Test Prep Pep Rallies

by Robert Pondiscio
January 22nd, 2009

A Florida school is holding a mock funeral to help kids get ready for the upcoming FCAT writing test (HT: Gotham Schools).   ”Mourners will file past an open coffin, and a teacher will deliver a eulogy, surrounded by faculty members wearing black at the West Palm Beach campus,” the Palm Beach Post reports.

The mortician, Principal Glenda Garrett, said this ‘FCAT writing funeral’ will be a solemn occasion with a powerful lesson. Students will list and drop in the casket essay mistakes such as poor word choices — so they will avoid digging their own graves at test time. ‘We bury all of the things we should not do for writing,’ she said. ‘No baby words. Throw that into the casket. It’s dead. Goodbye.’

The “mourners” at Roosevelt Elementary School are 4th graders.  Nine and ten-year olds will bury their mistakes.  I don’t think this is what Obama had in mind when he urged us to “put away childish things.” Perhaps this is intended as something “fun” for the kids, but there’s still something that sounds a little off about it.

In recent years, the standardized test pep rally seems to have taken root in many elementary schools.  “Watch me take my ELA!  Watch me score a 4. Watch me score a 3. Watch me take my ELA,” Buffalo students chant and sing.  Principals vow to shave their heads or sleep on the school roof if kids fare well on the Big Test.  

The stunts and pep rallies are inevitably describes as a way to “ease pre-test jitters.”  This begs the question, of course where exactly those jitters emanate from.


  1. Where did our pre-test jitters come from when we took the GRE? From our fervent hope that we would know what was on the test? Our desire to score well because the score was important to our future? Schools that hold pep rallies do so because the score is important to *their* future. The goal is to make students take the tests as seriously as the teachers do–to increase students’ sense that their future depends on scoring well. Whether these little test-prep festivals are effective (or are promoting the right goals) is another question.

    I wrote a blog on test-prep pep rallies at Education Policy Blog last year, and set off WW III:


    Comment by Nancy Flanagan — January 22, 2009 @ 10:22 am

  2. I was never able to resist the temptation to point out to my 5th graders that they had no reason to be nervous since they weren’t the ones being tested. We were. I always found the “prep rallies” to be a bit offensive. Another example of adult anxiety looking for a place to affix itself.

    Comment by Robert Pondiscio — January 22, 2009 @ 10:29 am

  3. ‘We bury all of the things we should not do for writing,’
    “The stars in the sky like fireworks were shooting”
    is now
    “Meteorites are pieces of rock and ice that heat up and glow when they pass through the atmosphere.”
    “It was so hot my dog and me dove right into the lake”
    “Heat rising from the ground can give the illusion of water.”
    “My cat is crazy. She chatters at birds.”
    Morphs to
    “A cat is a mammal which bears its young live.”
    No baby words.
    Throw that into the casket.
    It’s dead.
    My child!

    Comment by tm willemse — January 22, 2009 @ 1:00 pm

  4. Nancy,

    Your post was excellent and it prompted an excellent discussion.

    I think my favorite comment came from the teacher who said that officially her district still has a rich curriculum but unofficically the curriculum is test prep. Her protest is risky, but she continues to teach the rich, official curriculum. As she said, that is the type of reality check that policy makers should get from teachers and unions.

    Comment by john thomson — January 22, 2009 @ 1:20 pm

  5. I am all in favor of test prep rallies as long as they are outside of school time (evening or Saturday morning). Schools are spending too much of their precious hours already on testing. The last thing we need to do is exacerbate this problem by stealing more instructional time and pile it on top of what’s already being consumed by the tests.

    One quick aside on “teaching to the test:” I always taught to the test. How could I not? If I were teaching a unit on; inference, gerunds, number theory, the water cycle, the American Revolution, would it make sense for me then to turn around and test my class on the civil rights movement? As Elaine Bennis might respond, “I DON’T THINK SOOO!!!”

    Comment by Paul Hoss — January 22, 2009 @ 2:09 pm

  6. I just finished reading “Great Expectations School” (Dan Brown)–highly recommended. His reflections on time spent on test prep and how that time could have been put to better use with his kids–in the poorest school in the poorest neighborhood in NYC, maybe the country–are priceless. Every policymaker in the country ought to read GES for a dose of perspective.

    And John T–thanks. I am your fan, so a compliment from you means a lot.

    Comment by Nancy Flanagan — January 23, 2009 @ 2:26 pm

  7. [...] The same sorts of elaborate motivational strategies to psych students up for tests have been reported in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Texas, and Florida. [...]

    Pingback by Why We Need A Moratorium On The High-Stakes Of Common Core Testing — May 7, 2013 @ 6:35 am

  8. [...] The same sorts of elaborate motivational strategies to psych students up for tests have been reported in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Texas and Florida. [...]

    Pingback by Why we need a moratorium on the high stakes of testing — May 15, 2013 @ 4:00 am

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