Teaching Opinion

During Testing Season, a Nod to How the Other Side Lives

By Starr Sackstein — January 23, 2018 3 min read

So it’s testing week in New York and I have to admit that I’d like to give a nod to my former administrators responsible for making Regent exams run smoothly. As a classroom teacher, I never really paid much attention to how everything happened, I just resented that it did.

Since testing goes against my general educational philosophy in terms of it not being the best way to assess student learning, especially if it is a standardized test not made by classroom teachers, I was always annoyed when state testing was thrust upon us.

Like everyone else, I’d march into the testing office, sign for my box, and get to my room early to ensure that it was testing ready (all wall hangings down, seats in rows, clean board, proper test and time on the board, and all of the materials needed for the exam present).

During proctoring time, I’d think to myself that this is silly, all the while getting my steps in actively proctoring, walking up and down aisles of students watching the clock.

In the last few years, the state has tightened testing security, so not even proctors were supposed to have electronic devices in testing rooms. So for three hours, I was held hostage in a testing room with the students unless I had to use the bathroom.

Additionally, students who had special testing accommodations needed to be given special care and every student needed to be escorted out of the room if he or she needed a bathroom break, again not to compromise the security and fidelity of the exam. You know it’s sad when the highlight of your three hours is the 15-minute mark to update the “time now”.

Now, being on the other side of the testing administration, being responsible for making sure everything is ready and the necessary scoring materials are prepared, I’d take sitting in a proctoring room any day. Once upon a time, I may even have wanted to have a walkie-talkie, just for a day, but now I’ll pass. Yesterday was so hectic and stressful I am developing a deeper appreciation for all of the stuff I took for granted before.

Much like when I first became a parent and could empathize more with my mom for all of the hard work she invested in raising us, becoming a school leader has opened my eyes a lot to many of the inconveniences of being in this position. As a teacher, the assumptions I made about my school leaders were clearly unfair, I see that now.

Additionally, as I continue to dive into my leadership studies, I’m perplexed by the ever-evolving and complex nature of the position policymakers and school leaders are in. Trying to please all of the stakeholders and also adhere to what is best for all kids is like a nasty game of whack-a-mole. Leaders are constantly trying to anticipate where the next issue will pop up and how best to quash it before it affects the bigger picture. Teachers are often shielded from these issues.

So I feel guilty. I feel guilty for not appreciating being kept from some hard realities while I fought the good fight and guilty now for feeling like I can’t do more. As a teacher, I could impact kids in my space, breaking rules and always doing what was best for kids on the small scale of my classroom. Now as a leader, I need to find a way to improve the bigger picture so more teachers feel like their needs are being met so they can better meet the needs of all kids.

The world has changed so much since education became compulsory in the United States. Our values have changed and so have our students. It’s time for educators to work together to change the whole system. We can keep trying to plug holes in the system and come up with fixes for the bugs, but that will never heal what actually needs healing.

We need to dream bigger. Those of us who are merely dabbling in school reform need to branch out and mobilize our efforts. We have to work together to make the necessary changes systemically so that we can fix the minutia too. Nothing can be off the table. It’s time to think structure, curriculum, instruction, variety, assessment, and leadership. Although I can appreciate the appeal to efficiency in terms of standardization, we can all agree that human beings are so much more than standard.

If you could overhaul the whole system, what would you change first and why? Who would you need to work with to make it a possibility? Let’s get it going!

The opinions expressed in Work in Progress are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.