Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Do Not Disturb

Starting today, teachers all around Michigan, began the annual state testing in their classrooms. Desks were moved apart, No 2 pencils were sharpened, and signs were posted on closed doors announcing that testing was in progress.  This is by far, a few days of each year that I hate the most.  

Do I think students should be assessed?  Of course.  Do I teach state curriculum (GLCEs) and check for understanding?  Yes, I do.  Do I feel I am doing a good job as a teacher?  Yep.   So, you ask, then why do I hate this test?  

A teacher's job is to guide and help students.  We help them with unknown vocabulary words when they are reading, we listen as they reread directions and try to problem solve, we ask them questions and get them to think.  We push them to work through problems but are there as a safety net when they need that little extra nudge or some outright help.   And then comes testing days.  The safety net is gone.  Ripped out from under them, leaving them all alone.  With a multiple choice test.

My students were talking about the test a little in the hallway this morning as they arrived.  Mostly they were excited because they had not had homework the night before and would have no homework tonight, due to the test.   A few kids were talking about me being there if they needed help.  

"I'm sorry, but with this test, I am not allowed to help you at all with anything on the test," I told the group.   

"But you can help me if I don't know a word, right?" asked one little girl, the anxiousness obvious.  

"Ahhhh.... not so much," I said.  "But let's get into class.  I'll explain to everyone what we're doing and how this all works.  No worries."  

And then I reminded all the little ones in the hallway to not bring in water bottles or anything else.   They would just need pencils and I had already sharpened many this morning.   "Use the bathroom and get a drink before we start the test," I directed them as they passed through the doorway.

They shuffled in, checked in for lunch and quietly sat at their empty tables.  None of their personalized little pencil boxes or cute little boxes decorated with stickers, stuffed with colored pencils and crayons.  Nada.

"Well, good morning," I began, in my most bubbling of voices. "I hope everyone did their homework and ate a healthy breakfast and got lots of sleep last night so you're at your best this morning!"  

Twenty-four little heads nodded up and down.   

"So, let's get started," I told them.  I passed out a perfectly sharpened No. 2 pencil and a test booklet to each student.  
"Please check and make sure your name is on the booklet," I told them.  "And please do NOT open it until I tell you too. And there can be no talking, no eating, no drinking, no getting up out of your seat, no leaning back in your seat, no playing with your pencil, no drawing on the test, no bubbling in outside of the bubble, no looking at someone else, no cell phones, no calculators, no dictionaries, no extra paper, no smiling, no crying, no sleeping, no cheating, no skipping questions, no asking questions, and no fun."   

OK, so I didn't really say some of that stuff.   But I was thinking it.  
I clicked on my mic and opened the 100 page administrator's manual to "Day 1: Part 1" and looked around the room.  Their eyes were focused on me.  Waiting. They looked as if they were secretly hoping I would channel all the answers directly to their brain and just make everything ok. They could sense the seriousness in my voice as I droned on with the directions from the manual.  And some of their eyes grew larger.  You see, in 3rd grade it is their very first state test and it's all brand new to them.  And scary. 

Every year at this time, I think of these little eight and nine year olds and how they must be feeling at this moment.  They looked so nervous.  They looked so little. 

And so it began.  After spending almost fifteen minutes on how to bubble in their birthday on the front cover of the test booklet, we finally moved on and they all began. "Just remember to do your best!" I reminded them as they turned to the first page.  They intently read the text and flipped pages back and forth as they carefully read and reread.  Their little tongues touched their lips as they painstakingly bubbled in their answers.  

As the clock ticked in the silent room, I heard a few little tummies growl.  I saw a few troubled looks and a couple of furrowed brows.  I heard several pencils tapping and one or two sighs.  As I patrolled the room, checking for correct bubbling technique a student here and there would catch my eye and smile weakly.  I returned each one with a big smile to signal my silent vote of confidence in their abilities.  

And, just like every year, a few little hands went in the air and when I walked over and whispered a hushed, "Yes?" to them, they pointed at a word and looked helplessly at me. 

"Can you tell me what this word is?" asked one.  

My shoulders slumped and I made a sad face.   "I'm sorry.  I can only read the directions to you again.  Just try your best. You can do it!" I coached as I patted them on the back and stood up.  

As I collected their booklets from this first test session, you could sense the relief in the room that at least some of this was over for now.  Now we could get on with our regular day of learning and talking and having some fun.  But first we needed a snack. 

When I think of our yearly state test, it makes me think of a whole lot of No. 2s.   

And I don't mean pencils.

        For a look at last year's blog about testing, click here:  Swirlberry With A Side Of MEAP

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