What Happens to me During Standardized Testing

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Imagine being locked in a room with 30 middle school students. You have never met these students before.  The students are quiet because they are taking a test, and your job is to monitor them.  You may not speak or answer any of their questions. You may not sit. You may not check your phone or email– in fact, your phone and computer must be turned off and your phone left off campus.  You may not draw, write, or have anything in your hand besides testing instructions.  You may not even stand in one place for too long, or look at a spot on the wall for too long. For the next SEVEN HOURS, your job is to walk around the room and watch 30 students take a test.  And if you don’t, you will get fired, audited, or some other scary word. 
For public school teachers across America, at least once a year this nightmare becomes a reality.  It is called standardized testing.
As with many other aspects of the teaching profession, it is impossible to convey to non-teachers exactly how mind-blowingly boring it is to administer a state-mandated test.  (Lots of hyphens in that last sentence.)  In fact, I bet it comes off as whiny. Some of you may even be saying, “Why, I would love a day to sit around and do nothing!”  No, no, honey.  First of all, you’re not sitting– you’re walking.  Second, I’m betting that any other time in your life that you THOUGHT you were “doing nothing,” you were actually doing a lot.  Looking at magazines in a doctor’s office, listening to music on your iPod in line at the post office, checking your phone while waiting for a friend to show up for coffee– you were doing plenty.  Even if you really did have nothing to do, chances are you were at least allowed to gaze off into the distance and come close to nodding off.
I dread standardized testing more than anything else at school. And while I’m particularly prone to being dramatic and/or overusing superlatives, I can say with certainty that that is the truth.
I go through 7 phases during standardized testing:
Phase 1: Optimism
In the Optimism phase, things are ok.  I’ve passed out the tests, things are going smoothly, and I am pleased with the silence that only happens when these kids have been threatened to do well within an inch of their lives.  “This won’t be too bad!” I think.
Phase 2: Recognition of the problem
Less than an hour in, I remember why I hate standardized testing. I have ran out of lists in my head, already having completed Groceries, Errands, Things I will Do this Summer, My Pop Culture Crushes in Chronological Order, and Foods that Start With the Letter D (there are hardly any!). I have looked at each child’s face and determined in my head what animal he/she would be.  I have tried (and failed) to mentally translate T. Pain’s “Whatever You Like” into Spanish and French.  I’m running out of things to think about, and definitely not running out of time.
Phase 3: Determination
Determination usually follows a break of some kind, usually lunch.  In Determination, I manage to pick myself up by my bootstraps ever so slightly. The sugar in my bloodstream kicks in, and I’m certain that I can get through the rest of the day. “Alright,” I tell myself.  “You can do this.  Plenty of people in history have been bored.  And you’ve got twice the imagination those poor suckers do.”
Phase 4: Resignation
I have resigned to the idea of ever experiencing happiness or sunshine again.  The sugar rush is over, and I am only capable of thinking, “I will die here.”
Phase 5: Delirium
I am only capable of thinking, “Wabbits, wabbits, wabbits.”
Phase 6: Relief
Yes! The announcement to turn in testing materials. I skip down the hallway.  Literally.
Phase 7:Flashbacks
Occasionally, I’ll have testing flashbacks.  They’re not pretty.
P.S. No idea why #4 has tiny sharp teeth and an underbite, but it has been making me laugh.  Probably because I tested today. 


  1. Melissa

    Today, somewhere between stages four and five, I hit a caffeine rush phase which I'm almost certain caused me to start sweating. At certain points, I also thought to myself how nice of an environment my sweltering classroom would be to do yoga. I even plotted how to escape out of my second floor window. Tomorrow, I'm going to count my steps without the aid of a pedometer. Can't wait!

  2. Rebekka Brosemer

    Spot On!

    I have been doing the ESL state tests this last month and then next week I start working on the State Tests. I must say test brain comes after relief and before flashbacks. It's the time when you get home and all you can do is babble incoherently and not able to formulate a complete sentence.

  3. Special K

    I worked in a factory one summer and can definitely identify with Step 2, even though I never got CLOSE to all the mental lists you made! But it is the reason why I can still recite my 10th grade MacBeth soliloquy and a Robert Frost poem to this day.

  4. Amanda

    My phase 7 goes something like this:
    Random person – Can you direct me to the bathroom?
    Me – I can not answer that for you, just do the best you can.

    Husband – What's for dinner?
    Me – I can not answer that for you, just do the best you can.

    Best friend – Where do you want to hang out this weekend?
    Me – I can not answer that for you, just do the best you can.
    I can not answer that for you, just do the best you can.
    I can not answer that for you, just do the best you can.
    I can not answer that for you, just do the best you can.


    1. Mrs. Thompson

      Of course! I'd love to link to yours as well. I gather all my teacher buddies around at the end of a hard day and we read your blog together. Sometimes, Diet Coke comes out of our noses 🙂

  5. Lynne

    You definitely got this right! One year when I was trapped in my classroom during testing, I realized I was going to get sick. As soon as we handed in our test booklets, I FAINTED in the hallway right in front of my class. Of course it was April 1st – so my students thought I pulled off the greatest April Fool's Day prank. I will never forget that testing nightmare!

  6. Lynne

    I'm not sure that I should admit another testing disaster: One year during testing, one of my third graders got up and was walking around the room. Since I was very clear when we started that they could not get out of their seats, I couldn't figure out what he was doing. When I asked him, he said one of the directions said to "find the main idea" so he was walking around trying to find it. At that point, I realized we weren't going to get really high test scores from that student!

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