It’s state-testing time here in California, and two of the things it always brings-out are (1) news stories about strange things done by schools to bribe their students to try hard on the test and, (2) reports on new test-related studies.

On the strange things done by schools “front,” a local high school here in Sacramento organized race-based assemblies to push students to “pump up kids for…testing.” The same article talks about other gimmicks schools are using.

Our inner-city high school, which is one of the few high schools in the country that has moved out of fourth-year Program Improvement status, takes a different tack. We spend very little time on direct test-preparation (the day before the tests begins, several of my colleagues and I may spend a half-hour on test-taking strategies and specific test “vocabulary”), but we spend the rest of the year preparing students to become life-long learners.

In addition, our administrators manage the Herculean task of rearranging our class schedules for six days and organizing test booklets so that every student takes every test with their subject teacher, in the classroom where they’ve been studying that subject every year, and with their same classmates. In other words, students will take the English test in their regular English class (which has been expanded to three hours for that day). This, I believe, dramatically reduces test anxiety and enhances motivation on the part of students to do their best.

If we’re stuck with these tests, perhaps we should spend less time on gimmicks and more time on reducing barriers to success.

On the research front, I posted yesterday about Stanford coming out with a study that shows the California High School Exit Exam, the test that all seniors have to pass in order to graduate, has resulted in no academic improvement among students and has increased the drop-out rate among low-income minority youth. Here’s an interesting column about it that appeared in our local paper today.