Test prep became test pep Friday as yearlong efforts to prepare for state testing gave way to rallies designed to reassure students they’ll be fine if they relax, get good sleep and eat a good breakfast Monday.
May is testing month in New Jersey public and charter schools. Seventh- and eighth-graders, already veterans of five years of testing, took their state ASK (Assessment of Skills and Knowledge) exams this week in language arts, math and eighth-grade science. Fifth- and sixth-graders will start Monday and third- and fourth-graders the week of May 13.
“We want to send them off on a high note,” said Robin Moore, principal of the Roland Rogers School in Galloway Township, which ended school Friday with a pep rally featuring teachers performing popular songs rewritten with testing themes, and a student-made video of “How the Grinch Stole the ASK Test.”
At the Joyanne Miller School in Egg Harbor Township, students divided into teams of testing superheroes to compete in relays involving hula-hoops and beach balls.
“The goal is to motivate the kids to want to be here,” said Miller School fifth-grade teacher Kim Pettit, who coordinated the event as part of the school’s Renaissance program. “This is a stress reliever for everyone.”
The stakes are also about to go up. Starting in 2014-15, New Jersey will begin using new online tests based on the National Common Core Standards. Opposition to using the tests to rank students, teachers and schools is growing.
A national survey released Friday by the American Federation of Teachers found while 75 percent of teachers supported the standards, an equal amount worry that students, teachers and schools will be judged on those standards without enough time to fully implement them in their schools. More than 80 percent supported a moratorium on using the test results for evaluations until the standards are fully implemented. This year teachers in a Seattle high school refused to give the state’s standardized test, saying it did not accurately reflect what students learned.
In New Jersey, the state Board of Education has been grappling with just how much weight to give student test results on teacher evaluations. The current proposal is that 30 percent of a teacher’s evaluation would be based on the test results. Published reports show a handful of parents in the state are refusing to have their children take state tests. In April, the Bloomfield Board of Education in Essex County approved a resolution asking state legislators to consider methods beyond just standardized tests to determine school accountability.
As pressure to perform has grown, so has cheating. The National Center for Fair and Open Testing, or FairTest, issued a report in March showing that documented cases of cheating or test manipulation have been found in 37 states, including New Jersey. FairTest Public Education Director Bob Schaeffer called the cheating “inevitable consequences of the politically mandated overuse and misuse of high-stakes exams.”
But as the debate goes on, so do the tests, and local teachers said they just do their best to make sure students are ready and not too nervous.
“There are so many regulations that we have to follow, and so they have to follow,” Pettit said. “It is very regimented, and the students pick up on that.”
Galloway’s Moore said that since they do not give a standardized tests in early grades, the state test is the first time third-graders there will take that type of test. This week, the cozy groupings of desks were moved back into regimented rows.
“That does send a message,” Moore said. “They get anxious, so we try to just tell them that it’s just what they’ve been learning all year.”
That message got the best student response when sung by fifth-grade teachers Sean McCarthy and Brian Dunn, who turned the chorus of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” into: “It’s just a test, so don’t get crazy: Here’s the story, you know you’re ready.”
Taylor Swift’s breakup song took a new, positive tone with, “We are gonna, gonna, gonna succeed together.”
Teacher Jose Diaz led dancing third- and fourth-grade teachers in urging the students to “Do It Roland Style.” And the rally ended with a rousing chorus of the “Roland Shake” as students danced their way back to class.
At the Miller School, principal Marge Fopeano also sent students off on a positive note.
“Go have a relaxing weekend,” she told them.
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