On Standardized Testing… and Possible Bubble Kink

I grew up back when schools began flirting with high-stakes testing. West Heritage, being an experimental sort, was sure to take part in these shenanigans. Back then, the yearly tests were called “CTBS” (California Test for Basic Skills) and while they alone couldn’t determine whether or not you got to advance to the next grade level, they did factor into the process just a bit (along with grades and teacher opinion). For the most part, it was just a harmless end-of-year distraction… and also free juice and crackers at the start of the day! Yes!

mmm, bubbles

Tasty, tasty bubbles! I could fill these all day!

Me, I had this strange fixation on those bubbles. There was something arcane, alien about the process. The answer forms were printed on this funny paper with purple and green lines in places you normally wouldn’t expect to see them– I would later find that this was more to assist in scanning in the answers and meaningless to human eyes.

“Fill in these bubbles but not those.” Or sometimes they would ask weird questions like if my parents had went to college. At the time, I didn’t know too much about the demographic data collection phase, just that it was a weird ritual that took place right before the testing. Of course, as an adult looking back, I can sort of see why some would get a wee bit butthurt over asking for this kind of information (“how the hell is this relevant to the test?! WTF?!”).

So, what was my first encounter with a test form? Pretty sure it was Kindergarten, actually. Yes, I’m sure that was it, and it wasn’t even CTBS back then, either. It was less about academics and more about basic/life skills. I recall there was some unit on the test about basic personal safety– it stuck out because no test after that addressed such a common topic. First grade and onward, it was the usual English/Math nonsense– almost always English/language mechanics first. I recall that for several years, the test used the same damned two Sample Questions– one about the origin of “bubble” and another about ocean life that persisted on bubbles. Oh, you. I TOTALLY see what you did there, test-writing doods.

Some years, the school experimented with mid-year practice testing, thinking they could score points with the district if we came in at June with awesome test scores. Enter the “Scoring High” booklets. Oh lawd. Could you come up with an even hokier and suggestive name? Especially among the boys, who at the 4th grade level were just beginning to master transforming anything and everything into a euphemism? Hah!

Oh, here’s something fun, and I’m not sure if this information is even released back to you anymore; when you received your first trimester report card and the parent/teacher conference notes, you were also given the analysis for the previous year’s standardized testing. The numbers for the most part were gibberish and told us a whole lot of nothing– how well we performed nationally and, in a way, what our skill level in terms of reading and math. The cap was, of course, 12.0 in both (corresponding to senior-level), and I remember that after 3rd grade I always had a 12.0 for reading but my math level was more or less on par. Fun times!

But yes. BUBBLES. How I miss them. There was a certain tranquility to filling in those things… in some ways, it was an art. Or maybe I was so bored that I would find different ways to fill them in. And then there was looking over the answer columns after I was done with the test to see what kind of pattern, if any, may have formed in the mess. Bullpucky, I know, but human brains ARE inclined to search for some kind of pattern, after all…

If you really must know, I prefer the rounded bubbles on the STAR/CTBS forms rather than the rectangular ones on Scantrons. Scantrons are so boring in comparison.

And finally… if you’re really wondering, I don’t think students were made to sign any NDAs regarding our experiences with these end-of-year tests, and it’s not like I’m giving out answers– I don’t even remember half the questions anyway, except for the reoccurring sample questions, which were jokes about bubbles anyhow. Now if you’ll excuse me… my pizza got cold because I got too caught up reminiscing and writing this post. I should probably go fix that.

This blog is pretty fun, and I’m only a little under a week into this. Let’s see where else it takes us. I tend to get my topics from new teacher forums and ONTD_P posts about education. Ah…

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