Making tests fun for sophomores
By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Windward Writer
By Eloise Aguiar
KANE'OHE — Castle High School is energizing students to improve scores on standardized tests, and students are helping to lead the way.
The school's HSA Rocks focus group has initiated a campaign to support and educate 10th graders about the importance of doing well on the Hawai'i State Assessment tests that public school students statewide are now taking and will determine whether the school meets its goals under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
The test is important because such things as class offerings and management of the school can be influenced by the test results. At stake for students are electives such as sports, music and art classes. Some schools have eliminated such classes in favor of more math and reading.
For the school, the score can mean the difference between maintaining self-governance or being placed under special oversight.
"We have intelligent people here, they just don't try," said Debbie Pollack, a therapeutic special education teacher. Students don't understand the connection between the test and the kinds of academic program that can be offered, she said.
They don't realize they could lose band, art and sports if they don't try harder, said Pollack, a member of the HSA Rocks focus group.
The solution was educating students about the importance of the test and distributing energy bars and water to give students an added boost before the exams begin. The energy bars are supposed to release energy over a two-hour period.
In past years the school has tried distributing cereal and M&Ms before the test, said Lilybeth Kane, senior class secretary and HSA Rocks member.
"We're trying to show the students that the school is trying to give them something better, more nutritious, that (the school) really cares, that they're investing into their testing so they can do better," Kane said.
For five years Castle has not met state goals under the NCLB program, and last year the school was put on notice that it could come under special oversight, or restructuring. But the school and students have met the standard in most areas, said Meredith Maeda, school principal.
The problem is one of its small student sub-groupings has never met the standards, thereby forcing the whole school into restructuring, Maeda explained.
The HSA Rocks focus group disbanded last year and was only revived because of the interest of three students — Kane, Nicky Adur and Sadie Tillotson, Pollack said.
They wanted to organize, and Pollack and art teacher David Brandner joined them.
"This was definitely a student-driven idea," she said.
Brandner created a book marker and cartoon, " 'Sophs vs. Testzilla,' to help promote the exam and get the rest of the school backing them. The group wanted to treat the 10th graders more like athletes, heightening school spirit, making posters and hanging banners in the hallway," he said.
"If we give the sophomores a lot of attention and encouragement, they would aspire to doing well in their test," Brandner said. "Right now some of them just bubble in the answers just to get through it and I know we can do better then that."
Sophomore Julia Gomes said she likes the energy bars and so do her friends.
"It doesn't make me worry about if I'm hungry, so I guess I can concentrate more," Gomes said before an exam Tuesday.
Tillotson, freshman vice president and HSA Rocks member, said a survey was developed to figure out what students knew about the test, how important electives were and what they might like as a reward for doing better.
"It's important to them because if we do bad in the test we could lose our electives," Tillotson said.
After a week of testing, the focus group is getting some feedback about the initiative.
Nicky Adur, sophomore class president and focus group member, said she thinks the bars are helpful.
"It tastes good, so it's always a plus to get something that makes you happy before the test," Adur said, adding that others like it too. "It's supposed to give you energy for like two hours, and no one is sleeping, so that's good."
Reach Eloise Aguiar at firstname.lastname@example.org.