It's All on the Label

I have been out of my classroom, away from my students, grading sixth and seventh grade English Language Arts exams since last week. The couple hundred teachers at my scoring site, an elementary school gym, spent several hours being trained on the correct scoring of a particular test booklet, for a particular grade, which means I now feel like an expert on the sixth grade - day two book three - portion of the state test. And I need to be. It’s my job these five days to grade all the kids’ papers that show up in a pile in front of me.

I sit at a table with six smart, funny and careful teacher-scorers. We are all taking our jobs seriously, even the teacher who recently finished her ninth day of grading. We double check our scores with each other and against the scoring guides. We read aloud when a kid writes something witty. And when we have a few minutes in between packets, we turn immediately back into teachers, talking about lesson planning, strategies for emerging writers, books that best belong in what grade.

And we grade and grade and grade.

The first thing I do when I reach for the next kid’s test booklet is turn it over. All the most important data is on the back of the booklet on a small mailing label. That label tells me the kid’s name. It tells me the names of the person or people the kid lives with, and where the kid lives. The label tells me the kid’s birthday. Reading this label takes me a second, but it changes the way I read the kid’s test. I’m not reading another 6th grader’s test, I’m reading Brett’s test, and Xaviar’s exam. I noticed today that Rowen was lucky enough to live with his mom and dad and both grandparents. Yesterday, I saw that Daisy lived down the street from my best friend, and Tanisha lives right next to the high school I used to teach at in the Bronx.

I make the test into a particular kid’s work so that when I read their words, I am thinking about that 11 year old on the morning of April 17. I am thinking about how hard the child worked to finish this colossal task. I am thinking that, at the time of the piece I am reading (I am grading the part that made kids cry and throw up), this kid was trying his or her best to finish and finish well. I am thinking this kid was trying to do his or her best writing. This kid was re-reading the story to find the best evidence to prove his claim and answer the prompt even though time was short and he felt stressed. As I compare Rowen’s answer, or Tanisha’s essay, to the rubric and examples provided to test scorers from Pearson, I am looking to make sure I give them every single possible point for all they did right, rather than looking for what their work lacks.

Rest assured, the scorers are trained to look for all that’s there before they look for what is missing. We are told to err on the side of giving the most credit we are able to according to the guidelines Pearson gave us. And I think we are doing a good job.

For me, looking at the label, figuring out who’s hard work is in my hand to assess, helps me stay always present with the task of grading, even at 2:30, with twenty minutes left in my grading day, and dozens of tests behind me since 8:30 that morning.

On May 9, I get to go back to the kids I teach. I miss them terribly. On Thursday morning, I will share with them new books I bought and read while I was gone. We will dig through several articles they’ve read in my absence for really good evidence for the essay we are writing about conformity. And I’m sure there will be many stories they need to share, like the email I received after I’d been gone two days. It read simply: “Someone threw a book on the floor. I picked it up.” That was from Angelica. I hope whoever graded her test looked at her name and counted all she does right.