3
  • counting on fingers: 2
  • chewing on the pencil I lent: 1
  • not covering mouth while yawning: 2
  • erasing answers: 1
Test 3: Reading: 3 passages, 25 questions, 20 minutes
On the board, I write the start and stop time, plus when the 5-minute warning is, and a couple students point out that I've written the wrong time. Darn, I guess I can't tell time. "Please use your own brain on this test," I respond, "not mine."

No one looks up at the clock once this test gets going. It's a killer. The passages are long, boring, and there just isn't enough time. Kids have various strategies. Some read the passage slowly before hitting the questions. Some of these kids even underline things and take notes. Others look at the questions first and then skim through the text for the answers. I watch as one girl just randomly bubbles answers in 3 minutes and puts her head down.

I'm not supposed to communicate with students during the test, but I write her a little note on a Post-It and slap it onto her desk. She looks at it and laughs. It says: "Quitter!" She puts her head back down, but in a couple of minutes she's up again and actually reading. Maybe she'll change some answers, I think.

A boy finishes early and just sits there, looking bored, looking fried. I open up my manual to the "Test Irregularity" form, and put his name in it. Under "description of irregularity" I write: "Took off shoes during test. P-U! ... J/K." I show it to him. He quietly laughs. One of the keys to this kind of test, I think, is to keep a light mood in the room, take some of the edge off, relax the students. Earlier, when reading instructions, I slipped in a few comments to get a laugh or two. One sentence I read said something about me walking around the room to make sure they weren't cheating or filling in other tests, so I added, "As I walk around, my shoes will squeak extra loud, just to annoy you while you're testing." Again, prohibited behavior on my part, but whatever, I'm sure I'll have the highest scores once the real ACT rolls around.

Test 4: Science: 30 questions in 25 minutes
I see students:
  • catching snot before it lands on the answer sheet: 1
  • playing with hair: 5 (3 girls and 2 boys)
  • looking at a question and saying "shit!": 1
  • pounding eraser into desk: 1
  • looking bored/tired/spent with 1 minute left: 7
After collecting the test, I shared my notes with my students. They had a great time, laughing about being the ones sneezing or cursing or yawning. Then, I got serious: "I also wrote down the top test-taking errors I noticed many of you committing. Some of these errors, every single one of you made. And if you want to do well on the ACT, you've got to learn not to do them."

"What? What? What?" they wanted to know.

"Oh, don't worry, I'll tell you all about the errors. On Friday. Right now I want you to guess who almost had a giant snot land on his answer sheet."


subhuman said...

Hey, I'm diggin' your teacher blog. Lord knows I don't really get a chance to quietly observe students (or, observe quiet students?) as a substitute teacher for CPS, so it's nice to see how the "other half" works. Keep on keepin 'on.

Oh, and check me out at whenever you have the chance.

Mrs. P said...

I love this blog! It always makes me smile. Thank you.

appopt said...

Thanks, Mrs. P. Please tell friends/colleagues/enemies about it.

As for subhuman, thanks, and great idea for a blog. Wish I had thought of it back when I was a substitute. Hell, I'd be rich, because that would've been the first blog. Anyway, I've checked yours out, and I'll be commenting on there in a few ...

christian said...

Great post. I can't believe that they expect you to do nothing during testing.
It's nice to know that there are still jobs where no matter how old you are you still have to suffer through standardized tests. Thank god I'm done with grad school.

The Mom said...

We had the lawnmower going over at my end of the building. The contractors who cut the grass didn't make it last Friday so they decided to come in the middle of the morning....right under our windows.
What an experience! (along with the sneezing, nose picking, swears, etc.)