Pep Rallies before a standardized test have become a common occurrence in schools. A campus principal’s email can be flooded with people who want to get paid to be a part of these “pep rallies”. I have been a part of this practice in the past, but since becoming a principal, I have been against this type of practice. Why, because a ” STAAR Pep Rally” makes the important thing the test. It sends the message to those people outside education that “the test” is what is important. I am here to say a standardized test is the LEAST important thing that happens during a school year.
A test is what happens on one single day to measure all the learning that takes place in the course of a school year. For it to be an accurate measure, all the variables for that would have to be absolutely perfect. Students would have to have a great night’s’ sleep, a well-balanced breakfast, a supportive emotional environment before school, and all the supports they need to be successful.
Let’s face it. Some students have trauma at home. Many don’t have basic needs met. They don’t always have the nutrition they need. They may not get adequate sleep. Even our students with disabilities don’t have access to all their IEP interventions because of the rules of the test. The variables are not the best case scenario for some kids. How in the world could we expect the test to accurately reflect all they have mastered?
Here is what I am willing to rally over: students, teachers, grit, growth mindset and all they have accomplished over the ENTIRE year. At my school, we do this every Friday. Today, on the eve of our standardized test, my students did come to the cafeteria to meet with me. The rest of the building lined the hallway to applaud their hard work and let them know we stand with them. It was not a STAAR Pep Rally. It was a celebration of people who work hard to grow in their learning. It was caring about the people enough to let them know they were loved, supported, prepared, and in control of their destiny.
When students arrived, I shared with them my story of having to retake the GRE to get into graduate school to work on my doctorate. As I sat down to take this test, I felt angry and frustrated. I felt like there were some words that no one used, so impossibly worded questions, and I just felt there was no way that that test could accurately encompass who I was as a principal or a learner. It hit me that this was how some of my students felt.
I told my students that there was no way that tomorrow’s test could define them either. There was no way that this test could fully share with legislators or the public how much they had learned this past year. What I did tell these students was that they were in control, that they had the power to control their destiny. I shared with my fifth graders that sometimes, working hard at a test can give you a benefit. That while my test couldn’t define me, it could gain me access to a program I wanted to be a part of to improve my life.
For them, working hard to “show what they know” could prevent them from retaking this test in a few weeks, but it would be their choice. I told my fourth graders that while they weren’t facing a retest, the evidence does show that every time they pass a test like this, it increases their chances of passing the next one. No matter what, I told them they were in control. I wanted them to know they were prepared and had everything they needed. If they wanted it, they could achieve it.
I think that is what it is all about: empowering students to know that they have control over their education. The focus should never be on a test, but the people taking the test and continual reminders that even as children, they get to choose, they get to decide how to define themselves.
We put tremendous pressure on students to “pass.” The truth is our actions should support our beliefs. At my campus we don’t have a test pep rally, we have a “hope rally” every single week where we celebrate teachers, students, and the power of education together as a campus. While today I did bring students down to meet with me before they take their test tomorrow, it was never about the test. It was ALWAYS about the people. Whatever happens, tomorrow doesn’t really change anything. Don’t get me wrong. I want all of my students to do well because I know it makes their life easier in the long wrong. However, I know what my students have learned, how they have grown, and how much they have overcome and it far exceeds the constraints of a multiple choice test!