Every North Carolina Lawmaker Should Be a Proctor for a State Exam

Of the many incredibly clever, spot-on, and ingenious signs from the May 16th march and rally in Raleigh, this one has remained my favorite.


“Can Anyone Here Proctor?” This gentleman was everywhere. That’s what made this sign so powerful – there is always a test to be administered and there is always a need for  proctor. If you want to get an idea of the absolute unenviable task of setting a testing schedule for a large school can be, then create one for all exams that allows for space and time and room for all accommodations.

And then find proctors for all of them.

Exams for our school system start May 30th.

They last until June 8th.

8 days for state exams.

Proctors needed for all of them.

So before the General Assembly passes yet more mandates and bills that show a complete ignorance of the tasks and duties of teachers and staffs in public schools, each lawmaker should serve as a proctor for a state exam just to get an idea of the inner workings of a school filled with duties and tasks that must be performed with limited resources and space.


There is a booklet – http://www.ncpublicschools.org/docs/accountability/policyoperations/prctrgd1617.pdf.


There is also mandatory training.

Ours is tomorrow morning at 8:00.

Don’t be late.

Oh, and next year each lawmaker should be required to administer one of those exams.



A Case for More Grammar Instruction in Schools (And Less Standardized Testing)

“It really don’t matter how i put my words together, as long as you know what I am sayin’. If it can be read allowed in the same way that i would say it. No big deal. Its sorta like talking on a piece of paper right? Too think I should be graded on how I put my real thoughts on paper shouldnt matter to you and I.”

It’s a big deal.

Grammar matters. So do mechanics, punctuation, and usage. Yes, those are all different things.

Grammar encompasses the use of clauses and phrases and how the parts of speech should interact.

Mechanics involves the rules of capitalization, numerals, spelling, and other “rule-related” items.

Punctuation involves all of those marks we use to denote sound, pace, pauses, etc.

Usage refers to obeying the current rules for all of the aforementioned because rules change. Think about using an apostrophe + “s” after a singular noun that ended with “s” already in the old days. We do not really do that anymore.

Imagine you are writing a college admission essay for your top choice and when the admissions board reads your application the errors stand out more than your character.

It matters.

Imagine how many human resource managers look at resumes and automatically trash the ones submitted by candidates who commit too many errors.

It matters.

Imagine sending out wedding invitations and something is misspelled.

It matters, and it costs money.

Please do not misunderstand that I truly believe the written word and the spoken word are actually two different mediums that use similar vocabulary. However, communicating effectively on paper and through verbiage requires a firm understanding of audience and voice. Both of those are rooted in knowing the basic rules of the language we know as American English.

To be honest, it is hard to place blame on a student’s lack of control over the conventions of standard American English when it is not emphasized as much as it used to be. I still have thoughts of diagramming sentences in middle school for hours on end through exhaustive repetition. I loathed every minute of it then.

I am grateful for it every minute now.


When I talk to my students (who will be writing those college admission essays within the next calendar year), I tell them that learning grammar, usage, mechanics, and punctuation (GUMP) is like learning what’s “under the hood of the car.” If you are going to drive a car, it might help to know how the car actually runs in case something happens.

Yet something has happened when it pertains to teaching GUMP in schools, and it has become an uncomfortable situation. When students graduate from high school and enter college or the workforce, their use of language both verbally and on paper becomes an instant gauge by which others measure them.

If I asked my students “What are the parts of speech?” most would not know them. There are eight. I could ask them, “How many tenses of verbs are there?” They might be surprised that there are more than three – many more.

It becomes easy to pass judgement on schools based on those observations, and I am going to make a claim that it is not the fault of teachers and schools. Rather it is the fault of too much standardized testing that measures how many circles were correctly filled.

When the current age of standardized testing started with the No Child Left Behind mandate from President George W. Bush, the amount of tests that students faced in schools increased dramatically. The school year was not extended. Students did not take fewer classes, but the amount of “assessments” given to amass quantifiable data began to take more of teachers and students’ time.

The result was more of “teaching to the test” and preparing for evaluations. What is not on the test, therefore, should not be taught because how a student or teacher is measured came from test results.

When I taught exclusively freshmen in high school, I went through a period of time where I would be aghast that my students had such little control over grammar, usage, mechanics, and punctuation in their very short essays.

I then learned that it was not the fault of their middle school teachers; it was the fault of the system they were forced to teach under, one that was stipulated by standardized tests. Try dealing with the End-of-Course testing that encompass grades 6-8 and you will get a quick understanding.

Since my time in the days of less standardized testing, exercises like those long, repetitive adventures in sentence diagramming have become a thing of the past. Writing longer compositions have become less frequent because standardized writing tests really are simple short answer questions that tend to be assessed by formulaic analysis and simplistic rubrics. In some cases, those “essays” are actually graded by computers.

Not humans. (That is an effective fragment -at least I hope so).

A student’s experiences in how others use language have become a series of short quick interactions that take shallow roots in students’ minds as more and more schools play with the idea of reading select passages from novels rather than exploring entire texts.

All to save time to allow for test preparations and make sure boxes are checked when “covering” the curriculum.

Too many tests in a little amount of time creates the culture where we focus only on bits and pieces of language rather than letting students explore it from the inside out.

One learns to swim by being in the water. One learns to play a sport by practicing. One learns a craft by immersing himself in it.

Language is the same. We as a standardized-test crazed culture do not allow students to have those deep, time-consuming experiences in the fundamentals of language. If they did, then they would have more confidence in not only what they said, but how they said it.

They would understand how to manipulate diction, imagery, details, and syntax for specific audiences. They would know how to differentiate the spoken word from the written word.

They would have more voice.

Human resource managers pick up on voice as do college admissions counselors.

Even people like you and me. Not you and I.













There Are No “Silver Bullets” or “Magic Pills” in Changing Schools – It’s About School Culture

There are no “silver bullets” or “magic pills” when it comes to changing a school.

There is no one thing that can be done, no standard blueprint, no Harry Potter spell that can be executed that will make a struggling school turn its fortune around overnight.

Rather, transforming schools is a process – one that has to have the investment of all people involved: administrators, teachers, and students.

That process is rooted in school culture.

Culture – noun  cul·ture  \ ˈkəl-chər \ :t he set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization (merriam-webster.com)

That definition suggests multiple variables: “attitudes,” “values,” “goals,” and “practices.” They are “shared,” clearly outlined, nurtured, practiced, modeled, and embraced.


Most schools have one principal and perhaps multiple assistant principals who can set a tone and attitude for the school. But the most effective school administrators are the ones who do not see teachers as an extension of authority or executors of mandates. The most effective school administrators view teachers as the very foundation of what makes a positive school culture.

Those same effective school administrators look to remove obstacles for teachers so that they can do what they do best: teach and help students.

In today’s data-driven world and over-reliance on bottom lines, it is easy to judge schools by a series of standardized, yet nebulous measurements such as ACT scores, EOCT proficiency rates, or even EVAAS projections. To say that those measures do not have any merit is not the point. They do, but to a smaller degree than other variables, ones fostered by school culture.

Positive school culture celebrates the process, not just a score on a test. It focuses on the actions taken to improve all measurable and immeasurable outcomes. It sees the student as a person, an individual, not as a test-taker. It values the roles of the teachers and honors the relationships that each teacher makes with the students. It includes student and parent involvement, the student section, the quality of the yearbook, the number of kids in extracurricluars, and the willingness of a community to support them.

Look at the number of teachers who come early and stay late, who attend events in the school that are not academic. Look at the students who come for tutoring and ask for help because they feel free to advocate for themselves.

Listen to the announcements and see what is celebrated. Look who wears apparel that reflects school spirit.

Look at teacher-turnover rates, student dropout rates, and workplace condition surveys.

When the only valued measure of a school becomes data points whose formulas are never fully revealed, then what happens is that blind faith in algorithms and conversions is greater than the trust in the human capital that is the life force of the school.

Find a principal who can fully explain the algorithms used by SAS to come up with EVAAS predictors. Find a county administrator or a state officer who can.

Find the ACT report that breaks down every strand and standard for each missed question and totally reveals how each student did on each question so complete that it can be used to help remediate.

Find a state or local benchmark test whose answers can be validated by any administrator or teacher having to use it.

Yet in many of those cases, those standardized ways of measuring students have become so much more the focus of many schools and administrators which in turn forces schools to look only at bottom lines and manufactured outcomes. That approach easily dismisses the human element.

Students are human.

Teachers are human.

Administrators are human.

And school culture is driven by students and teachers and nurtured by administrators. It is not measured by numbers, but by atmosphere, attitude, and shared visions. That takes time, effort, communication, and trust. It is something that starts from the inside and grows outward, not the other way round.

There is no “silver bullet” to make that happen.

There is no “magic pill” to swallow.

For schools to have a positive school culture there must be a strong faith in a process that creates a better outcome the more it is practiced. The more input that comes from those invested in the process, the more investment overall.

And when those who are in a school that wants to improve help to create an organic, dynamic culture that celebrates the student/teacher relationship and understands that all positive outcomes cannot be really quantified, then something that is actually magical does appear: a great school.

Besides, we do not need any more bullets in schools. We really do not.

North Carolina Should Not Allow the ACT to Have This Much Power Over Our Schools

A little over two years ago, an extended editorial appeared in newspapers across North Carolina concerning public education. I happened to read it in the Winston-Salem Journal.

It was written by Walter McDowell, a board member of BEST NC. McDowell, a former executive with Wachovia, talked of the dire need to transform education in North Carolina. You can read that op-ed here:  http://www.journalnow.com/opinion/columnists/walter-mcdowell-n-c-budget-a-missed-opportunity-to-transform/article_38dd2903-b54c-57aa-a47f-fa82aea992b7.html.

In short, McDowell told the state it had a huge problem and that his consortium, BEST NC, was mapping a way for our transformation. He called it “Excellence: North Carolina’s Education Vision.”

“Recently, Excellence: North Carolina’s Education Vision was launched. It was developed with input and collaboration from education, business and policy leaders from across the state. Excellence outlines a shared vision to make North Carolina’s education system the best in the nation by 2030.

Inspired by this vision and the important work of our educators, the 115 business leaders who compose BEST NC will continue to work with the education community, the governor and the General Assembly on high-yield investments and systemic strategies that will dramatically improve students’ educational experiences in our state. It is our hope that our elected leaders see from this report that elevating educators must be at the top of the list in those discussions.”

It is always nice to think that we educators are being “lifted” in the eyes of the public, but McDowell used as one of the measures to qualify our state’s dire circumstances the state’s average ACT scores.

He said,

“Then, shortly before the budget passed, North Carolina received news that we are still last in the nation in college and career readiness as measured by the ACT exam. There could be no greater urgency in North Carolina than solving this education crisis.”

I responded to McDowell’s argument with a rebuttal. It was published in the 10/17/15 edition of the Winston-Salem Journal. Specifically, I responded to the use of the ACT as the barometer of the entire health of the NC education system. I argued,

“North Carolina is one of only 13 states (in 2015) that requires all students (EC, LEP, etc.) to take that exam, which has no impact on their transcripts, provides no feedback in its scores on how to improve student achievement and is administered on a school day on which other activities and classes take place. Most states only have paying students take the ACT on a Saturday; those students have an investment in the results, hence higher scores” (http://www.journalnow.com/opinion/columnists/stuart-egan-judging-schools-by-an-unfair-standard/article_0aa55234-8b82-5713-8114-65bc43e80eb1.html).

But now in this school coming year, the ACT is about to become the most “important test” that will be given in all of North Carolina high schools. That is thanks to CCRGAP, or the Career and College Ready Graduate Alignment Partnership.

It cannot be helped that taking out a “C” and the “G” from the acronym gives us “CRAP” was not noticed.

According to Section 10.13 of S.L. 2015-241 (and a presentation found created by the NC Community Colleges),


What this is saying is that if any high school junior does not make a certain score on the ACT (or its particular subject areas), then they must go through remediation during their senior year using a curriculum chosen/designed by a local community college but delivered by the high school teachers within already prescribed core courses.

In short, teachers would have to take time in their already crowded and time-constrained classes to deliver more curriculum.  No extra time will be given. Curriculum standards for the actual classes still have to be met. Why? Because there will be a test for them.

Debate over what scores will be the threshold for whether a student must be remediated maybe just starting. What was reported to this teacher in a professional development workshop was the following:

GPA of 2.75 -or- 18 on English and 22 on Reading (tentative)

If you don’t know how an ACT score is broken down, then:


You can access that chart here: https://www.princetonreview.com/college-advice/act-score-chart.

What CCGRAP (as told to my school system’s English teachers) is saying is that all students must get at least 40 or 41 of 75 questions on the English section correct and 26 of 40 questions correct on the language portion to avoid remediation.

I have not even mentioned what happens with math.

That’s a high bar for all students. I repeat, a high bar. If you do not think so, then take the test yourself in a controlled situation. For students in North Carolina public schools, that administration will happen on a school day when they have other classes. Of course, many will succeed, but we are talking ALL students.

However, according to some sources, students can escape remediation if they have a high enough GPA. But some administrators have reported being told that it is not an “OR” but an “AND” when it pertains to ACT scores and GPA requirements.

The ACT just got a lot of power over our students.

Interestingly enough, State Superintendent Mark Johnson delivered an interview with EdNC.org and WRAL. In it he talked about “teaching high school students that college is not the only path to success” (https://www.ednc.org/2017/09/27/fighting-status-quo-inside-combative-world-ncs-new-public-schools-chief/).

But we’re about to let the ACT, a college-ready testing tool, determine the lot of all students during their junior year.

Yes, the ACT is considered a test of knowledge and how much a student has learned. But many studies do show that the ACT is as flawed in being concretely certain in a student’s ability to do well in college as the SAT. In fact, many studies show that grades and GPA are a better indicator than standardized tests. Here is some fodder on that: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/nail-biting-standardized-testing-may-miss-mark-college-students/.

Also, ACT scores seem to have a greater correlation to students’ household income levels. Consider the following:


That’s from a Huffington Post report. Yes, it’s a left-leaning publication, but it is using only data points here that are really hard to refute (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/18/act-score-family-income_n_5600065.html).

We have in NC another rather good indicator of the effect of poverty in public schools. It’s called the School Performance Grade. The correlation between schools that scored “D” or “F” and high poverty levels is astounding.

The state of North Carolina pays for the administration of the ACT to all high school juniors during valuable class time on a regular school day. That’s a lot of money going to ACT. Furthermore, classroom teachers are having to administer the ACT as well as play “catch-up” with students because of the missed class time.

Let’s go further than that. If a student does not get a high enough score, that student will then have to be remediated with a curriculum designed by someone else by that a teacher who possibly gave the ACT and lost class time because of it who still has to teach the already prescribed curriculum to a large number of students in the same class period and classroom.

Oh, and DPI had their budget slashed by the General Assembly.

Oh, and we have lower per-pupil expenditures now than we did in the past when adjusted for inflation.

  • So, what does our State Superintendent Mark Johnson say about this in regards to his platform of less standardized testing?
  • Is this what Walter McDowell and BEST NC had in mind?
  • Is this really what we want for our students and schools?

Those are not rhetorical questions.

As I Lay Dying (Taking This Standardized Test) – A Faulknerian, Stream-of-Unconsciousness Summary of Five Sections of the ACT



Jewel and I come down the hall and although I am a few feet head of him, anyone watching us from the end of the hall can see Jewel’s frayed trucker hat a full head above my own.


So I got out fresh batteries and checked my TI-84 calculator today. We depend a lot on our calculators. They are good machines considering they use batteries. Dead batteries can break up a math section of the ACT quicker than anything.


The administrator and the proctor are standing at the door. The administrator is tilting his clipboard holding it outdrawn between thumb and finger. They look across the hall and put their coffee cups to their lips and drink. “Where’s all the students?”


It’s because he stands there, right next to his locker, combing his hair and letting all the girls droll over him saying See. See how cool my hair looks. I told him to go somewhere else.


We watch the administrator look around the hallway. He does not look at us. “You ready?” he says. “If you’re ready,” I say. I say “Wait.” He stops looking at the proctor. He pulls a sip of coffee with decorous and deliberate precision into his mouth. The proctor rubs his balding head. He is gazing out beyond the window of the building beyond the football field, out across the campus. Jewel watches him a moment, then he goes on to the water fountain and drinks.


It was the sweetest thing I ever saw. He was texting his mother, I think. I always said Darl was different from those others. I always said he was the only one of them who had his mother’s nature.

Dewey Dell

The first time me and Lafe took the test in another building. Pa dassent read books because he just watches TV. And I usually just make weird observations cause no one believes that I can be smart.


Anse keeps on rubbing his knees. What the hell is wrong with his knees? “No one mislikes tests more than me,” he says. “A fellows got to guess on so many questions,” I say. “But it will all be over sometime in the afternoon.”


Durn this test. And lunch is been pushed out for another hour. I can sit here and same as see my lunch with a second sight. I do the best I can, much as I can get my mind on anything, but durn I’m hungry already.


He has been hanging out with that girl: the back of his neck is trimmed close, with some of that gel in his hair like a frozen wave. He has not once looked at anyone. “Jewel,” I say. Back straightened between the two rows of desks placed exactly four feet apart per ACT instruction manual. “Do you know you are going to bomb this test, Jewel?”


When the principal finally sent for me to proctor, I said “He has wore out all the other PTSA volunteers.” And I said that is a blessed shame.


Someone’s Pa stands beside the water fountain. Why the hell is his Pa here at school? Oh, Vardaman peers from behind him. He forgot to get on the bus. Dewey sees him; all her failing grades appear to drain into her eyes, urgent, irremediable. “I need lunch money,” Dewey Dell says.


The I begin to run to the testing room. I run toward the end of the hall and come to the door and stop. Then I begin to sweat. I can feel my hands like clammy fish and the blood is rushing to my head.

Dewey Dell

This test could do so much for me if it just would. It could do everything for me. It’s like everything in the world for me is inside the pages of a standardized test. I am about to throw up my guts.


When we finish the test they are going to make us sit here for a long time. I saw Cash stand up and go whirling away to his bookbag. “Do you have an extra soft lead No. 2 pencil, Cash? Cash? Cash?” I got up. I said, “Do you have an extra pencil, Cash?”


It was already five minutes into first period before we could even think about starting to pass out the materials. It has been a misdoubtful morning. Buses were late. What does “misdoubtful” mean? I have hours of staring at kids to think about that.


The eraser sits on the desk. Rugged, used, its cracked side smeared on one side with a soaring smudge of graphite, it sheds a feeble and sultry glare upon the pencil and the adjacent extra pencil. Upon the dark desk, the grains of fake wood look like random smears of wrong answers on past standardized tests. The math portion is first. Seal torn. Calculator ready. Thirty-five minutes to complete.


I look at the problem. 1. There are more variables than I realized. 2. There is twice the nuber of integers on one side of equation. 3. I could use a drink of water. 4. In an equation, there has to be a solution that you can come by if you do the math correctly and go in the proper order. 5. People like math. 6. Except. 7. Me 8. Animal magnetism. 9. Animal magnetism is not helping me with this math problem. 10. Someone can do math and show how the earth sinks on a bevel. 11. What the hell is a bevel? 12. So I multiplied each side by zero. 13. Problem solved.


The sandwich in my lunch bag is tuna fish.


It was ten o’clock when I got back from my first bathroom break, and the classroom was in the middle of the math section. They were still using their calculators and I found one solitary eraser on the floor next to the first desk on the third row. The anxiety in the room was rising like a swelled river after a large thunderstorm.


“It’s not your brain that’s dead, Jewel,” I say. He sits erect in his seat, leaning a little forward, wooden-backed. His head is beading with sweat and dripping down his wooden face. I hope I didn’t say that out loud. It would mean a misadministration.


It won’t balance. If you want the equation to work out and be balanced, I have to – “Multiply each side by zero! Dammit!” “I’m telling you it won’t balance unless.” “Multiply! Multiply! Damn your thin-nosed soul to hell, multiply!” I am speaking to myself. Hopefully not out loud.


Cash looks weird. Almost reminds me of that quote in a Faulkner novel that talks about that guy’s face when “the blood goes in waves. In between them his flesh is greenish looking, about that smooth, thick, pale green of cow’s cud; his face suffocated, furious, his lip lifted upon his teeth.” “Multiply! You thin-nosed soul!” Does Cash know we can hear him? And why does he think that multiplying each side by zero solves everything in math? He better shut up or we’ll have a misadministration.


We are going on a break after this section. Dewey Dell says that it won’t get easier. Even Santa Claus failed the ACT. And I will have to take it again next Christmas.


He goes on toward the bathroom during the break. Dewey Dell carries something in one hand. It’s a twinkie. They still make those? In the other is her bottle of water. Her face is calm and sullen, her eyes brooding and alert. Makes me wish I brought a snack for break.


I told those guys not to talk during the test. My ma would not like me talking when I wasn’t supposed to talk. Makes it sound like they don’t care. Now we are on break and they are prancing along like circus animals and Darl is even laughing. And he’s all alone. How many times I told him if he’s doing such things as that that makes folks talk about him.


He goes back into the class room real fast, yet we have five more minutes of break time. That makes me laugh out loud. Why is Anse looking at me like that?


This is a hard test for a guy who hates school. It’s hard. Five hours of mind sweat. And I hate sweating.


Why am I in the room with these people? Why can my last name not begin with “B” like the Bundren boys?

Dewey Dell

The administrator said there was five minutes left in this section. That’s five minutes closer to the writing section of the test. And I write good. Now it’s less than five minutes.


After they began the writing section, I began to walk about and looped up the rows of desks. That’s what a proctor does. They was all sitting all antsy in their desks. Anse Bundren was sitting there looking out the window just day dreaming. Probably about not doing any work since he never did any class work either from what I can tell.


He sits in his desk, glaring at that other kid who makes really good grades, his lean face crinkled up to and beyond the cold frigidity of his eyes. Last school year when he was a sophomore, he took to sleeping in class. One morning when we were doing our journal entries, I heard the teacher go to his desk and call his name. When he woke up he looked at the teacher, grimaced, and then put his head down again.


So we finally got Anse that newly sharpened #2 soft lead pencil, and he is now starting to write a response to the writing prompt. If he keeps putting off his school work, he will find himself back here again next year. As for me, I am waiting to keel over because I know that I will be back here in two months proctoring the EOC’s.


Before me the thick dark current of thought runs. It talks to me in a murmur become endless and whispery, the great ideas rumbling gigantically into swirls of sentences along the surface of the paper, the pencil mapping my every thought, profound and significant, as if everything that runs through my mind was pure stream of unconscious literature. I think I am talking out loud.


Cash tried to tell Darl to shutup and Darl just mumbling aloud and I trying to tell Darl in his mind to shutup and Deewey Dell doing the same thing and then looking at me Vardaman, you Vardaman you Vardaman and the administrator passed me because he was seeing that she was looking at me weird and she stated to write again.


When I told Vernon how Darl was talking out loud during the writing portion of the test and Cash trying to tell him to not let his inner monologue come out of his mouth, and Jewel almost leaving his seat to smack both of them for disturbing his thought process while outlining a response for the prompt, I thought, “Why am I here?”


Cash is mouthing something to me, his head raised like a meerkat. His eyes are semi-closed, his face is red, his hair plastered with gel in a smooth smear across his forehead as though he was hiding an already receding hairline. His face appears depressed a little. He’s still probably trying to work out some math problem.


Damn math equation didn’t balance on both sides.


One day we were talking. She had always been the smartest in the class, but my grades were better, even after last school year. Mr. Whitfield kept telling her she should apply herself, singled her out and pushed her to take more AP classes, and I said to her many a time, “God gave you brains to overcome your plain looks and for a token of His own suffering and love you conceived and bore them.” I said that because she didn’t apply herself like she should have, but I still wanted to be the one with the highest grades in class.


God, I am so glad that I didn’t go to school today and take that test with all of those dirty snuffling nosed dorks. Instead of going to school I went down to the river where I could sit and be quiet and hate them. I could just remember how my father used to say the reason to take a standardized test is to get ready to take another one.


When the attendance report said that she was absent, all that morning I wrestled with anger, and I emerged victorious. I woke to the enormity of my fault; I saw the true light at last, and I went on about my day and told myself that if Addie doesn’t want a chance to get a national scholarship then it was her deal. But standardized tests are very important to me as the principal. That’s how I am measured.


Cash looks like he is about to vomit. He always does when he takes long tests.


When is lunch? Someone has tuna. I smell it.


Now there are five sections to this test, all taking over thirty minutes. “Look, Darl,” I say; “see?” He looks up with an inquisitive yet constipated look. “I thought there were only four sections.”


I happened to look up, and saw that she was looking toward me. Not really at me, and not looking at anything in particular; just looking there with her turned this way and her eyes full on something and kind of blank too, like she was waiting for something. When I looked up again she was writing in her answer booklet.


Here’s a good place for a transition in my written response. We could ass some more adjectives here and lots of commas. I am speaking out loud again, aren’t I?


Darl and Jewel and Dewey Dell and I are taking a standardized test, in school. Jewel went to the bathroom. He came back and go tin his seat. He was still working. Jewel doesn’t have any eraser left on his pencil. Jewel is my classmate. Cash is my classmate. Cash vomits during long tests. Smells like Vardaman’s lunch bag.


“Jewel,” I say, “You done with your written response?” The other people in the classroom look up. Is it because I am speaking out loud again?


She as sitting at her desk and Darl looks up and seems to ask her something. I put my ear close and I can hear her speaking back. Only I can’t tell what she is saying.


Against the dark doorway the test administrator seems to materialize out of the darkness, lean as a feral cat surprised by a possum. He steps toward me with an expression of furious unbelief. He may have heard me talking and his eyes swim with a glare of two small torches. I should probably shutup.


When some of the others start to put their heads down on the desk, I see that Darl is still trying to get someone else’s attention. He has started to tear apart his answer booklet, the markings of graphite on the paper will not be scanned now.


We have been testing for some time now: the math problems, the reading passages, the writing prompt, the science questions, and the grammar, and my mind is fried, becoming more starkly unstable. Three minutes. Two minutes. Until we get to stop, but the administrator is coming over toward me and taking my answer sheet and booklet from me. Something about a misadministration because of talking too loud.


It wasn’t nothing else to do. It was either send him to ISS or let him keep on talking out loud during a test. How did he not know that we could all hear him? Even Vardaman was like, “Shut up, man!”


I had to do something to shut him up. I be damned if he causes all of these kids to retake the ACT. That would mean that I would have to administer it again.


I wonder if Dewey Dell will go to prom with me?


Now the test is over, but my tuna sandwich doesn’t look as good anymore and the lunch room has already closed. Darl has been taken out to go to in-school suspension. Darl is my friend. He won’t be alone because he can talk to himself.


Darl has gone to ISS. They put him in Trailer 10, laughing, down the pathway laughing, the heads of the other students turning like the heads of owls when he passed. “What are you looking at?” I said. “Damn right I’m talking about myself in the third person.”

Dewey Dell

When he saw my lunch bag I said, “Thi is not my lunch, it doesn’t belong to me.” “Whose is it, then?” “It’s Vardaman’s. Smells awful. Don’t you touch it. It’s not mine.”


So when we stopped taking the test we returned all of the borrowed pencils and heard the announcement over the speakers in the classroom. So when everything was done, Anse says, “I reckon I better go get some lunch.” We thought he was going straight to the cafeteria.

“It’s a chicken biscuit and some fries and a pepsi and a candy bar,” Anse says when he gets back from Bojangles after sneaking off campus to get some food. “And no, I ain’t sharing,” he said smiling and showing his teeth.