Along with studying, getting plenty of rest and eating a good breakfast the day of the test, workers at Williams Elementary School hope a little bit of song and dance will help students do their best on upcoming state standardized tests.
Students attended a pep rally Monday afternoon ahead of the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests that Bibb County’s third- through eighth-graders begin taking Tuesday. The tests measure a student’s mastery of the Georgia Performance Standards in core subjects. Houston County students will begin their CRCT testing April 16.
While the kindergartners at Williams won’t be tested yet, they kicked off a round of chants by each grade to help spur students, with the youngsters singing, “If you’re ready for the test, clap your hands!” The students also listened to motivational speakers, answered questions about test taking and danced to a song by local rapper CMD Styles.
“We’re excited about tomorrow,” Williams Elementary principal Shandrina Griffin-Stewart said Monday. “This is the time to show what you know.”
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Students across the state are getting ready to take their CRCTs in the coming weeks, two months after the U.S. Department of Education gave Georgia a waiver from No Child Left Behind requirements. The success of schools was measured by CRCT scores, while Georgia’s alternative accountability plan looks at CRCT scores as one of several factors. Third-, fifth- and eighth-graders must pass their CRCTs to be promoted to the next grade.
“Accountability for schools is no longer riding wholly on the performance on this single test,” state Superintendent John Barge said Monday during a Macon visit. “While this test becomes a part of it, we all think that all of the stress and the pressure that used to accompany this test as far as accountability will be relieved. Teachers can really get back to focusing on the full scope of what they do with making sure children are successful.”
Schools are also following strict testing protocols to protect the integrity of standardized testing after the state released a report in July showing extensive cheating by educators in the Atlanta Public School system, such as making sure teachers are not supervising students in their grade.
Barge said new protocols have made an impact in schools, pointing to analyses of erasure marks from wrong to right answers made on state tests in 2009 and 2011. The state flagged 74 schools that raised the most serious concern in 2009, but only three in 2011, according to state data.
Bibb County employees have been making their own preparations leading up to testing, from securing the testing materials in schools to making sure workers and testing monitors are properly trained, said Bruce Giroux, director of assessment and accountability. Teachers will not be able to supervise students in their own grade, and central office staffers also will monitor testing and provide support.
At Williams Elementary, for example, there are protocols to make sure staff members don’t have access to the testing materials alone, and those who do have to sign logs, said Shandra Yarbrough, a performance learning coach.
Workers also are reminding students to come prepared for each day of testing.
“We want students to be there bright and early, to have a good breakfast and to show us their best,” Giroux said.
Students such as Williams fourth-grader Dymond Barnes have been preparing for the test by working on practice questions in class during the year and studying at home.
“I’m nervous because it’s been a long time,” Barnes said. “I’ve had to study a lot.”
The school also has worked with small groups of students on their reading, and community members have volunteered as tutors.
Williams Elementary isn’t the only school hosting CRCT pep rallies. Bibb’s Hartley and Jones elementary schools have, too.
Williams instructional coach Priscilla Stanley said her approach is to get students as pumped up about learning as they might about their favorite entertainers.
“We want them to have the same excitement here at school, to get them more excited about learning,” Stanley said.
While some Houston County schools held pep rallies leading up to the testing period, the district generally tries to treat the test like a normal school day, said Eric Payne, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning.
“There’s a lot of pressure on the students already,” he said. “They feel the pressure from not only the teachers but from their parents at home, and some of them put pressure on themselves. We don’t want to put any undue stress on them.”
Warner Robins Middle School designed a session specifically to address the issue. The exercise aimed to help students overcome test anxiety and perform to the best of their ability.
The district itself does receive some pressure from the state Department of Education, but Payne said teachers don’t make specific teaching changes leading up to the test.
“A lot of people say they’re teaching to the test, but if you’re teaching the curriculum, you’re teaching what’s on the test,” he said. “The main thing is that student learning is taking place.”
Schools perform benchmark tests throughout the year to gauge students’ understanding of subject matters as they go through classes.
“Sometimes you may have to back up and teach things in a different order,” he said, “but that’s not just for the CRCT. It’s not just about passing the CRCT. It’s about making sure that each student is understanding and learning.”
The CRCT test data allows district officials to look at performance across the district and break it down to focus on subgroups, such as students who qualify for free and reduced-price meals or students with disabilities. Some students with disabilities in Houston County will take a modified CRCT this week.
“We use the information to look for patterns across the system, and see trends -- positive and negative,” Payne said.
To contact writer Andrea Castillo, call 744-4331. To contact writer Caryn Grant, call 256-9751.