After a half-hour review of prefixes and suffixes, third-grade teacher Molly Long told her students at Coolidge Elementary School they were ready for a quiz. There was a general groan, except for one student.
“Yeah!” yelled a little boy with a black buzz cut. “Let's do this!” He punched the air with fervor.
Turns out, there was little to fear. After the quiz, Long counted the victories: about half of her students got a perfect score or missed only one question. She handed out high-fives left and right.
“Boom shaka laka!” cheered a boy in a blue shirt.
State testing season is here, and Oklahoma students are preparing for exams that dictate everything from the grades their schools receive to whether they'll graduate from high school.
Nearly 450,000 tests were administered in Oklahoma last year, according to the state Education Department.
Testing has become more high-stakes nationwide, said Joyce DeFehr, executive director of testing for department.
“Oklahoma's not singled out,” she said. “All 50 states are looking at education as very important, and one way of assessing how well our students are doing is through assessments.”
Those assessments provide a wealth of data. Teachers and administrators can use testing data to help students catch up or adjust teaching methods, DeFehr said. Most school districts do midyear tests to check how students are doing.
And parents and communities can see how well schools are doing.
“There's more accountability now than there used to be,” DeFehr said. “Our students and our schools are held to these high standards in order to move forward.”
The pressure is high for students and teachers, said Sandra Park, deputy superintendent for Oklahoma City Public Schools. But too much pressure can backfire, she said.
“The students and the parents really need to take the testing item seriously, but not yet get so worried about it the students can't think because they're so afraid they're going to mess up,” she said.
For teachers, tests are becoming more serious, though. In the coming years, a statewide overhaul in the way teachers are evaluated will tie student test scores to teacher pay.
“If we just listen to our teachers, the pressure is becoming more and more,” Park said.
To alleviate that pressure on both students and staff, schools are spending increased time preparing for the tests. Even simple things like staying silent during test time need to be reviewed, Park said.