The administration of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System's English Language Arts subject matter test (gosh that is a mouthful) went off without a hitch earlier this month. As an English teacher at my high school, I was required to proctor the exam. As a result, I saw one of my classes only once during the week of testing, and a second class only twice. Logistically this proved a bit challenging, but I planned as best I could to ensure students didn't get too far off track.
Administering the test is a bit nerve-racking. There are a number of high-security protocols that must be followed - any missteps, and an entire school's test results could be rendered invalid. Most students take the test seriously, as if they don't pass it, they won't earn a high school diploma regardless of how successful they are in their classes.
It surprised me that in the days leading up to the exam, no announcements were made by administrators urging students to get a good night's sleep or eat a full breakfast. For better or worse, there weren't any proclamations about the test before, during, or after its issuance.
At my wife's school, no other students are allowed into the building during testing times. This policy alone illustrates the significance the test is given there. At my previous school, breakfast sandwiches were purchased for all 10th grade students taking the test. This edible carrot also exemplified the test's importance at that school - which, incidentally, is annually one of the highest scoring schools in the state.
I believe if students read and write regularly, and are taught to think carefully and critically by their English teachers, they will do well on the test. There are certain skills we can teach students that increase their chances of a high score, and specific content we can review to put them in a position to succeed, but beyond that, the X factor is each student's personal level of motivation.
Most are content to do well enough to pass. A driven few want to outshine their classmates, but the majority don't have motivation beyond what is required. It's my theory that breakfast sandwiches, administrative encouragement, and a delayed opening would provide an additional boost beyond what many might expect.
These actions would show students that we really care about their success, enough that we're willing to shut down the rest of the school and provide them with food. If these strategies work at two neighboring schools, I have every reason to believe they would work at mine.
I should mention that our scores are better than the state average, and part of me is glad the administration doesn't make a focus on MCAS the end-all, be-all of academic instruction.
It's worth noting that if the MCAS was administered when I was in high school, I have no doubt that a warm ham, egg, and cheese sandwich on a toasted everything bagel would do wonders for my score!