Being around kids make me happy. Specially when they are aged 5 to 10. I find that age group old enough to have a conversation. And young enough to display marvel and surprise me.
And then there is this desire to be a part of the local community, to receive and give love, and to contribute in an organic way.
So, when East Cary MS (ECMS) asked for volunteers to proctor their end of grade tests I grabbed the opportunity. To contribute while I would get to be around kids in their natural setting was just too good to pass. I had to undergo a 1-hour proctor training where we were informed of our responsibilities and testing regulations. I missed my first training appointment due to a schedule clash but made it good on the second one, which was May 9. I was one of 6 volunteers being trained that day. And I was the only non-American. As we went through the motions I could not but compare to what I have experienced in India. The two systems could not be more different. The system in India is a little bit of rules and mostly human. The American system is completely driven by rules, highly efficient, but somewhat robotic. For example, to ensure every kid takes the exact same test, the class teacher will read instructions from a book. Such as “I will now give you answer sheets”. Yes, she will not say that in her own words. She will read that from a printed text. And every teacher in every school across the state will say the exact same words. And, the teacher cannot explain in her own words if something is misunderstood! All she can do is repeat what is written. I thought this was taking it too far. There is no way any two kids will be taking the same exam. Because they did not have the same morning, the same parents or the same worries, to name a few things. One of them might have witnessed an angry fight between parents last night, while another could have gone for a movie with the parents. Some of the other rules that caught my attention : (a) students who do not finish in the stipulated time can continue to take the test and (b) if you’ve closed your test booklet at the end of stipulated time you cannot open it again even though other students might continue to work on theirs.
That said, a few of the rules may be silly but nothing very damaging. The merits far outweigh the silliness. The uniformity does help keep things equal. The Proctor’s Guide that I had to read can be found here.
With the training done, I was all set to proctor which I did these last two days. I had to be at the exam center by 7:30 am and the test would start by 8 am. I proctored during the Math Active (when they can use calculators) and Math Inactive (no calculators) exams. I returned from the experience a rich man, who feels he has been paid in gold. What marvellous kids! My class had 18 children. Gender wise, 12 boys and 6 girls. Ethnicity wise, about ten whites, four blacks, two Indians, one Mexican, and one that I cannot place.
During the exam, which lasted 3 hours on day one and 1.5 hours on day two, I had to walk around the room and make sure the kids were answering in the correct section, not out of step, or cheating. I did not have to worry at all about the last. Note that I can only notice and point out any irregularities to the class teacher, Ms. Ruff, an impeccably dressed and smiling middle aged lady. Overall, I did a good job and managed to catch a few students who had gone out of step. The answer sheet had choices that students have to circle. And sometimes they are marking the correct answer choice against the wrong question.
As expected, each of the 18 students demonstrated very distinct test taking strategy and behaviour. Some were slow and meticulous, others fast and impatient. Some bright, some not so bright. Some neat, other untidy (in how they worked). Kids that finished the exam before time would start drawing on scrap sheets handed earlier. And they could ask for more sheets. The boys and girls demonstrated distinct gender differences, too. The boys were drawing monsters, streets, writing their own name, block/patters/abstract designs, helicopters, shoes, aliens, excavators, and robotic faces. The girls drew flowers, superheroes (female), and decorative patterns. Some of the boys had pencil graphite all over their hands and needed wet wipes to clean up, some wanted to talk, and many wanted to show other boys their art work. The girls would draw or sit silently, be impatient to leave, or fiddle with their calculators.
However, they were all well disciplined. Ms. Ruff must have done her duties rather well! Oh, and she was great in making them feel active and ready for the exam. Between 7:30 and 8, she’d make them do some exercises and towards the end darken the room while they close their eyes and relax. Great technique! She smiled often and spoke softly but firmly. The kids did not hesitate to approach her, trusted her, and accepted her answers. I would be happy having Ms. Ruff in charge of my child!
I was almost sad leaving the test center yesterday knowing that I won’t be back the next day. I have a few more days of proctoring with ECMS in June. And I have offered to volunteer with Davis Drive Middle School this coming week. I hope they call me to volunteer. If they knew how much I like hoarding this kind of gold they’d know I would gladly pay to be a volunteer