Tuesday, June 3, 2014

EOG testing: What It's Like on the Inside

End of Grade Testing is going on in schools across our country right now (or recently finished).  I administered one on Reading today in a middle school classroom. Here's what it was like:

Before we even begin the actual test, a blanket of boredom has fallen. It's stifling beneath it. We've been waiting for an hour for proctors, test materials, and students to get into place. We can't begin until everyone and everything is in the right place. The children are still and without that liveliness in their eyes they usually have. It's eerie. Only the occasional tapping foot or wiggly knee betrays the suppressed vivacity.

At last the test begins. Students begin reading and carefully coloring in little grey dots on colorful answer sheets. I wonder distractedly how come these tests can afford to print the answer sheets in color, when I can't have color copies of anything for class because it's too expensive.  I pace as the kids work, peering to make sure they are putting their answers on the right part of the paper, and not looking ahead at the math section. As the first hour nears a close, I have never been so aware of each small complaint of my body: the creaky knee, the mild pain the arch of my foot, the dry itch of underslept eyes.

Hours at school are always relative, growing long or short according to the activity at hand. But no minutes are as long as testing minutes. Entire cosmos are born and burn out and die between each rotation of the clock. We begin the second hour after a three minute stretch break.

Maybe because teachers are so accustomed to constantly interacting, it's me who succumbs first to the
feeling of impending madness. Like a character from Edgar Allan Poe, I am hyper-aware of each sound in the room. Shuffling paper sounds like a thunderclap. I know the breathing pattern of each child I pace past. A shift in a seat makes the entire room turn and look. The stillness calls attention to each wobbly desk and chair missing a foot as the furniture creaks in time to the restlessness of its occupants.

The longer we sit, the twitchier the children become. Some have given up, having encountered their threshold of ignorance, and become unwilling to invest in the remainder of the questions. They choose answers at random or doodle on the scrap paper.

Others have reached the end of their endurance for quiet concentration on a single task. They stare into space for long minutes and examine any classroom displays that didn't have to be removed for testing.

Still others are already finished. They draw elaborate scenes or patterns on the scratch paper as this is the only distraction allowed them. They may not read. This, we have been told, is because it would make others feel pressured to finish quickly. I comply with the rule because I must, but I find it silly. It's not as if the children are not already aware of who has and has not finished. They always know what is going on with each other, even if they don't know what their teachers have said.

Nearing the end of the second hour, we are growing hungry. Lunch is still a long time away. We cannot interrupt the testing session to eat. Even when we finish, we can't just go to the cafeteria. We can't move through the hallways until everyone is finished. In the second hour of testing, this group is forty minutes past the accustomed lunch hour already. We are creatures of routine at school and the change makes it even more difficult to focus.

The adults in the room--the proctor and test administrator--have to play this strange improv game of watching each other's positions. Only one may be seated at a time; the other must be standing. It's the rules of supervision. When I get very bored and tired, and feel punchy, this almost makes me giggle.

After the third hour begins, my feet and knees really hurt. I'm getting old after all, and I'm not as svelte as I once was. I begin to pace the room in patterns, stepping only on the lines of the tiles or making geometric shapes with my trajectories.

The students who are done now outnumber those who are still working. They must all sit still and quiet until every student has finished. They begin to study their own bodies--counting their freckles, tracing the shape of their hands, running their hands over their elbows and knees. If they have long hair, they braid and unbraid it. They might tie and untie their shoes over and over. They notice each rough cuticle or oddly growing hair. They pick, scratch, and fidget. They begin to resent the students who haven't yet finished.

The last kid knows he is last, and, in spite of himself, he tries to hurry. Though no one is asking him to speed up, he feels the pressure of being last.

Finally, he finishes, and I collect the testing materials and return them to the secure room. Now, we are allowed to read, but we still cannot talk, as others are still testing in the nearby rooms. We still cannot go to lunch, as others are still testing in the nearby rooms. We hang in a limbo of waiting, watching the clock and door and hoping the next person to walk by invites us to go eat lunch.

Tomorrow, we do this again. In math, this time.


  1. Heretic! Blasphemer! You have taken the sacred name of Testmas in vain! Pour yourself some EOGnog and don't you dare skip a word as you read the directions.

    Seriously, your description of giving an EOG is spot-on. It's like a punishment for being a kid. Never in my life have I had to have three hour tests back to back. The big tests I have taken (SAT, GRE, Praxis II) were administered years apart, and I could always take them again, unlike the EOGs.

    Any bureaucracy that survives for a sufficiently long time eventually becomes a parody of its own function. The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction is one such bureaucracy. By requiring an End-of-Grade test, the test has become the be-all and end-all of education. It forces teachers to teach the test and that is a parody of education.

    I could go on, but my stomach is starting to hurt.

  2. Thanks, Jason. I've often suspected that EOG testing might be illegal under the Geneva Conventions about torture.