Tuesday, June 28, 2005


Cryptic? Indeed. The title of this post in long form is the New York State Teacher's Certification Examination - Content Specialty Test - Social Studies: a four hour brain buster of an exam that I need to pass in order to be certified in New York State. This is only the first of three tests that I will be taking. The other two are the Liberal Arts and Sciences Test (LAST) and the Assessment of Teaching Skills-Written (ATS-W).

If all of these acronyms strike you as vaguely military and bureaucratic, you're right! The test writing experience was an exercise in security and control. Every movement we made was regulated and uniform, we gave thumb prints, made solemn oaths, and then sat for 30 minutes of procedural insturctions on how the test is to be written. The marathon exam tested not only my ability to conjure facts from American history ranging from the Articles of Confederation to Reagan's administration, it also tested my knowledge of the U.S. political system, fundamentals of economic theory, Geographic concepts from simple plate techtonics to Human-Environment Interactions, and a few questions on World history and World Religions. I also read long opinion pieces and had to suppose which statement among four (none of which were related to the opinions expressed) the author would be most likely to agree with, given what they wrote - which, I gather was meant to test higher-order analytic skills but really challenged my mind-reading and guessing abilities.

A very very strange experience to be sure. There were 90 multiple choice and one essay question. The essay question was to be 150-300 words long (I may have went over the 300 and I wonder what the repercussions of that might be). Failing that question means failing the entire exam, regardless of the score on multiple choice. I feel I did reasonably well on the multiple choice, but I have to admit that I really am not sure about the essay. There were two quotes relating to U.S./Latin-American relations at the beginning of the 20th Century, which I needed to put into historical context - specifically in reference to the Monroe Doctrine. I plumb forgot about the Spanish-American War in the entire discussion (which figures pretty prominently in a question like that). I'm not sure that this means I will fail the whole exam, but I must admit that I've had some sleepless moments at 2 and 3 AM since Saturday.

I will be receiving my results at the end of July and I will be writing the other two exams on August 20 for what promises to be one very very long day. For those interested in these kinds of test, I recommend downloading the CST 005 Study Guide offered by the NYSTCE site, or you can also download the study guide for the subject area with which you feel most comfortable.

One final thought. The boogie-man stories about the test (70% failure rate on the first try, taking the test 6 or 7 times and not passing, lawsuits, etc.) may or may not be true, but ultimately I do feel like I really went through something stressful and difficult. It made me learn U.S. History in a way I never would have, and if I pass I will feel pretty good about what I have accomplished. Not that I'm defending the use of standardized tests to judge the abilities or potential of people, but it's a unique experience when compared to my fellow future teachers who are graduating from a Canadian programme. Those coming out of U of Windsor or OISE may never have gone through a gamut of standardized test and this just might make them less likely to empathise with their students who are being run through gruelling math and literacy tests throughout their public school lives.