what to do while "actively proctoring" a state-mandated test

F. Scott and I have just survived the yearly proctoring duties for the state-mandated test. It basically kills two weeks here at our school. We take two full mornings in two weeks in a row and to accommodate these testing blocks, the entire schedule for the week is a mess.

But I can live with that. A little variety in the weekly schedule is probably good for us. The worst part of it for me is “active proctoring.”

What that means is that I am unable to do anything but watch the students take the test. I cannot read, grade, write, or work on my computer. I must walk around the room and monitor the students’ progress through the test, make sure they are not working in the wrong test in the book, make sure they are not looking at a neighbor’s test, make sure they are not doodling instead of taking the test seriously, etc. And even if all students in my room finish a particular test with a half hour left in the time allowed for the test, they all must sit silently until the testing session is over. THEY can read a book. I still must actively monitor what they are up to.

This of course is important. As much as I disagree with high stakes testing, as long as we have to live with it, it’s best for our school if these tests go well. So I play along and follow the rules, which makes for a very difficult time for me. I tell the students I would rather be taking the test myself than watching them take it.

But somehow I muddle through. This year I paid close attention to how exactly I got myself through this. Here’s my list of things to do to keep one’s mind occupied while “actively proctoring” a state-mandated, high-stakes test.

1) Memorize the students’ names. I did this during the very first 60-minute test my group of 18 took. When the testing session was over, I told them I knew all their names and they asked me to prove it. So I did. At least it made them smile before we plunged into the second 60-minute test.
2) Wiggle your toes. I did a lot of this. I wondered how vigorously I could wiggle them without anyone noticing when looking at my shoes.
3) Gaze out the window. Look for signs of spring. This, of course, only works if you have a window in the classroom where you are stationed. I did this year, but I didn’t last year.
4) Monitor the pencil sharpness of students’ pencils and replace as necessary. My students went through a massive number of pencils this year. This meant I had to re-sharpen just about all of them in between each testing session. One student used SIX in one writing test. I took to lining up three or four pencils on his desk at the start of the morning.
5) Collect and alphabetize test books as students finish up.
6) Sit, stand, sit, stand, sit, stand (at lengthy intervals).
7) But don’t sit in that purple chair. There was a very low to the ground, delicate-looking purple chair in the classroom where I proctored this year. I was concerned that if I sat in it, I might not be able to get up, thus creating a hilarious scene that might distract the students in the room.
8) Compose blog posts in your head. Where do you think this one came from?
9) Take slow laps around the room. Be sure you are NOT wearing the corduroy pants that go swish swish swish when you walk.
10) Examine the student projects posted on the wall and remember to ask your colleague about them. The ones I saw this year were particularly intriguing.
11) As students finish, deliver reading material to their desks if they haven’t brought their own. I had a stack of high-interest novels and I enjoyed trying to pick just the right book for students I had just met and didn’t know much about.
12) Reorganize everything the box of testing supplies.
13) Drink water at regular intervals, but not too much so you don’t end up with a too-full bladder.
14) Re-read the proctoring instructions again and again. I didn’t want to mess up.
15) Walk the box of tissues over to over-sniffly students.
16) Clean up the mess under the pencil sharpener. Why? see #4 above.
17) Imagine my seven-year old daughter as a high school student taking a test like this.
18) Sing “Bridge over Troubled Water” in your head. That’s what was stuck in my head for some reason.
19) Think deep thoughts.
20) Count how many pairs of Chuck Taylors are in the room (three–one pair brown, one pair gray, and one pair black with red thread).
21) Oh, and of course, watch the students take the test. But avoid making eye contact to lessen the creeper quotient for all involved.

So there you have it. I survived. My group of students this year was particularly awesome. They appeared to be taking the test very seriously and they made the atmosphere quiet and just right to support their peers’ ability to take the test as well. And every time I replaced a dull pencil, they whispered, “thank you” to me.

Signing off–
M. Shelley

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