Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Standarized Testing Blues and Yawns

Today was Day One of Six standardized testing snooze-a-thons at my little corner of Albuquerque Public Schools. The testing really takes around 12.5 hours total, but "studies" have shown test scores improve if students ingest the thing in smaller portions. I hear another school in town is stretching the fun over eleven school days. Eleven. Eleven messed up, disjointed class days. Roughly half a month of instruction spent bubbling answer C, reminding students to make the circles "heavy and dark" and keeping test and answer booklets in a hermetically sealed room to prevent possible tampering.

Our "hermetically sealed" room is the old shop class, unused since the shop teacher retired years ago. I wonder about the hermetically sealed nature of the room, as this morning I found a cockroach dancing around the bottom of the cardboard box holding my class' precious stash of test booklets and answer documents. Or is that test documents and answer booklets? I always get those confused.

The power of visual images is strikingly present when it comes to standardized testing. No teacher can possibly look at a "test document" or "answer booklet" without instantly going into a near coma of brainwave inactivity. Instantaneous enervation. Immediate narcopletic-quality head lolling. I'm thinking of stealing one of the test booklets to put beside my bed for times of insomnia, but ferreting a test booklet or answer document away from school is considered a crime punishable by gruesome death.

In fact, test protocol and security is really the funniest aspect of the whole standardized test shindig. Every year a story gets out about how some teacher somewhere invalidated the test through some, always hilarious, means. Maybe a teacher reads the answers out loud in a pointed way that emphasizes the correct answer. Perhaps an administrator schedules a testing session split between two class days enabling students to go back and change answers after studying at home.

Doubtless another such story is being germinated right now and we'll all have a hearty laugh at the expense of the poor schlub(s) who screwed up. Outside of our inherent desire to laugh at the misfortune of others, these stories are always really funny because they imply that teachers/administrators actually CARE how students do on the standardized tests.

And this is where your humble blogger needs to step in and expose a truth about teachers and standardized testing. Many of us really DO NOT CARE how students perform on these tests. Not one bit. Couldn't give a crinkly hair on a rat's behind. That's not true for every teacher, mind you, but there's quite a few of us who are just plain mystified any teacher would bother trying to improve test scores by cheating. Mystified that anyone would care about these scores enough to get a paper cut, much less unemployed over something this meaningless.

What just about all teachers do care about is getting inadvertently busted for violating test security and ending up in the newspaper with people at office watercoolers all over NM laughing at them. This paranoia breeds some pretty darn funny staff meetings in which the most paranoid in the bunch outline a number of outlandish scenarios which reflect both a grand imagination and tons of paranoia. Students sneaking into hermetically sealed, cockroach-filled rooms and changing answers...that sort of thing.

Funny, but not worth showing up at multiple 7:30 staff meetings for. We have several over test protocol. My personal favorite is the state-mandated PowerPoint presented in Fall Semester. It includes tons of Driver's Ed. film-level dire warnings and horrific outcomes, but the funniest thing about it is that it takes place four months before testing begins. Nobody remembers anything about it, other than it was a PowerPoint and really boring. Maybe we'd remember more if the PowerPoint included video from real Driver's Ed. films featuring drivers impaled by steering wheels and blood flowing from open head wounds into a black-and-white river along a glass-strewn highway. Just an idea. Or maybe we could have the meeting at some point other than November. Again, just an idea.

So today was Day One of Six in this year's standardized testing saga. We chased the cockroach away from the test booklets, tested for a scant few hours, then released the kids after serving them a lunch featuring wild, crazy testing-released students hurling stinkbombs and setting off fire alarms. Then we had some parent-teacher conferences and tried to forget the whole testing thing for a few hours.

We all know there's a better way, but this is the Soviet-style bureaucratic loony time we live in, at least for a couple of weeks each school year. We mindlessly bubble and proctor our way through the languid days, completing our cycle of meaningless drudgery with a walk to a cockroach-filled room, a wiping of the hands and a re-entry into the sunlight of a real world which has never seemed so very different from the fakery that is public school and education.

And tomorrow is only Day Two....


Natalie said...

Ha! Very funny.
Our kids start tomorrow. As a result, they were in bed at 7:30 (usually 8), well fed, and they've put in an order for eggs, bacon, and toast (versus cereal) so they can get a good start on the day.
You know, "real breakfast"...lol.

Such is the propaganda of NCLB, AYP, testing, one, two, three...

Cockroaches will still rule the world. Tests or no tests.

Evan said...

Do we really do better when the testing is spread out over multiple days?
Our administration must have lost that memo, I think, because we've got two days of non-stop, mind-melting tests next week.
Mr. Richie can't stop laughing at our misfortune.
In 7th grade, when I had you for testing, we just sat around and played poker and stuff most of the time while all the other classes finished filling in 'C'.