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Chuck Brooks: Exam proctoring a jolt to the routine

Today I write you from the interior of Rosemount High School. At 8 in the morning. On a Wednesday. I'm just as surprised as you are.

There was a need for a proctor for students who still needed to take the ACT test, so I was asked if I would be willing to come in and manage about 15 bodies taking the test. That's a lower number than I usually deal with when I proctor on Saturday mornings. My one-time immediate boss who's also my dear friend asked me if I wanted to take on such a challenge. Having offered weeks earlier, of course I said "Sure!"

Tuesday morning, when I woke up at 7, I did my usual routine. I went into the den and turned on the computer, opened the drapes of the patio window, fed Willy and proceeded to the living room, plopped into the recliner and turned on "The Today Show." As I sat there, I realized I was mighty tired. No more than usual, but I especially noticed it because I knew in 24 hours, not only would I need to be far less tired but I'd have to be groomed and dressed and already at school. Dear God. What was I thinking when I had agreed to help?

I used to get up every morning for many years at 4:30. I was tired then too, of course, but I got up at that hour to give myself some lead time to be awake enough at 6:30 to conduct the morning ritual of a teacher. On this morning, I had set the alarm for 6. That didn't even give me an hour lead time. I was able to make a pot of coffee, have a muffin, shower, dress and beat the buses to the parking lot. When my alarm went off, once again I thought..."Sure?"

Proctoring is really an easy gig. We had to do it in the course of several given days in spring when I was teaching. There are steadfast rules the testing corporations issue which we are all required to adhere to, both proctor and test taker. Students may not have food during the test. They may not have any liquid. They may not talk. They must keep their eyes on their own desks. If their pencil lead should break, they must raise their hand for a new pencil. Once they're done with the part of the test they are working on, they must close their test booklet; they must remain in their seats, be quiet, and wait for the next section of the test to occur. Maybe most amazing of all, however, is they are to turn off their phones at the start of the testing situation and leave it off for what amounts to about four hours. Four hours!

This may seem like nothing to an adult, but let me tell you. For a teenager, this is an incredible request of their discipline. Yet, in all the time I've proctored tests, not one phone even vibrated. Not one. The rules state that if a phone should go off, the student's test materials are taken and the student is asked to leave. These are not the school's rules. These come from the folks making the tests.

The proctor has to read a ton of instructions leading into the test. I'll use the ACT test for an example. Once the proctor sets everything up for the student, the proctor hands out the scoring sheet (the answer sheet). Students have to fill in some necessary information before receiving the test booklets, which are sealed. Students are then given permission to break the seal on the booklet. They're then allowed to open the booklet, go to Test 1, and they may begin. The proctor keeps time reminders on the board and when five minutes remain in a test, the proctor announces, "Five minutes remain on this test." Again, for the ACT, it's divided into four tests. English, Reading, Math and Science. The English test is 45 minutes. The Reading test is 60 minutes. Both Math and Science are 35 minutes each. There's a brief ten-minute break for the necessities. The kids need to be there no later than eight that morning and are usually out by noon, unless they're taking the writing component, which keeps them there a tad longer.

Again, in all the time I've proctored tests, both during the school day and outside the school day, I've never had any issues with a student. They know what's expected of them, they know the consequences and thus they rise to the occasion. It's a theory I lived by for 33 years. Hold the bar reasonably high enough, hold them to that bar, and more kids than not will meet you there.

To my surprise, I only had to proctor four kids this morning. It was easy peasy. I walked out into sunshine by 12:15 p.m. Will I do it again? Well, before I left, I was asked to proctor AP tests next Wednesday and Friday for some students. And what did I say? You guessed it. "Sure!"