Mock test exams were scattered across the floor with the number four on them– the highest a student can score on the state exam. The papers were used as a prop in one of the pep rally performances.
Mock test exams were scattered across the floor with the number four on them– the highest a student can score on the state exam. The papers were used as a prop in one of the pep rally performances.

A group of young girls dressed in gray pleated skirts and bright blue t-shirts ran to the side of the gym and turned to face some boys who were also getting into position. The girls waited for their cue and then loudly chanted, “Boom! Watch me rock that test!” They shouted the phrase over and over while pretending to push the boys, who represented the test, to the other side of the gym.

This was one of many performances Wednesday afternoon at a pre-test pep rally at Explore Empower Charter School in Brooklyn. Morty Ballen, CEO and founder of Explore Schools, said the purpose of the pep rally was to get students excited and celebrate their hard work in preparation for next week’s exams– the first to be tied to new Common Core standards.

This year the frenzy around the state tests has been more muted given the widespread understanding that students are going to, on average, score lower than in the past. Also, the message that state and city officials have been putting out in recent months has been that this year’s test scores should be thought of as a baseline and not a measurement of student and teacher success.

Explore Empower Charter School Principal Beth Doyle said this year the school toned down its emphasis on the test. Last year, when it held its first pep rally, the school started its “test countdown” in January, which included putting up posters and wearing t-shirts. But this year, the school started talking more about the exam at the beginning of April. Doyle said they did this because last year teachers and students became too stressed with the test prep beginning so early.

Students race to see who can wrap their partner in toilet paper first during a Wednesday's pep rally.
Students race to see who can wrap their partners in toilet paper first during a Wednesday’s pep rally.

A group of students at the pep rally said they were excited and ready to take the test.

“Empower pushed us to do our hardest and when it comes time to the test, we’re all going to get 3′s and 4′s,” said Nashia Thompson, 10.

Ballen said he knows the test scores may be lower this year, but he knows from experience that students thrive on optimism about their success. He said years ago, when they first started the school, he told teachers the goal was for 100 percent of students to get a 3 or 4 on the test. “Our teachers said ‘I’m scared, I’m anxious, what if they don’t? But when we said the same thing to our students, their first words were “Thank you for believing in us.”‘

Ballen said he’ll use the test results, whether they are good or bad, as a teaching moment and learning opportunity for the school.

“I think it’s all in our culture and our approach,” he said. “When we get the results… we want to say we’re so fortunate to have this opportunity to learn. What could we have done better and differently? And let’s roll up our sleeves and get to it.”

Students had a hula hoop competition in the gym during Wednesday’s pre-test pep rally.<span style="font-size: 13px;line-height: 19px"> </span>