The cheerleaders jumped and clapped. The dance team shook their pom-poms. The bass drum thumped and the trumpets blared. The band played the fight song.
And then came the chant:
Do your BEST!
Beat the TEST!
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The gymnasium at Irving Elementary sounded like a pregame pep rally Thursday morning, but the goal wasn't to win a state basketball championship: It was to ace the state assessment tests.
Elementary and middle schools across the district have begun holding pep assemblies to motivate students before the tests, which are used to determine whether schools meet requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
"Whether you like it or not, this is a high-stakes test. It's a big deal, and we want kids to take that seriously," said Larry Perlman, principal at Irving.
Third-, fourth- and fifth-graders at Irving will begin taking state reading assessments next week.
On Thursday morning, students and teachers filed into the gym, clapping and stomping as "We Will Rock You" blasted from the speakers. The North High School band, cheerleaders and pom squad performed several numbers.
Then Perlman, accompanied by flashing lights and the instrumental "Sirius" — a tune associated with athletic teams making dramatic entrances — read a list of Irving students who had scored "exemplary" or "exceeds expectations" on last year's tests. The children stood and smiled; their classmates clapped.
"I wasn't a big believer in this kind of thing" before he came to Irving six years ago, Perlman said of academic pep rallies. "I figured the kids didn't need any additional distractions.
"But after seeing what it does here, the reaction the kids have and the way it gets them jazzed up and focused, I'm a fan now," he said.
Alicia Thompson, Wichita's assistant superintendent for elementary schools, attended Irving's half-hour assembly Thursday and smiled from the sidelines. She said the rallies are becoming more popular.
"It's fun," she said. "I love how it gets the kids hyped."
Schools plan their own rallies, usually the day or week before testing begins. Some examples:
* Lawrence Elementary students wore tie-dyed T-shirts and filed into the gym to the cheers of teachers and fellow students, along with laser lights and a fog machine. Students also watched a PowerPoint presentation on test-taking strategies.
* At Cleaveland Traditional Magnet, students got a visit from KC Wolf, the Kansas City Chiefs' mascot, who encouraged them to do their best on the tests.
* Allen Elementary students watched teachers compete in test-themed games and skits, including one that featured "Super Tester vs. State Assessments" in a boxing ring. Super Tester, played by third-grade teacher Andy Gonzalez, won the match by using such skills as showing his work, reading carefully, highlighting key words and staying positive.
Many schools host exam-day breakfasts to ensure that students eat well before the tests. Special snacks, posters and encouraging notes from parents and underclassmen "buddies" also are popular.
"It's a fun way to get focused and remind them that if you work hard, you can accomplish great things," Perlman said.
"It's a way to say, 'Hey, tests are a big deal here.' It's just a real positive, uplifting thing."
Irving fifth-grader Alma Santibanez said Thursday's pep rally was a fun way to usher in assessment time. "I liked when the cheerleaders went up," she said.
"I liked the drums," added 10-year-old Israel Ramirez.
Neither said the assembly or the increased focus on state tests made them anxious or nervous.
"They really want us to do our best," Alma said. "I feel prepared."