Musings

This is a Test

The prevalence of testing in elementary and secondary education is well known even you if don’t have kids in the system. Hundreds of articles and think-pieces are written about testing every year. The importance of the tests to the each State’s Boards of Education to assess what students are learning and how well teachers are teaching cannot be understated and thousands of kids are being tested quite frequently. The number of tests and the way teaching is impacted toward test taking is controversial, but the fact remains, testing is huge.

I got to see testing from another point of view this week when I started my short-term gig of test grading.

Now, I signed an agreement that says I can’t talk about what I’m grading, and certainly can’t share anything about the responses or the questions themselves. The company I work for is very serious (rightfully so) about protecting the privacy of the students and the integrity of the tests. I can, however, say a bit about being a grader.

I guess in the back of my head I knew all these tests kids were taking couldn’t possibly all be read by machines. (Good news for traditional labor fans: robots can’t take over written test grading just yet.) I assume early spring is the busiest time of year for standardized testing, which means this is also the busiest time of the year for grading. In fact, the grading company can’t do it alone and has several staffing agencies looking to fill all the positions available.

When I applied with my staffing agency, I had to bring in my diplomas, which meant I had to locate them. And, once I found them, I had to dust them off. And once I’d done that, I got to drive around with them on the passenger seat to take them to the recruiting office. Imagine if I died in a car accident and they found me and my diplomas. What story would the news tell?: “Insecure nerd dies with diplomas at hand.”

Anyway, I lived, and in showing my diplomas I discovered when I was a young graduate I had presence of mind to slip my transcripts inside. That’s nearly 30 years of forethought and planning that I’m going to flaunt here, elsewise, no one will ever know.

It turns out, a lot of us were trotting out our diplomas to various recruiters all over the city. The facility I work at is huge and hundreds of people are hired for short term assignments to read what the kids have done. First, it’s unusual to be in a large facility where every single person is degreed. Not that we’re smarter in general, but we are generally more book smart, I would think. The smarty-pants-es (pronounced pant-sez) represent a wide range of demographics covering age and race, but we’re all nerds in our own way.

To maintain security, no cell phone or electronic devices can be used or in sight in the grading areas. So secondly, it’s unusual to be anywhere with a group of people where there are zero screens and we have to talk to each other (quietly, as brain work is happening) or bring reading materials. There are a lot of physical books in those rooms. If a bomb hit the building, libraries and various book sellers might notice. The lack of phones is rough. The mad rush at break times isn’t to the bathroom or the break room, it’s to the hallways where we can check our devices and check in with the larger world.

The readers, as we’re called, are split into groups reading/grading various subjects, and various grade levels. We are trained to recognize what makes up a successful response, and by extension, a non-successful response, according to what State Educators want. After practicing, live responses come over the computer and we grade and grade and grade until all the responses have been graded.

It is interesting to see how the students process the information into their responses. For me, I have a better appreciation of what these assessment tests entail. As a bonus, I get a little refresher course in the subjects of the questions I’m trained to grade, a trip down education memory lane, minus the awkward teen hormone activity.

Of course the test responses run the gamut from the absurd (which helps break up the day) to the sublime, but each response is taken as seriously as the one before. I think the readers all know, that there are kids behind these tests answers who deserve our respect.

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