Schools get kids up for state tests

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Throughout the school year, Mississippi educators have spent countless hours preparing their students for state standardized tests.
Now that those examinations are here, principals and teachers are employing final motivational tools to give pupils an extra boost.
High school students took their Subject Area Tests in algebra 1, biology, U.S. history and English II last week. Beginning on Tuesday, third- to eighth-grade students will take the Mississippi Curriculum Test, second edition, in language arts and math.
High school students must pass their tests in order to graduate, but there is no similar requirement for the third- to eighth-graders, although the test data is an important part of their academic profile.
Because there is no direct incentive, and because younger students can be more fragile, elementary and middle school educators have a two-fold challenge: make students understand the test’s importance and don’t hype it up so much that kids become nervous. They’ll employ a variety of methods from lucky pencils to classroom raps to providing peppermints (which are said to help with memory) masked as “smart pills.”
“The main thing is the teachers are staying positive on a daily basis,” said Brock English, principal of Lawndale Elementary School in Tupelo.
Lawndale is one of the many schools that will have a pep rally in the days leading up to the test. At the school’s event on Monday, all of its students will wear a tie-dye T-shirt they made with art teacher Joannah Ballard last week. The activity gave them a break, English said, while also motivating them to do their best.
“We thought it would get everyone together on the same team,” said Lawndale challenge teacher Teresa Gregory. “It is game week, and these are our game shirts. It’s time to shine.”
Tupelo Middle School’s pep rally Monday will feature a student rap about the test, while Shannon Elementary School had one last week that also had a strong test theme.
Each class at the third- to fifth-grade school performed a skit using the “12 power words,” a list of terms commonly found on state tests.
“We encourage them to relax and enjoy it,” Shannon Elementary School Principal Ida Brand said about the test. “I tell them, ‘Have fun with the test. You already know what is on it. I want you to show what you know.’”
Last year, Saltillo Elementary School gave each of its students pencils that read, “We’ll do our best on the MCT2 test,” Principal Coke Magee said.
Magee doesn’t have anything similar planned this year, but said the school’s counselors have spent time with students explaining what the tests are like and what they mean. They’ve had individual meetings with students who seem extra nervous.
“We try to spend more time getting rid of test anxiety,” he said.
Kim Britton, principal of Tupelo’s Pierce Street Elementary, also didn’t know if the school would do anything special right before the test. One incentive, she said, is that students who meet their growth targets get an ice cream party next year.
“Getting students ready for the test is really not challenging if you have established a culture of performance and improvement throughout the year,” she said.
“Once you have a culture in place where students are expected to do their best, you can do it on the big day.”
Tupelo Middle School Principal Kristy Luse said she also tries to impress the importance of the test on students by referring to their data when she meets with them and their parents throughout the year. She tells them how the school uses the information for course selection and to zero-in on areas where students need help the most.
English said some of his teachers give students Smartie candies with a note saying, “You are Smart. I believe in you.” Others write personal notes of encouragement to their students, or encourage parents and mentors to write such notes.
“It’s game time,” he said. “We’re excited.”
chris.kieffer@journalinc.com