Years ago, back before test motivation had anything to do with calculated stunts, a friend of mine, who did some nice things for our school, brought in an adorable chimpanzee. It was a real hit with the students.
At one point I was put on the spot to kiss it. Despite student begging—they drastically wanted to see me kiss that chimp—I declined. Even when my friend held it up to my face and it looked at me adoringly, I still passed.
Later—after a lot of other people kissed the chimp making me look like I lacked something—I don’t exactly know what—I wondered whether I had been too squeamish. Was I not fun enough? Was I prudish with primates?
I must be honest, it doesn’t haunt me in the least that I never kissed that chimp. I have visited many zoos since then and watched a lot of smart-alecky chimps, and as much as I admire them and feel sorry they are in zoos instead of out in the wild, I continue to have no regrets that I never kissed one.
I am also a great admirer of Jane Goodall and if she wants to kiss a chimp that’s her business. I suppose if I lived with them as long as she has, I would maybe reconsider kissing them too. I’d know them a little better.
Why am I bringing all this up now? Stick with me.
Recently, teachers in Minnesota prepared a video called “Let it Go” cheering students on for the upcoming test. While it may have given these teachers something fun to do, or a way to semi-vent, I think it wasted their time when it came to testing. I liked that the teachers emphasized at one point that the test wasn’t everything—that students had learned anyway. But such videos don’t really make a difference come test day/s. I think these teachers would do better teaching drama to their students for school plays.
Or they should have, in my humble opinion, done a video for administrators and politicians to “Let ALL the Darn High-Stakes Tests Go….”
But the video got me to thinking about all the outrageous things educators have done and continue to do in regard to testing. There are all kinds of promises made to get students to do well on the test.
That’s why I remembered the chimp. It occurred to me that I still would not kiss a chimp even to motivate students.
Why? Because test-taking is not about motivation. If it were, everyone would do well.
Every student would like nothing better than to get perfect scores on their tests. Even students who bubble Christmas trees on their answer sheets during the test, would do anything to know the right answers to the test instead.
There is no connection between motivational test videos, pep-rallies, and ridiculous stunts that sometimes involve kissing animals, and test scores.
If you do not know the answers on the test, no amount of rewards or boosting is going to do it for you. Not even knowing your principal is going to stand on their head and recite the whole Gettysburg Address while snorting water up their nose will give you the grade you so desire.
And while you can argue that test results are important in order to understand student growth etc., it isn’t about celebration, goofiness and reward. It is about fact finding, gathering information to assist a teacher to teach differently or reteach or, most importantly, to try and understand the student better. Testing really is serious business.
Turning test-taking into a circus atmosphere is just plain stupid not to mention confusing, and it follows the high-stakes assessment craziness that Americans have knowingly permitted in their public schools. How?
1. It falsely makes students feel they somehow have control over how they score if their school cheers them on or there will be a reward at the end.
2. A student might really worry that their poor score could ruin the whole school’s party. I mean think about it—school boards close schools all the time due to low test scores (or so they say). Teachers also lose their jobs due to high-stakes testing.
3. On one hand students learn how serious high-stakes testing is, people get arrested when they cheat on them, then everyone is jovial and funny about it like tests are the equivalent to a Friday night football game.
4. Tests should also not be made to seem so important to life and living in general. High test scores don’t make you a better person.
Tests are merely a tool to understand students. Many parents are starting to wake up to this fact. They hate the drastic attention tests are getting and they are opting their children out of the tests. Yet schools go on and on pepping kids up and promising them the world if they do well. There is an element of freaky to it.
NPR noted that a school in Melbourne, Florida gave students Mountain Dew and trail mix to boost scores. Will caffeine and snacks give you the right answer? Well energy and being awake helps, but it won’t get you a high score either.
Along with promising to continue not kissing a chimp, here is a long list of other things I would not do as a principal even if every single student wound up with a perfect score. They are all actual antics principals have done to reward students. Some of these, by the way, I think are humiliating and extremely unprofessional. Yet, principals do or have done these things, which is probably one reason why I am not a principal today:
1. Kiss a pig—I have no desire to kiss a pig any more than I would kiss a chimp.
2. Kiss a fish. Yuck!
3. Kiss a boa constrictor—No!
4. Kiss a cow. : b
5. Kiss a goat. Oh please…but say, could you just bend over there and….
6. Eat dog or cat food. No thank you very much.
7. Get duct taped to the wall. How horrible!
8. Be suspended from the ceiling. I am not a Mexican piñata!
9. Eat a chocolate covered cockroach. That actually makes me ill just thinking about it.
10. Sleep on the school roof. If the stars were out I might consider, but not for test taking.
11. Come to school in your pajamas. Who would want to see that?
12. Allow for a pie to be thrown in your face. Ugh!
13. Let students cut your hair in a Mohawk or shave your head or dye your hair. My hairdresser has a hard enough time with my hair.
14. Cross-gender dressing. No. No comment.
15. Wear a rooster or a chicken or some other costume. I would and have dressed-up only for Halloween.
16. Sing karaoke. In my case, this would not be a reward anyway. If I was a good singer I’d sing all the time to my students without them needing to take any tests.
17. Allow yourself to be smothered in ketchup or mustard etc. I am not a hot dog.
18. Be drenched in something. I am not a coach.
19. Have ice cream thrown on you. No…as much as I like ice cream.
20. Skydive onto the school field. Right. Not even when I am 88.
Sometimes these things are also done to boost PTA membership. But why should you have to do asinine things to get people to do what they should do automatically? If a school cares about its students and parents I wouldn’t think you’d have to resort to anything like this either. A community public school should be just that good.
Don’t get me totally wrong. I am not against fun. I think Family Fun Days or Fall Festivals leave plenty of room for staff and students to mingle and do funny things. But these things should be thought out carefully. And it should be just for fun.
What strange things has your school done to raise test scores?
So while I may not be remembered when I die for anything unusual, at least I will go to the hereafter knowing I never succumbed to crazy, degrading school folly. And if there is a chimp waiting for me in heaven, I’ll just ask politely if I can shake hands.