I am writing this blog from the classroom where I am proctoring the first part of the NYS Math Exam. I am here to relieve the proctor who began the test. All proctors are afforded this benefit. The students must sit.
There are eleven seventh graders who began testing about an hour before I arrived (15 minutes ago). Four were still working at that point. Now, there is only one student still working. Students are not permitted to speak until the end of the testing time. They cannot read, do homework, draw, or use electronic devices of any kind. These eleven children, like several hundred others throughout our building, like thousands across New York State, are practicing the skill of timewasting. Forbidden to engage in any constructive activity, one student makes a pile of eraser crumbs. Two students independently play (almost) silently with their pencils. Several have their heads down, although this enforced lethargy does not seem to lead to actual sleep. One plays with a snap bracelet (too noisy, I must ask her to stop). No need for resentment to build against the lone student still working -- even when he finishes. This state of twitchy, stifling, monotony will go on until the mandated exam period is over.
As adults, parents, and educators we often lament the time our students "waste" on Facebook, texting or watching "Annoying Orange" videos on Youtube, but socializing is a critical piece of adolescent development. Humor is vital to all of us for a healthy spirit. I would argue that forcibly wasting our children's time in this manner is shameful.
But the rules and requirements of state testing are clearly beyond the realm of my control, so how is it an appropriate topic for this blog? Think of your own classroom while students are testing. What happens as students who work more quickly finish, but some take the entire class period to finish? How many of your students are productively engaged in another activity, how many are sitting with their heads down leaving you to clean up the drool before the next class comes in? What restrictions do you place on their post-test activities?
My challenge to you is to offer your students some post-test options that encourage them to think. I'm not suggesting tying it to the assessment or offering extra credit, but as an analogy, my daughters will eat chips and junk if it's around, and they're left to their own devices, but if I buy fresh fruit and keep that around, they'll eat that and be just as happy. Some kids will be mentally burnt after a challenging test, and may need a "mental break" to do nothing more than put their head down, but let's stop the madness of mandated monotony.