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.
Throughout the district, educators have been refreshing students' memories ahead of exams and building students' confidence.
At John Marshall Mid-High School, encouraging posters line the hallways. English teacher Manuela Alger paced in front of a classroom full of eighth-graders practicing for essay writing.
“Run with it,” she said. “You're going to be fine.”
Younger students are encouraging their test-taking classmates with parades at Mark Twain, Eugene Field and Linwood elementary schools. A pep rally is planned at Capitol Hill Elementary School, where students will make a human chain as a sign of solidarity.
Students in grades three through eight can eat a free breakfast at participating McDonald's in Oklahoma from 6 to 9 a.m. Wednesday to kick-start testing.
Back in Long's classroom at Coolidge Elementary, students will spend more than a week reviewing.
In Oklahoma City Public Schools, students take three benchmark tests throughout the year. Long and the other third-grade teachers at Coolidge looked at their students' scores and identified what areas the children struggled with.
They reviewed things like drawing inferences while reading, calculating the passage of time and alliteration.
Students with dimpled cheeks and hoodies sat on a big square rug. Long moved through a list of common prefixes and asked them to come up with example words. It was the end of the day, and her students struggled to think of any. “Pretty?” one boy asked. Nope. Long explained why and then paused.
“Do we need to have a brain break?” she asked. Her students cheered. Time for some exercise. Long pulled up an online video about the Egyptian pyramids and the students ran, jumped and moved with the video host. Their cheeks flushed pink.
Then it was back to work. This time, she challenged them to come up with words that have suffixes. They mumbled a bit, thinking aloud. “Stupidness?” But once they got started, they were on a roll. “Kindness!” “Goodness!” Their excitement grew.
Long said she's ready for testing to begin, which for her school is on Wednesday.
“They are where they are, and that's where they're going to be,” Long said. “I've taught them what they need to know. I'm ready for them to take the test so we can see how well they'll do.”