Monday, November 7, 2016

Thoughts on a decade of SAT/ACT test day administrations

by Erik Ormberg

During an SAT administration there is a large number of moving parts that fly around in a flurry during the week prior and all morning during the test.  There is a madness and a method.  As the test coordinator for the past decade or so, I have witnessed some interesting trends and events.  
In the week leading up to the test, proctors are hired to work the 7:30AM--12:30PM shift.  One challenge about working in the SAT supervisor’s role is hiring a staff member to proctor the extended time room.  Students who receive accommodations through a 504 plan or IEP are allowed to apply for accommodations on the SAT or ACT.  If granted these accommodations the student must stay in the extended time room for the entirety of the test.  With the new parameters in place the extended time room students will start at 8AM and be dismissed around 3:15PM.  A majority of the students who take the SAT will finish around 12:30 or 1pm.
After identifying a solid group of about 15 detail-oriented, dependable proctors I have a pre-test meeting the morning of the sitting.  I talk to them about how nervous kids are in taking the test.  We talk about test security and checking IDs and random seating.  Proctors are told that if a phone goes off in the room the student has to be dismissed even if it’s a kid they know.  Collegeboard and ACT have specific expectations for proctors and we are obligated to follow their protocols.  During the 2015-2016 school year we were audited by Collegeboard.  They arrived at MHS, unannounced, asked us 40 security questions, took pictures of the test books and location of the tests.  
After the debrief proctors grab their exam books and answer sheets and set up their rooms for the test.
The true madness of the day is from 7:45AM--8:15AM.  Students who arrive late scurry off to the testing room, some are dismissed if they arrive after testing begins, others make it in the nick of time.  
The day concludes with a giant math test.  Making sure we have all answer sheets and booklets accounted for.  Checking and double checking head-counts, verifying what form to fill out if a kid leaves due to illness.  Packaging the test materials and filling out forms to send back to the test centers.  
One of my primary goals as test coordinator is to make sure all kids are in the appropriate rooms.  We have had issues with twins, parents registering themselves for the test instead of the student, students who do not have IDs or have a registration ticket for MEDWAY and drove to MEDFIELD instead.  We have had kids show up for an October test with their ticket for November.  The proctors do a great job with in-the-moment conflict resolution.  If the conflict is bigger than the moment they will send the student to me.
Every high school is an active place.  On test day there might also be a volleyball tournament going on along with Saturday school.  There have been times when they are using saws to cut wood for the set designs for the school play and the noise echoes down the hallway.
Every SAT sitting is a challenge of logistics.  Here are some trends I see:
  • October tests go smoothest.  Most of the test takers are seniors who are taking their second or subsequent test.  They know the routine and seem calmer on the whole.
  • The extended time room students have a long day.  8am--3:15 without a lunch break takes a tremendous amount of focus.
  • Weather and unexpected events have impacted test day.  Test days have been cancelled due to snow.  Make up dates are decided by ACT or Collegeboard.  MHS has no say in these decisions.
  • All families should anticipate scheduling conflicts.  Some testing dates conflict with tournament games, band trips, school travel abroad programs, etc.  Sometimes you can plan around these events, other times they become challenging “teachable moments,” and families need to make a decision between a test and another potential life experience.
  • There is always another test.  I try to explain this to students and/or parents that seem overwhelmed and do not appear “test-day ready.”  I know a lot test prep goes into some of these dates, but everyone has a bad day and should plan accordingly if that bad day arrives on the day of an SAT or ACT sitting.
In conclusion test day brings with it a feeling of accomplishment and concern.  I never want students to feel like their high school career is summarized by two or three tests that take place on three random Saturdays during their high school career.  Some kids don’t test well.  If they try hard in school and challenge themselves with an appropriate curriculum they will most likely leave MHS with plenty of options for college. Students’ best bet is a good night sleep, a healthy breakfast and a lengthy post-test nap.  

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