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Showcasing Judy Swartz and "Test Incentives"

"Students, like adults, just want to be successful," says Judy Swartz. "If students are confident in their abilities, they will come to school. It's the fear of failure that keeps many of our students away."

As a math teacher at Bridgeport High School in Ohio, Swartz's schedule includes geometry, math lab, pre-calculus, and algebra, for students in grades 8-12. Like their peers in other schools, her students struggle with poor attendance at times, so Swartz devised a method to motivate them to get to class, especially on exam days.

"Students can't learn if they aren't in school," Swartz told Education World. "Many students get sick on test days in particular. Then, makeup testing is a burden for the teacher -- creating makeup tests, finding a good time and place, and having to grade tests after the others are handed back -- and for the student. Students tend to do poorly on tests they take after the rest of the class; they usually miss more class time; and, sometimes, the test just doesn't get made up."

To encourage better attendance on days when she administers tests, Swartz offers two kinds of incentives, depending on the class.

"My algebra classes take tests that always are twenty questions long," she stated. "Those students get to cross off one question if they take the test with the rest of the class. They may cross off two questions if everyone in the class takes the test together. When they cross off a problem, they may do it if they like. I will let them know if they are correct, but the problem counts as a correct problem anyway."

In addition to encouraging attendance, this method reduces test anxiety. The students know they have the option of skipping a problem or two, if they need to. Because her math exams are cumulative, Swartz doesn't fear that students will evade a specific type of problem. They will be tested on the same concepts throughout the year.

"In my other classes, where the number and point values of questions vary from test to test, I always have bonus questions," Swartz said. "Students have the opportunity to earn five bonus points if they are in class on the day of a test, or ten points if the whole class is there."

Swartz gets creative with those bonus opportunities, often borrowing from review questions or frequently missed questions from a previous test. She also includes problems from worksheets or final answers from puzzle sheets the students have worked. Sometimes, she even uses current events or school news as a source for questions, such as What was the final score of last week's football game?

"One rule I stick with, is that an absence is an absence," Swartz said. "If your warm body isn't taking the test with the rest of the class, it is an absence. I don't want to get into reasons -- 'I was really sick', 'I was at a funeral', or 'I was out of town.' The bonuses are bonus opportunities. Every student can get one hundred percent without them, so I'm not penalizing students. However, students cannot get bonus points when they make up tests."

Some classes and students respond better to Swartz's method than others, she admits. Classes that are grade-conscious usually are the most receptive. Some classes even ask about the bonus questions when she forgets. It's not uncommon for someone to say, "Everybody had better be here tomorrow!," when Swartz announces a test.

"In general, I think students have better attendance if the teacher values attendance," added Swartz. "From the first day of school, when I establish my rules, I encourage students to be in school. I encourage them to make doctor's appointments, and so on, outside of class time. I question absences and let them know when I disapprove of the reasons. School is their job, and good attendance should be a priority."

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Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
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