Say “No” to Test Pep Rallies

Ah yes, testing season is once again upon us. Proctor meetings are hosted. Test booklets are counted. Student labels come in, albeit at the very last minute. So much work, so little learning.

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photo credit: Alexandra Campo via photopin cc

As I was mulling over what I still needed to do to ensure that these assessments would be administered with fidelity, I wondered about whether there were any effects from schools doing test pep rallies. These events are when the student body is brought into the gymnasium to get pumped up for the upcoming exams. The idea (I think; I have never hosted a test pep rally myself) is to motivate the students to do the very best they can on these tests. While I do take time every year to do an item analysis of how we did on last year’s assessments, we only use this information to guide our instruction. If we can briefly ignore that these tests are tied to school report cards, they can be helpful in finding general strengths and gaps in our curriculum and instruction.

I did a quick Internet search on this topic and came across a post by Jon Robinson (The 21st Century Principal, @21stprincipal). After discussing his own search for answers and evidence, he shared three sound reasons for why schools shouldn’t host test pep rallies:

  • “Test Pep Rallies” might actually harm students and learning. For example, pumping a student up by telling him he’s going to “pass the test” when he fails, obviously is not a boon to self-confidence. In addition, the emphasis that Test Pep Rallies place on tests could foster bubble-sheet learning rather than learning that focuses on problem solving and creativity.
  • “Test Pep Rallies” might also reinforce the “Test-Prep” culture found in many schools today due to No Child Left Behind. In those schools we are confident “getting-ready-for-the-test” takes precedence over everything else. Art and other non-tested courses are tossed out in favor of tested subjects.
  • “Test Pep Rallies” might just be a waste of time. Because there’s no research on their effectiveness to do what they’re designed to do, continuing them year after year might be based on hope and wishful thinking rather than solid evidence.

I found his argument very compelling. Of the three rationale, I connected most with his belief that test pep rallies might actually harm students and learning. When a school takes time out of the instructional day for this type of activity, what type of message are we sending to our students and faculty? This is not acknowledging the fact that we are pulling students out of their learning environments for this event in the first place. When we create artificial enthusiasm within this context, I think it comes across as disingenuous with our students, families, and community. How might this affect our relationships and level of trust with our most important stakeholders in our school?

Please join me in refraining from hosting any type of test pep rallies this fall. Let your students know what you value in both your words and deeds.

Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is an 18-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th-grade teacher in Rudolph, WI. He now serves as an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District, also in Wisconsin (http://mineralpointschools.org/). He also teaches online graduate courses in curriculum design and instructional leadership for the University of Wisconsin-Superior. Matt tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD (www.ascd.org) and Lead Literacy (www.leadliteracy.com).

2 thoughts on “Say “No” to Test Pep Rallies”

  1. Just the opposite here. The years we have done pep rallies our students excel in teh state testing. The years that we don’t….they don’t

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