Larry Efird: Confessions of a test administrator
I don’t think any new teacher is ever prepared for the amount of time he or she will spend getting students ready to take End-of-Grade or End-of-Course tests. Even for us veterans, it seems that each passing year makes a unique demand upon us to ensure that all our students will magically make a credible score on a “new and improved” test. In the past decade, we’ve waded through a Standard Course of Study, then a Common Core set of standards, and shortly we’ll be entering the next phase of “What will they come up with next?”
All of that indecision and flip-flopping at the state level doesn’t seem to matter when it comes to how our students do when they take these all-important exams each year. I’m often amused at how stressed out we teachers become the week of testing; we can’t administer the tests to our own classes without a proctor, because of state regulations, so we show up “as a sojourner in a strange and foreign land” on test day to administer an assessment to a group of kids we don’t know, in order to oversee a test in a subject which we also don’t know.
Last semester, during the high holy days of testing, before I began reading verbatim the inspired and infallible Test Administrator’s Handbook to a class of Math I students, a young lady on the front row asked me, “Do you work here?” I saw the humor in her comment, but I also wondered if I should get out of my classroom more. Then I once again realized how incongruous it was to have an English teacher standing in front of 30 ninth-graders who were about to take a Math I End-of-Course test on a computer. I also had to make sure their calculators had been “cleared” and that they only used them on the “calculator active” part of the test.
First of all, what is Math I? It used to be Algebra I, I suppose. And who decided we needed to call it Math I? And then, how many times have I “cleared a calculator” in my English classes? The language of the phrase was Greek to me, on top of adding to my already self-imposed stress of not screwing up the kids’ test environment because I was in a new room and felt as out of place in their world as they would have felt in mine.
Students and teachers really do bond after spending four months together during a semester. Having a different face in front of them on the most important day of that semester is like a 5-year-old having an unknown, distant relative take him to his doctor’s appointment to get a shot. Would anyone really do that?
I also had to make sure that each student worked assiduously during the test, but considering I didn’t know any of their names, admonishing them to stay awake for the entire test or asking them to make sure they were in dress code before the test even began was somewhat awkward due to the fact that I was a stranger in their territory, and who was I to tell them to do anything?
I can’t really say that I blame them because I’ve never wanted any strangers telling me what to do either. Even compliant kids have trouble doing their best on a test when the “real teacher” is absent. I’ve found that to be true over the years. That’s why I never leave tests for substitutes to give. They never do as well without the teacher in the room — ever.
Perhaps the only certainty regarding EOCs and EOGs is that they have taken on a life of their own since their inception, and American schoolchildren will continue to be enslaved by these harsh and unfair standards. If God and Moses had needed just one more plague to convince Pharaoh to “Let my people go,” it might have been that the Egyptian school children would’ve had to take End-of-Course tests. I guess even Pharaoh finally realized when enough was enough. He wisely didn’t wait around to see “what they would come up with next.”
Larry Efird teaches at A.L. Brown High School in Kannapolis.