Hump Day Hodgepodge: Testing Reflections

It’s a busy week here in the world of yours portly.  The end of the first quarter is approaching rapidly, so every spare moment has been dedicated to chipping away at a mountain of history quizzes and tests.  Needless to say, it’s slow going.

As such, school is on my mind—as it is pretty much every waking moment of August through May.  Fellow teachers will understand that teaching is a profession that consumes your mental energy constantly.

Today the school is undertaking the pre-administration of the PSAT, the l’il brother of the SAT, which I proctored this weekend.  Pre-administration is the process whereby students bubble in all of the sensitive personal information on an elaborate Scantron so they can receive their scores—and send them to the gaping maw of the academic-industrial complex.

As I noted in Saturday’s essay, students have become increasingly incapable of completing these simple tasks in a quiet or conscientious manner.  Part of the problem is systemic—you put a bunch of kids into one cramped room and they’re going to talk to each other (unless they know they’re about to take the actual test, in which case their nerves tend to quiet them down more quickly).

That’s not surprising.  What is surprising—and frustrating—is the mass confusion that tends to ensue as these Scantrons get bubbled.  It’s pretty straightforward:  write your name, bubble in the corresponding letters, and repeat for all the other steps.

I think part of this confusion and helplessness is the sheer weight of the college admissions process on the lives of these younglings.  The super-anxious overachievers are so stressed about doing something wrong, they can’t help but ask dozens of questions.  The perverted incentive structure of higher education makes for a great deal of desperate floundering about (and my pet peeve, grade-grubbing).

On the other end are the students who just don’t care, or who are bored with the tedious bubbling process because they already know what to do and they’re waiting for the over-achievers and the half-wits to catch up.

Regardless, it always blows my mind how little self-regulation some of these kids have—and I teach at a school with really great, well-behaved kids!  When I was in high school, I was terrified of my teachers, not because they were particularly cruel, but because they commanded respect.  Also, we were strongly conditioned to do as we were told, and the gravity of these tests was communicated frequently—likely in exaggerated terms.   Nowadays, kids think teachers are “the help”—their personal educational butlers and maids, there to serve them up good grades and to clean up their academic messes.

Another thing I’ve noticed:  the kabuki theatre.  Remember when your teacher told you you would have to write essays in cursive using an ink pen?  What about the constant threat that we would become tree-hugging, limp-wristed Europeans with the adoption of the metric system?  Lies—all lies.  Students are annoying sometimes, but we shouldn’t lie to them about progressive pipe dreams of calculating kilometers in cursive.

Regardless, say a prayer for me as I read a tedious script from the biggest pusher of the higher education pill, the College Board, to a room full of restless sophomores, crammed into a former library.  Hopefully they can remember their phone numbers and addresses (no joke—sometimes sophomores in high school don’t know their home address!), and how to spell their names correctly.

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