‘Tis the Season

by gillis

Today was the first day of standardized testing in my classroom for the year. Prepping the room for it reminded me of my first experience administering a state test. I was teaching in a fourth grade classroom and we were taking the long composition section of the MCAS test. I was given very little information about my role other than that I had to stay in the room until all of the students were finished with the test unless I was relieved. I was also told the test was untimed, meaning students could take all day to complete the test. Perhaps you see where this is going, but I certainly didn’t.

We had been developing our composition writing skills for months. We wrote pieces in class with elaboration, worked on sentence variation and word choice, transitions, and details. We drafted, conferenced, revised, and published. The state test allowed for drafting in the test booklet with the final draft going into the answer booklet. This was one of the rare things I was actually allowed to tell the students and point out to them – don’t forget to put your final draft in the answer booklet.

Students who finished the test before lunchtime read books and tried to contain themselves as best they could. As lunch time rolled around, most of the students went to the cafeteria and I was left with a few students who were still writing, rewriting, and polishing their work. One student in particular caught my eye because she was still working in her red test booklet, not in the blue answer booklet, meaning that she was still drafting three and a half hours into the test session. I reminded her that the final draft needed to be done in the answer booklet. By recess, I was relieved by another staff member in order to eat my lunch, and the students were supervised while they ate. 

When I returned to the classroom, I was relieved to see the student who had been working in the red test booklet  was now working in the blue answer booklet. She and I were now the only people in the classroom, my students had been parceled out to other places as I continued to supervise the lone test taker. This continued on into the afternoon. During this time I cleaned off my desk, straightened all the cubbies, created new organizational systems, and still my student worked on and on. A neighboring teacher stopped in after bringing her class to the art room for class and supervised a bathroom break for the student and then one for me. I also asked her to find out if I was supposed to stop this at any time. Was I really supposed to let her work until dismissal? Could I truly not say anything to her? 

My principal stopped in shortly thereafter to check in and she let me know that yes, the student could work on it all day and no, I was not to speak to her about it until five minutes before dismissal when I should collect her test materials. I was beside myself. Was this poor girl slaving away on this simple narrative prompt about her “best day ever”  in an anxious state? Was she stressed out and agonizing over every word? It all seemed inhumane, but I had never done this before and I wasn’t in a position to go against my administrator.

Finally the time came to collect the work and I alerted the student that she needed to finish up. She protested saying, “But I’ve only done the artwork, I haven’t written anything yet!” She held the page up and indeed she had decorated the entire border of the test margins with dozens of woodland creatures all articulated and shaded beautifully. She managed to scrawl out one or two sentences before her bus was called. I have since managed to figure out a way to administer these tests so that students can almost understand what is expected of them. Almost.