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First Day (copy)

Ariyonna Yazzie, 5, right, looks up at her mother Velma Clay, left, as Clay drops her off for the first day of kindergarten at Kinsey Elementary earlier this year. The younger students at the school, like Clay, are supporting the older students during AzMerit testing this month with snacks and cheers.

Taylor Mahoney Arizona Daily Sun

Flagstaff students started taking the annual AzMerit tests this month. Getting kids geared up to take the tests and keeping them motivated for an entire month of test taking can be a challenge according to two Flagstaff teachers and a principal.

Emma Fuller, a fifth grade teacher at Leupp Public School, said she and other teachers at the school encourage students to do their best on the tests.

“We try to keep a positive atmosphere during testing to alleviate testing anxiety, as well as, amplify the importance of showing what they know,” she said in an email. “My kids are more than a number and I want them to see that. They are rock stars and are set to put in their best effort, whatever that looks like. They are set to feel good about the hard work they did during the day.”

Fuller said she and other teachers do not reward individual students for scoring well on the tests.

“That is unfair,” she said. “Some kids easily pass tests. That’s just how they are. Other kids will work all day long and get the worst scores.”

Fuller throws a pizza party for her entire class at the end of the testing period.

“Even if they didn’t try hard or score well, teachers don’t immediately know how well their students did anyway,” she said. “They lived through it and it sucked.”

ONE WEEK IN APRIL

Each grade level gets one week in April to test. The tests take three days to complete. Teachers don’t see the testing questions. All of the testing is done on computers. Teachers can only answer student questions on how to operate the test tools. They don’t get to see the results of their students’ tests until the rest of the public does, usually in mid-summer, just before the next school year starts.

Teachers also try to make things fun for the students during the testing period, Fuller said. Fuller and other teachers at her school contact students’ parents and ask them to write a letter to their student saying how proud they are of them and that they are loved and cared for. The teachers and other staff members write letters for students whose parents may have forgotten to send one in.

“The letter is read first thing in the morning of each testing day to remind them that ‘it’s just a test’ and they are valuable regardless of outcome,” she said.

Fuller also shows a video of her and other teachers singing a ditty to the tune of “Rocky” to remind students of test-taking basics and how to take care of themselves by getting enough sleep, eating well and relaxing at home.

Teachers and students from other grades, who aren’t testing, also participate. This year some teachers hung streamers and rolled out a red butcher paper “carpet” on which students walked into their classrooms, she said.

The school principal also gets in on the fun, she said, by telling students each morning how proud he is of them.

“It is incredibly difficult to get 8-to-11-year-olds hyped for state testing. I even dread it. I take all the scores I receive from it with a grain of salt. If my scores are low, I work to readjust my curriculum or teaching methods, but I can't put the pressure on a kid to do well on a test right before they take it. That does no one any good,” she said.

Added Fuller: “I can only encourage them that they are 1) Amazing kids who deserve to show what they know. 2) MORE THAN A TEST SCORE  3) Will feel much better if they try their best.”

“I ask every student after they take their tests something to the effect of ‘How do you feel about the work you did?’ and I usually get the response, ‘Awesome!’ and then I say something like ‘You should be proud of yourself, I know I am,’" Fuller said.

TREATS AND SNACKS

At Kinsey Elementary, the whole school gets involved, including the grades (kindergarten, first and second) that don’t take the AzMerit tests, said Principal Tammy Nelson. For the second year in a row, the younger students have adopted one of the upper grades and shower them with treats, snacks, posters and chants of support.

This year the kindergartners adopted the fifth-graders, the first-graders adopted the third-graders and the second-graders adopted the fourth-graders. The students from the supporting grade line up along one side of the hall and the students from the testing grade line up on the other side, she said. Then the supporting students sing a little song or chant a little cheer of support for the other students.

“It’s part of the culture of the school,” Nelson said. “It creates the sense that the whole school is involved and it’s a school effort. We try to make it serious, but not stressful.”

The materials for the snacks are provided mostly by the school’s Parent Teacher Organization, she said. Those snacks make things extra special for the test-takers. The younger students make cute notes to attach to the snacks like “Chip, chip, hurray” to bags of chips or “You’re a big dill” attached to pickles with smiley faces drawn on the packaging.

“You should see my office,” Nelson said. “I’ve got snacks everywhere. Oranges over here. Drink boxes over there.”

This year, the younger students will also be handing out snack “robots” made from juice boxes, raisin boxes and a fruit cup.

The individual teachers also get in on the fun, Nelson said. Teachers have to cover their walls during testing so that no help is offered inadvertently. One teacher covered her bulletin boards with positive quotes.

Travis Doerfler is a fifth-grade teacher at Kinsey Elementary. He pulls each of his students aside before the tests and tells them how smart they are and how proud he is of them.

Doerfler said he and other teachers also pass out snacks, provided by the kindergartners, with motivational quotes to the students during the tests.

This year the fifth-grade teachers also make a mystery box for the students, he said. The box was filled with various items, such as a kickball, cookies, bubbles, homework passes and free-time passes. If the students do their best on their tests they get to open the box at the end of the test week.

Doerfler said the entire grade celebrated the end of the test week with a kickball game, the treats from the box and the next week off from homework.

“It is about making the test exciting for yourself so the students can get excited, too. Explaining to them out of 180 days, they need to take the three days of testing seriously," he said. “I told them to wear their favorite/lucky outfit the first day of testing because as Allen Iverson once stated ‘You look good, you feel good, you (test) good.’”

The reporter can be reached at sadams@azdailysun.com or (928)556-2253.

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Education/Business Reporter

Suzanne writes about education and business. She covers the local school district, charter schools and Northern Arizona University. She also writes the Sunday business features.

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