Recently I read an article about the steps some schools take to ensure students do well on state standardized tests. Most of the steps mentioned sounded reasonable such as reminding parents to be sure to send their children to bed early the night before the test and staging academic pep rallies to motivate students to do their best on the tests. However, some of the measures came across as a bit extreme such as not allowing restroom toilets to be flushed during testing. As a former high school principal and district test coordinator, I can understand the reasoning behind such an extreme measure though I find it overkill even for my taste. But, I can’t blame a principal for considering going to such extremes, especially when so much is riding on state tests. Student performance on the tests impacts school ratings and rankings as well as job security for the principal and teachers. It would take a very foolish principal not to engage in strategies that might help students be successful on state tests even if those strategies might be a bit extreme.
During my years as a high school principal, I also put in place various testing strategies, but after looking back over the strategies I used, talking to current school principals, and doing some research, I discovered I was not as innovative as I thought. Today’s principals may not be “rocket scientists,” but when it comes to test strategy innovations they certainly rock! I would be hard pressed to keep up with some of the innovative thinking used by the men and women leading schools today, so I started asking myself what I would do differently if I was a principal preparing my school for testing in 2015. As a result, I developed a list of strategies organized as Pre-Test Day Strategies, Test Day Strategies, and Post Day Strategies. Through my experience as a principal and district test coordinator, research into testing strategies, and discussions with other principals, I am convinced these strategies if followed have the potential to guarantee that all students pass the state test.
Pre-Test Day Strategies:
- JANUARY: Pump classical music into all classrooms, hallways, cafeteria, field house, gym and everywhere students may gather. Classical music has been shown to reduce anxiety and tension associated with stress;
- JANUARY: Rearrange student schedules so they meet in a different classroom every day. According to the research, movement forces the brain to form new associations with the same materials and results in creating a stronger memory. Studying the same stuff in a different place every day makes forgetting information less likely;
- JANUARY: Hypnotize all students! Beginning with the second Monday in January, schedule hypnosis sessions for all students who will be tested. Through hypnosis the conscious and subconscious mind work closer together; this makes it possible to retain information faster than normal. If the hypnosis does not work, all students will be taught the power of positive affirmation. Repeat after me, “I am a beast. I am a testing beast. I am a focused testing beast. My mind is clear of everything but the test. I have the power within me to will myself to victory over this test.” Everyone knows the only thing that trumps preparation is believing you can do it;
- FEBRUARY: Proper diet is important to learning, and fish heads are highly regarded worldwide as a brain food. Therefore, mandate the school cafeteria serve at least one daily serving of fish heads at breakfast and/or lunch beginning in February. For students with weak stomachs, fish oil capsules can be substituted;
- MARCH: Teachers cannot introduce any new material after spring break. Of course, since the focus switches from learning to testing in January, this will have already happened in most classes;
- APRIL: Hold an academic pep rally the day before the test to get the adrenalin flowing for the next day; and
- APRIL: Require all students to shave their heads as a sign of commitment and servitude to the tests.
Test Day Strategies:
- Research indicates caffeine-filled drinks keep us alert, so all students will be pumped full of caffeine the day of the test. Parent volunteers will start the day by serving hot cocoa and coffee on school buses. Cafeterias will serve chocolate milk, coffee, tea, and chocolate donuts with the school breakfast. After morning roll call, all students will report to the gym where they will be served Coke, tea, and chocolate chip cookies. Access to water will be denied until all testing is completed;
- Youth ministers from local churches will be brought in to pray and mediate with students before the test;
- Students will be served red grades before and during the test. There are claims that red grapes stimulate brain cells for higher brain function although I have doubts as to how effective this one time feeding frenzy might be;
- Anyone entering the school building on test days must wear soft sole slippers. Wearing slippers has been proven to help ease stress, and slippers are also great for reducing noise on tile flooring;
- No announcements over the PA (public address) system can be made during testing. Of course, students are so attuned to their classes being regularly interrupted by the PA system or telephones such a strategy might pose a problem for some students;
- Place the school under lockdown on test days. Have the National Guard on alert and armed guardsmen stationed at each entrance to the school;
- As students enter the testing room, each student will be given a special charm such as a rabbit foot, chicken/turkey wishbone, or amulet to rub for good luck during the test;
- All students will be required to soak their feet in ice water thirty minutes prior to the test to ensure they are alert and ready for the test;
- Classical music will be pumped into the testing rooms to help relieve test anxiety;
- The library will be closed during testing to avoid the potentially disruptive rustle of pages or books being closed too loudly; and
- Of course, portable toilets will be set up outside the building so flushing toilets will not disrupt tests.
Post-Test Day Strategies:
- Although teachers and students will be eager to get back to work once the tests are completed, all instruction will be canceled for two weeks after the last test is administered, so students and teachers can relax and celebrate the tests are over;
- Extra counselors will be brought in after the tests to deal with student PTSS (post-test stress syndrome); and
- Wine and cheese will be served in the teachers’ lounge to help teachers deal with PTSS syndrome.
Of course, I may be leaving out some innovative strategies, but overall I believe this list is an excellent start. If these strategies are followed, I am positive students will not only experience a 100% pass rate, but they will see a dramatic increase in their individual test scores as well. However, unless there is a significant change in the testing process, the single best strategy with the best chance of success might be to shut school down after Christmas and only require students to show up for field trips, extra-curricular activities, cram days, and test days! Everyone would be a lot less stressed, and there would be little if any significant change in test results.
Regardless of what strategies are put into place, I want to wish all students good luck and extend a big thank you to all teachers, administrators, and parents for hanging in there as the craziness begins!
©Jack Linton, January 11, 2015