High School Report 5
The students can take the TAAS test twice a year. A week before the testing the principal begins to give nervous little talks during announcements about the importance of the test. And the day before the test there’s … yes, you guessed it: another pep rally. This time the chant isn’t “Fight! Win! Play!” but “Pass! The ! TAAS!” Cookies and lemonade are provided for this special occasion, as well as a magician.
The TAAS test itself takes three days. One day for arithmetic and math, one for reading, and one for writing. Not all students have to take the TAAS, because you take it for the first time in 9th grade, and if you pass, your diploma is guaranteed. You just have to wait another three years to get it. If you don’t pass, you have two chances each year for the next three years. The students can take all day doing the test. Once a student stayed till 6 p.m. If he had wanted to stay till 9 p.m., that too would have been fine. If a student wants to do the reading test in a separate room, he can. Twice a year three whole days are completely disrupted because of this test. It’s a small school, so offices, my computer room, the periodicals room, and if necessary classrooms are reserved for muttering students.
The other students purportedly have regular classes, but of course that’s impossible. The teacher can’t discuss anything of importance, because then the TAAS-taking students would miss it, and the library can’t be used, so most teachers are already fighting each other a week in advance for the use of a video recorder so they can keep the students quiet with a movie. Again, an educational movie, of course.
To emphasize the unusual occasion, the TAAS students are allowed to take their breaks in the library, where eating is never allowed. (I asked the counselor if she wasn’t worried that the students would give each other the answers, and she looked at me with a blank expression and then asked “Why would they do that?”) During morning break they are provided with cookies, fruit, and lemonade. At lunch time there’s a hot meal, sandwiches, fruit, lemonade, and milk. In the afternoon more cookies and lemonade. The cleaning lady’s vacuum cleaner has been broken for two months now, so she sweeps the library’s carpet. The same counselor who fed the students in the library pointed out to me a week after the TAAS test that there were mouse droppings on the shelves. Imagine that!
(From a letter in 1996)
The next post in this series is about additional ways in which school time is not spent on education.