Along with my regular substitute teaching responsibilities, I helped proctor the Connecticut Mastery Tests in one of our middle schools this week. Covering reading, writing mathematics and other areas, these tests will measure how our sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students perform against their peers in Fairfield and across the state.

These exams were intense and a lot for young minds to digest. The week before, when I'd subbed in a sixth-grade class at the same school, we worked on language arts and math practice. I was only sorry I couldn't have been more helpful in math -- not my strong suit.

When administering the actual exams, I had my own ajeda just following the testing-manual's protocols for giving directions, explaining boundaries and reviewing the time for the tests.

On Tuesday, the test was writing, a subject close to my heart, and the group I was proctoring were required to organize and write three pages.

They were asked to prepare their assignment from a prompt, and they had 45 minutes to complete the writing. That's a lot of pressure, and this exercise was the students' opportunity to apply the writing techniques their teachers had been working with them on through the year.

As I walked around the classrooms each day during testing, I watched as they organized, wrote and kept watching the clock to be sure they still had enough time. I couldn't help wondering how these students felt they would do.

Once the make-up examinations are completed and the tests are graded, administrators in each school will receive reports on how their students measured up against their peers in Fairfield and across the state.

The CMTs are in their fourth generation, according to some research I did, and among the many uses of the results are:

Setting high expectations and standards for student achievement;

Testing a comprehensive range of academic skills;

Disseminating useful test achievement information about students, schools and districts;

Identifying students in need of intervention;

Assessing equitable educational opportunities;

Monitoring student progress in Grades 3 through 8 over time.

Standardized-test results now also impact teacher evaluations, and I have heard comments that there is a lot of pressure to "teach to the test," which can create more stress for teachers and students.

I was also surprised to read from a 2012 article in the Hartford Courant that the mastery tests were going to an electronic format.

"If all goes as planned, the Connecticut Mastery Test, bubbled in with pencil on paper, will become a relic of the past in two years, replaced by a new, more customized online testing system," the Courant reported.

By the 2014-15 school year, state officials hope to retire the mastery test, according to the report.

That news could be both welcome and unwelcome for some students and school systems that have to implement this new testing approach.

This week has given me a different perspective on the capabilities of our students and their abilities to achieve now and in the future.

I know Fairfield will probably continue to be one of the state's shining stars, and I'll be very interested in how our students perform in the various areas covered by these comprehensive examinations.

Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his "In the Suburbs" appears each Friday. He can be reached at