Saturday, August 2, 2014

Why Should Teachers Motivate Students To Do Well on Their Common Core Tests?

Why Should Teachers Motivate Students To Do Well on Their Common Core Tests?
            As a teacher you have covered every learning goal on the new Common Core; you have modeled argumentative and informative writing; you have reviewed M.L.A. documentation and given your students apple opportunities to practice.  What more can you do to prepare them for the dreaded Common Core Tests?  

            There will be those few renegade students who even though they have mastered all the learning goals will purposely do poorly on their Common Core Tests.  Why would they do that? Don’t they care how this will look on their permanent records?  Actually they don’t.  They know they will not have to repeat the grade based on their test score.  They know the test will not affect their grade in your class.  This is their moment to take control, to show you that you are not the boss of them, to act completely independently, to show you that they are really in charge.  What their test score does affect is their teacher and their school.  As their teacher you may have become their arch-enemy, their nemesis, and this is their change to take revenge. Maybe you called their mother or maybe they are angry because you didn’t let them sit next to their best friend.  You will never know.  As a school, they may be angry because their parents made them attend this school instead of the one where their friends attend.  My dear husband was sent to a Catholic School for his eighth grade. He wanted to be with his friends in public school.  To communicate his anger to his parents and to prove to his parents that he didn’t want to be there, he failed every class.  Your student may be making a point to his parents.  To middle school students achieving a high score on the Common Core Tests is not a priority.

            Why should a teacher care how her students perform on the Common Core Tests?  Parents might tell you that they do not care how the school performs on these tests; they are only concerned about how their children perform.  Nevertheless, these parents have a choice and when it comes to selecting a school, they all look at the test scores and select a high performing school.  Public schools are competing for students with charter schools.  Charter schools can create sophisticated advertising on television and radio to lure parents to their schools making them a very visual alternative for parents.  Public schools only have those test scores.  Charter schools spend a considerable amount of money making their campus look attractive.  They become an attractive alternative for many parents.  When a public school loses a large number of students to a charter school, the district is forced to reduce its staff.  Since in most school districts seniority may not be the only factor in determining which teacher will lose his jobs, your job could be lost.  If you are a novice teacher, it is even more likely you will lose your job.  If your test scores are not as high as other teacher’s scores, even though you taught the core curriculum, your job is still in jeopardy.

            So how do you ensure that all of your students do their best on the Common Core Tests? Use a tactic that coaches have used in athletics for decades.  From the beginning of the school year, establish a “team’ or “community” feeling in your classroom.  The students need to be told repeatedly the famous words from The Three Musketeers, “It’s all for one and one for all.” When you are using peer editing tell them, “Friends don’t let friends turn in bad papers.” When they work in small groups, remind them to “use the circle of help” to solve a problem before they ask you.  Finally create a little friendly competition with another school.  I use a friend who teaches in a school with a similar student-body and of course she uses my school.  We tell our classes that they need to score higher than the other school so I can tell their teacher, Marcia at Fort Herriman Middle School, “In your face, South Jordan Middle School is better than you.”  The students laugh, but they take the challenge seriously. Both schools benefit from this friendly competition and it serves to unite the school into team.  Most of them take their test seriously and their scores are higher. 

            In a perfect world, teachers should not have to worry about how their students perform on a single test.  In a perfect world teachers should not have to worry about students transferring to charter schools.  We don’t live in a perfect world.  We live in a real world where test scores matter and a drop in enrollment does negatively impact teachers. Always remember the words of Vidal Sassoon, “If you don’t look good, we don’t look good.”