Schools have long used pep rallies, assemblies and music events to build school spirit in advance of a big football game. But getting kids emotionally pumped to take a battery of standardized tests can be something of a challenge.
Still, that's what the teachers and staff at Southwest Middle School are trying to do this week as their students spend the next two weeks taking mandatory state reading and math assessments.
During a school assembly earlier this week, faculty at Southwest debuted a music video they'd produced, with all of their favorite - and maybe some not-so-favorite - teachers dancing and lip-syncing to the tune, "This is a New Year."
"Our principal, Kristen Ryan, came up the other day and said we're going to have to have some kind of assembly to get the kids motivated for state assessments," said Marci Leuschen, a sixth grade science teacher who came up with the idea. "So I went home and started watching 'Glee.' And they had that song that night and I thought, this would be perfect."
Leuschen said they shot the video during a day when students were out and teachers worked on recording grades for report cards. She set up a video camera and backdrop in her classroom, and throughout the day teachers would come down to record scenes for the video.
"Once people realized what we were doing, the staff just jumped on it," she said. "The kids got so excited because some of our teachers that might be more reserved in the classroom really cut loose on the video and they (the students) were just laughing hysterically. They wanted to see more of them."
Leuschen said motivating students for the state assessments can be a challenge because unlike regular classroom tests, the scores have no impact on students' grades or advancement through school.
The tests are used to measure whether schools are meeting state accreditation standards, as well as federal standards that tie funding to student growth and achievement.
"It is a unique challenge in that regard, but I think because we take it seriously, that they do too," Leuschen said. But she believes adding some fun and humor to the occasion can help motivate students to do their best.
"The kids really want to do well," she said. "They want to exceed standards, or meet the standards at the very least, so there is some pride in that. "By seeing us get excited and saying we believe in you and we know you guys can do this, it maybe sets the stage for them to say yeah, we can show them what we know."
The Kansas State Department of Education allows schools to administer the tests between Feb. 13 and May 3. Lawrence school district spokeswoman Julie Boyle said each school sets its own schedule for testing. Results of the state assessments will be reported in the fall.