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 minutesOut 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 minutesI'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 minutesOn 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 minutesI 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
"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."