This week, as the English Language Arts state test are administered across the state, elementary and middle schools will be on testing lockdown.
Teachers are not allowed to be near a pencil or pen when the test is in the room; cell phones must be off our persons and in the off position; students must be escorted through the hallways; teachers are not allowed to do anything but “actively proctor,” which means wandering around the room without stopping for the whole 90 minutes; teachers are not allowed to really speak to children while the test is in the room, and in their active proctoring, they are not to linger too long by one student since it may mean the teacher is cheating.
The state of New York will send random test monitors to schools across the state to make sure everyone is adhering to these guidelines. Entire rooms full of tests can be invalidated if a monitor witnesses a violation. Teachers have been sternly warned about all of these procedures.
It’s kind of scary.
For kids, the days are equally miserable and scary. All students from third through eighth grade will be taking a 90-minute test (135 minutes for those with extended time) all three days. During the time the test is in the room kids are not allowed to have anything on their desks except the test and a pencil. They may not talk or get up and wander around. They must be still and focused and working. When they are done, we must tell them to sit quietly and put their heads down. Under no circumstances can they talk.
I would like to remind you that third graders are eight years old. People somewhere thought these were good and viable directions to give eight year olds. The teachers and principals must be stern and serious during the time the test is in the room. If you are a kid, and you are taking the test, you can’t ask your teacher any questions, you can’t expect encouraging words. Your teachers seem stressed and mad. You know it’s serious. The test is long and hard and scary. Bad things will happen if you don’t do well. Everyone, your teachers, the principal, your parents, even the news on TV, tells you this.
Sometimes the kids cry. Or they look really mad. Or they put their heads down or stare into space. They kind of give up. They get antsy. They don’t smile or laugh or seem happy. They are worried. Being a teacher on state test days feels a little like committing child abuse.
I remember from Regents administration, when the kids were done with the test, they left school for the day. Not so with this test, the kids have to stay, sitting still and quiet until the tests have left the room. Then they can draw or do puzzles until all the tests in the school are collected and secured. Then the rest of the school day happens, like everything is normal.
It makes me weary to think about this week. The kids and teachers at my school look haggard, everyone feels crazy and exhausted. I suspect we are not alone.
This year, we know from all we've been told by the state, and from the practice materials, that the tests will be much more difficult. While reading a practice passage aloud last week, I thought surely I read this weird article about alternative fuel sources for cars before. I had. It was a Day One Regents passage from several years ago, for 11th graders. Now it's being used for eighth graders; that's what we're up against. We keep telling kids, "You're smart! You got this!" And that makes them feel better.
But we could all use more encouragement.
Please join me, in offering all our elementary and middle school colleagues and kids raucous cheers and huzzahs, war cries, if you will, as they survive this challenging testing season. And remember that after the tests this week, and before the math tests next week, we have Friday. On Friday, we will resume the excellent teaching we love to do, and that we know makes differences in kids' lives.
So here's my rallying suggestion:
If you know a kid taking the test, give them extra hugs, cuddle and read them a good book, let them eat ice cream, let them watch their favorite movie or spend a few extra minutes playing their favorite video game. It will make them feel calm and normal and loved.
If you know a teacher or principal giving the test, drop them a cheerful line, pat them on the back, buy them a cup of tea, actually give them an apple, it will make them laugh, and feel better.
And then you could think about calling a politician. They could use words of encouragement about this too.