(Update: adding more schools offering incentives)
We’ve seen in years past pep rallies, parties, raffles and other sorts of enticements — which some might call bribes — for students before they take high-stakes standardized tests. In spring 2016, for example, Washington Redskins cheerleaders surprised students at an assembly for students at a Washington elementary school to cheer them on for their Common Core tests.
Now, as school districts around the country get ready to launch into their annual spring testing season, it’s happening again.
A notice was just sent to families with children attending Jewell Elementary School in Aurora Public Schools, a school with some 530 students in pre-K through fifth grades, most of them minority. The memo actually includes the phrase “PARCC incentives,” with PARCC referring to the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Career, a Common Core test created by a multistate consortium funded by the former Obama administration.
Other schools are also offering incentives in Colorado, one of the states with the largest opt-out movements. New York has had the most opt-outs, with at least 20 percent of students statewide refusing to take accountability tests for each of the past few years, and officials are expecting big numbers again this year.
Peter Greene, a Pennsylvania teacher who writes the ever-lively Curmudgucation blog, awards the “test-prep excess award” to Eva Moskowitz, founder and chief executive officer of Success Academy Charter Schools in New York. Why? According to the New York Daily News, she has rented out Radio City Music Hall — the home of the famed Rockettes — for the charter network’s annual “Slam the Exam” rally on March 24, several days before high-stakes standardized exams start. The paper reported:
Success Academy officials said the city’s largest charter school network outgrew previous rally venues, including the City College auditorium used last year, when 2,345 students attended the event. This year, a whopping 3,676 kids will visit Radio City for the rally that’s meant to pump kids up so they will ace state tests that begin March 28.
You can get the flavor of these events from this video of a Success Academy test pep rally from 2016:
Jewell Elementary’s particular incentives: a raffle and a party in which kids can participate only if they have shown up to school on all PARCC testing days and “who have tried their hardest. (See the full memo below.) Asked about the memo, Nadine Ritchotte, Jewell Elementary’s principal, provided this statement:
“It is important to recognize and celebrate students for their hard work and learning throughout the school year. This is simply another opportunity for Jewell Elementary staff to recognize our students and thank them for their efforts.”
One of the reasons schools take steps they think will help test participation is because of a standardized test opt-out movement that started a few years ago as a protest against excessive testing and test results used to evaluate teachers when the exams are not designed to do that. In Colorado, PARCC tests are used in part to decide whether struggling schools should face state intervention.
Hundreds of thousands of parents have opted their children out of these tests. In 2015, an Indiana superintendent of the year, Rocky Killion, actually suggested to parents that they home-school their children during testing week because he was so opposed to the exams.
Peg Robertson, a Colorado educator who taught at Jewell for four years until her position was eliminated last year, wrote a blog post criticizing PARCC and the school’s incentives, noting that a 2015 law states that students who opt out of high-stakes tests shall not be penalized in any way. The law states:
(b) IF A PARENT EXCUSES HIS OR HER STUDENT FROM PARTICIPATING IN A STATE ASSESSMENT, A LOCAL EDUCATION PROVIDER SHALL NOT IMPOSE NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCES, INCLUDING PROHIBITING SCHOOL ATTENDANCE, IMPOSING AN UNEXCUSED ABSENCE, OR PROHIBITING PARTICIPATION IN EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES, ON THE STUDENT OR ON THE PARENT.
Here’s the Jewell school’s memo: