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Image Big Test Pep Rallies:
2, 4, 6, 8 -- Taking Tests And Feeling Great!

A little stress over tests can keep kids on their toes, but too much will knock them off their feet. So, taking a page from the athletic department's playbook, schools are using the popular "pep rally" to get students excited and motivated to do their best on upcoming standardized tests. Even teachers report that the chance to "let their hair down" and put aside the pressure to perform is a welcome break that makes a lasting impression on them as well as the students as they face one of the school year's biggest challenges. Included: See how schools are inspiring their students through pep rallies full of cheers, skits, and fun.

"It's like pepping up a sports team for the big game, but in this case the big game is the Connecticut Mastery Test, and the players are all of the students," Dwight Sharpe observes.

He is co-advisor of the National Junior Honor Society (NJHS) and a math teacher at Woodrow Wilson Middle School in Middletown, Connecticut, where a "pep rally" to motivate students for the CMT was first introduced last year. NJHS members organize all of the pep rallies, including this one, and develop ideas for activities, make posters, sell tickets, and "pump up" the student body to attend.

Many teachers got involved in the CMT pep rally, with fourteen agreeing to be "pied" in the face during the pie-throwing contest, but Sharpe was the lucky educator who became literally taped to a wall. A drill team performed, and speakers from the community and high school athletes encouraged the students to do their best. In addition to building enthusiasm for the exam, the rally raised money for the American Cancer Society, which is the organization that the NJHS chose to support this year.


Students at Woodrow Wilson Middle School tape math teacher Dwight Sharpe to a wall during the CMT pep rally.

"I did find the pep rally to be a motivating boost for the students," Sharpe told Education World. "I think the excitement does take some of the stress off, but at the same time, I think that some stress is important for these students to feel. If they didn't feel any stress, that would worry me. Stress means that you care about your success."

While Sharpe believes that a little stress can be beneficial, he recognizes that too much can be a disadvantage. He has seen students become anxious and make silly mistakes or feel overwhelmed and fill in answers at random. Events like the CMT pep rally can help.

"I try my best to assure students that these tests are testing them on information and skills they have seen and used for many years now. There really isn't and shouldn't be anything on the tests that is completely new to them," Sharpe explained. "They just need to try their best to recall those skills and that information."


The outstanding athletic program in the district of Florence Township, New Jersey, inspired members of the fourth grade teaching team at Riverfront School to use a pep rally to prepare students for the New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge (NJ ASK).

"Seeing their teachers get silly helped the kids to relax," reports Megan Carrigg, a fourth grade teacher. "We used motivational songs and cheers and invited the upperclassmen to participate. Eighth grade student council members were a part of the program as well as the seventh and eighth grade choir and band."

Teachers performed a play that highlighted good test practices like being well-rested and eating a healthy breakfast on the big day. The students' faces glowed as they watched a slideshow filled with photos of their test preparations and motivational slogans. The district's superintendent and the mayor encouraged the students, and parents were also in attendance.

"On Monday morning there was a feeling of being united," Carrigg stated. "I know that the kids felt supported and special, and they knew that they were loved and appreciated, even if they didn't have all the answers."

When standardized tests occur, Florence fourth graders most often worry about questions that may address skills that are new to them. During the tests, the students sometimes ask for help, and teachers, of course, can't offer assistance. The situation is difficult for teachers and students and can cause stress for everyone. There have even been circumstances in which children have cried or shut down and were unable to finish a test. The pep rally successfully alleviated some of their trepidation, and the teachers themselves found it extremely motivating.


More "Winning" Ways

Winner Elementary in South Dakota has many ways of supporting students on stressful test days, and one of them is to make every day of the experience unique with a meaningful token gift.

"After the pep assembly, the students were given two sharpened #2 pencils, so they could be sharp test takers, and an eraser to erase any negative thoughts about test taking," Lillie Palmer shared. "The test doctor, dressed in a face mask, went around to each classroom on test days with a test-taking prescription."

In the past the students have received a stick of gum on the first day of testing to encourage them to "stick to it" during the tests. The second day has brought Fireball candy to get them "fired up" about the testing. Chocolate hearts have been given on the third day to remind the children to put their heart into their work, and the fourth day has included Smarties candies because they are smart test takers.

"On that afternoon, we were all able to let go of our anxiety over the results," added Carrigg. "We knew that our students were prepared, and all we could do was offer our encouragement and support. We wanted to boost confidence, and I think we did."

Carrigg's students took the before-the-test pep rally concept to heart. When they discovered that she was taking a comprehensive exam for graduate school, they offered their support in their own "mini pep rally" in the classroom. They made cards with hints about eating and resting well and positive messages like those that they received before the NJ ASK.


Five years ago, an observant school counselor established the practice of having a pep rally before standardized tests at Winner (South Dakota) Elementary School. She felt that the students lacked enthusiasm for the exams and hoped that the rallies would be as effective for academic pursuits as they were for athletic ones. This year's event served to "humanize" the teachers as well as to prepare the students because they could see themselves in the performance.

"A couple of the teachers were cheerleaders, and several teachers were in a skit about being good or poor test takers," explained Lillie Palmer, a Title 1 teacher who works with third and fourth grade students in math and reading. "The poor test takers included one who listened and followed directions, one who was sleepy, one who was scared and cried, one who bugged her fellow test-takers, and one who drew pictures by filling in circles. Then we had the students applaud for the test taker who was doing it correctly."

Classroom teachers and the school counselor plan the pep rally and have noted that it brings about a change in attitude toward test taking. The event itself has inspired teachers to do more to get ready for the tests, especially with regard to practice questions. This year, the school counselor also completed three lessons with the students that focused on test-taking skills.

Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
Copyright © 2008 Education World

Originally published 05/19/2008
Last updated 03/06/2009