New Hampshire’s schools are looking and sounding a lot like sports stadiums and locker rooms this month.
It’s statewide testing time, and teachers, parents and fellow students are acting like cheerleaders and boosters. They’re offering encouragement to pupils taking the New England Common Assessment Program test, or NECAP.
Pelham Elementary School faculty wore special shirts to show students they are united for success, principal Tom Adamakos said.
“We all work together,” say the shirts, which include the school logo.
“Very powerful seeing staff in the same white shirt throughout the building,” Adamakos said.
Pelham Elementary didn’t stop there.
“Motivation for the test is being reinforced by classroom teachers and myself through daily announcements,” Adamakos said. “The daily announcements include reminders to eat well, get plenty of rest, exercise, and continue to give your best efforts.”
At Gilbert H. Hood Middle School in Derry, a pep rally is set for Tuesday morning.
Students on six teams at the school will create a team identity, team colors and a float to celebrate the testing.
The rally will encourage students with the motto, “Do your best on the test.”
Stephanie Pike, assistant principal at Barka Elementary in Derry, said students are providing encouragement with the same “do your best on the test” message and positive words of praise.
“The PTA provided healthy snacks,” Pike said.
They included pretzels, Chex mix and water.
“They are very beneficial and the kids appreciate it,” Pike said. “They provide a nice break for them when they stop.”
Students who aren’t testing are asked to help those who are by being respectful and quiet, she said.
Principal Carol Mack said students at Matthew Thornton Elementary School in Londonderry get mints.
Assistant principal Ace Thompson has given the mints out for three years, she said.
“One of the girls said she loves to take the test because she gets the mints,” Mack said.
“Supposedly, there’s a connection between oral stimulation and the brain,” Mack said.
Maybe it gives the Matthew Thornton students an edge.
“We always do well on the tests,” Mack said.
Candy boosts the students at Barka, too.
“Teachers purchase peppermints,” Pike said.
Natasha Ondzes, curriculum director for School Administrative Unit 28, which includes Windham and Pelham, said Windham Center School principal Kori Becht makes sure students have a snack the first day and reminds them to eat a good breakfast and have a protein snack daily during testing.
At Pelham High, there’s a special incentive for students: exemptions from final exams for those who do well on the testing.
“It’s really highly motivating for kids,” Ondzes said.
All SAU 28 schools do a great job explaining to students the testing measures to students and what they have accomplished, she said.
“That is something that really resonates with kids,” Ondzes said. “Kids want to show what they know and put their best foot forward.”
University of New Hampshire education department chairman Michael Middleton said schools have engaged in these activities for at least five years, as the testing culture has taken hold in public schools.
They range from pep rallies to notices sent home to parents about the importance of tests and making sure students are well rested, he said.
There’s a lot riding on the tests, educators agree, both for schools that strive to meet adequate yearly progress benchmarks to maintain federal funding and for students whose districts will be a possible consideration in their future college acceptances.
Middleton doesn’t deny the motivational school activities can help students and school performance.
“We may see some small benefit,” Middleton said.
Middleton, whose field is educational psychology, admits he was shocked when he first learned schools were engaging in such activities. One that bothered him was the out-of-state district that he said was having students practice filling in ovals on test forms.
A bigger concern here is the consequence of the testing culture for schools and education, Middleton said.
“The reaction is to focus solely on those tests and testing,” Middleton said. “The tail is truly wagging the dog.”