A Clear and Present Danger: My Experience With the TSA (Testing Security Authority)

I do not condone cheating and I do everything in my power to limit it in among my students. I’m not naive enough to believe that I can stop it altogether, but I do have procedures in place which make it at least a little more difficult. But, HOLY COW! What is with the overkill when it comes to security for taking a teacher certificationtsa test? Seriously–the Department of Homeland Security could learn a few things from these guys.

I took the Texas ESL Teacher Certification Test last Wednesday. It was in a local testing facility–a small, three room office on the second floor of a multipurpose office building. As I entered, I was greeted by a man seated at a reception desk. He immediately asked for my ID. I handed him my driver’s license and he held it up to compare the picture on the license with my face. He then typed what I assume was my license number into his computer and held the license up to the screen to verify that the address was the same (I guess that’s what he was doing). After he verified the information, he handed me a key to a locker and told me to empty all of my pockets, take off my ring and bracelet and place everything inside the lockerslocker. After I’d placed my paultry belongings in the locker, he handed me a clipboard with two pieces of paper attached to it. He told me to read the top sheet, then initial, sign, and date it. After signing the top sheet I was to read the “oath” at the bottom of the page and then rewrite the oath in my own handwriting (as if I could write it in someone else’s) on the lines below the oath. I did so, signed and dated again, and was ushered into the next room.

In the next room–the “holding room” as they referred to it–was another man seated at another desk with another computer. He told me to sit in the desk in front of him, which I did. He then told me to place my driver’s license and the locker key on the desk, which I did.

“Your name is Jason A. Walker?” He asked.

“It is,” I replied.

He picked up my driver’s license and, just as the man in the outer room had done, held it up in front of me comparing my face to the picture. I wondered to myself why he didn’t just trust the man in the front room who did the same thing. There was an enormous plate glass window between the two rooms and I saw him see the man in the front room do it. Did they not know each other? Had they never met? Perhaps there was bad blood between the two. . .maybe the man in the outer room stole the man in the middle room’s girlfriend; so the man in the middle room was trying to catch the man in the outer room falling down on his job. Either way, after a few seconds he decided that I was, in fact, the same man whose picture ended up on the little plastic card.

He wrote down my name and license number on a sheet of paper in a 3-ring binder, turned it toward me and said, “sign here and write the check in time, 11:37am.” I did as I was instructed and he took the binder back. I instinctively reached for my driver’s license. “No, sir!” He said, emphatically gesturing with his hand for me to stop. “Your license and locker key must remain visible at all times.”

“Oh, okay. Sorry,” I responded timidly. I should probably mention at this point that this office is three rooms deep. There is a plate glass window between the “holding room” and the testing room just like the one between it and the front room. Everyone present in the suite is visible to everyone else present in the suite at all times. There is, quite literally, nowhere to hide. Nevertheless, I left my license and locker key visible because, well, I’m a rule-follower not a rule-breaker, and despite the excitement which comes with risk-taking, I’m just not a guy who bucks the system.

The man slid a small plastic device which was tethered to his computer with a USB cable across the desk. “Place your right forefinger on the pad. Leave it there for three seconds. Pick it up and repeat the process two more times.” He was almost barking the orders. Clearly my ill-fated attempt to retrieve my driver’s license had riled the man and he was intent on reestablishing order. Order which my actions threatened to undermine. Order which was vital to maintain in the 600 square feet of sovreign territory he was charged with protecting.

I did as I was told. Held three seconds. Lifted. Held again. Repeated.

“You’ve been printed with us before.” I couldn’t tell from the tone of his voice if he was asking a question or making a statement, and given the fragile state of peace which existed between us, I hesistated for a moment before I answered. “I was printed when I took my first cirtification test in Dallas.”

He looked up from the monitor. Crap! From the look in his eyes I could immediately tell I’d said the wrong thing. “Same company. Fingerprints and profiles of testees are shared.”

“Testees.” I bit the edge of my tongue to keep from laughing. The last time I heard that word was in health class when I was a freshman in high school. It made me laugh then, too, but the stakes here seemed a little higher than in 9th grade, and as surprising as this may be to anyone who knew her, Coach Coleman was nowhere near as intimidating as the holding room centurian. I simply nodded my head and said nothing.

“Stand on the black line behind you so that you are in full view of the camera. Turn out any pockets which will turn out. Run your hands through any pockets which will not. Turn around and do the same with our back pockets. You are to leave the pockets turned out for the duration of the test and until you have checked out.” These linesnurse putting on gloves were obviously his favorites and were well-rehearsed. I immediately did as I was told.

I stood in front of the man and his little camera with my front and back pockets turned out and my dignity in shreds. My anxiety level was peaked as I had no idea what was to happen next. I fully expected a large German woman named Olga wearing a white coat to walk through the door; an industrial-sized tube of K-Y Jelly portruding from her coat pocket; snapping a pair of latex gloves on her hands.

ky“Mishter Valker. Drop your trousers, bend over, und grrrrab your ankles.” To my great relief, Olga never appeared.

The man behind the desk rose and took out a wand magnetometer. “Raise your arms parallel to the floor. I’m going to wand you.”

Oh you have GOT to be *effing kidding me!

The situation had gone from slightly nerve-wracking to absurd. I was there to take a test. I was there to take a TEACHER. CERTIFICATION. TEST. I was incensed, but being the naturally compliant person I am, I did as I was told and let the man “wand” me. (Aside: the English language has entirely too many nouns being used as verbs these days. . .but that’s another post entirely.)

“I’m now going to get your license and keys from my desk and escort you into the testing center. You will remain next to the door standing on the black line while I log on to the computer. I will motion for you to come to the computer when I am ready. Remember, your license and locker key must be visible at all times and your pockets must remain turned out for the duration of the test. You are allowed one fifteen minutepockets break. Should you choose to take it, simply raise your hand and I will come escort you out of the testing room. At that point you will check out for your break and must then go through the check-in process again upon your return. Do you understand?”

“I do.” What else was I going to say at this point? I was fearful for my physical well-being had my answer been any different.

I walked behind him through the door of the testing room and, as instructed, stood on the black line waiting for the man who log on to the computer. I looked at the four other people already in the room testing. Sure enough, all their pockets were hanging over the edges of their seats. It was like being in a room full of 8 year old boys. After a moment, the man raised his hand and motioned for me to come to him. I sat down in the chair. He stood behind me watching until I finished adjusting the seat height and position of the keyboard and mouse.

“Click the start button to begin,” he instructed. “When you are finished with the test, you will automatically be logged off the computer. Bring your license and locker key with you and I will check you out.” I didnt reply this time because I wasn’t sure I could contain my sarcasm any longer. I just nodded my head and clicked the start button.

The check-in process took 25 minutes. The seventy question test took 32 minutes to complete. (I’m just gonna let that sit right there without further comment.)

When I was finished I retrieved my license and locker key and returned to the middle room. The man instructed me to sit down again which I did. He picked up my driver’s license and held it in front of my face again. I couldn’t keep from laughing at the utter ridiculousness of this whole series of events. Then…the kicker…the thing that finally put me too far over the edge to hold my tongue…

fingerprint-scanner1“Place your right forefinger on the pad. Leave it there for three seconds. Pick it up and repeat the process two more times.”

“You can’t be serious?” I asked, disdain dripping from my teeth. “What do you think I did, snuck someone in through the window to take the test for me?”

“Mr. Walker, this is the process we have to ensure the integrity of the test,” the man replied. His voice was more subdued. It seemed as though he’d never known anyone to question the process. I could’ve kept the debate going for a while I suppose, but at this point I just wanted to be done and to go home. I dutifully placed my finger on the pad three times.

He slid the binder across the desk and pointed to the page where I’d signed in. “Sign here please and put the check-out time. 12:17pm.” I signed and wrote the time on the page. “Thank you, Mr. Walker,” he said. “You will receive your scores in 2 to 7 days. You may retrieve your belongings from the locker and you are free to go.”jail

I was free to go. Free to return to society. I was released. I had served my time. The authorities were finished with me. I got my wallet, keys, ring, and bracelet from the locker and left the building. I sat in my car for a minute or two thinking about what had just happened. What in the world have we come to? What in the world are we so afraid of that the security measures for me to take a teacher certification test are more stringent than the security measures for me to get onto an airplane? Are we expecting terrorists to recruit new members of their organization by becoming high school English teachers? Or, maybe it’s just that ProMetric needs a way to justify paying two people full-time salaries to sit in a 600 square foot office and watch people take tests. . .

Either way, parents can rest assured knowing that their children’s teachers didn’t cheat on their certification tests.


4 thoughts on “A Clear and Present Danger: My Experience With the TSA (Testing Security Authority)

Add yours

  1. Yep, same routine, same place, probably same “centurions” when I took my GRE. In my opinion, it’s the only way they can justify the insane fee charged to take the test in the first place.

    Liked by 1 person

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