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How Does a Principal Dressing Up in a Pink Tutu Improve Education?

For once, let's leave the testing atrocity out of the argument. Have these people just arrived from Mars? Haven't they heard the alarming news that we are raising a nation of obese children? Why would anyone encourage children to think of junk food as a reward? For a school to do it in the name of education is unconscionable.

Pep rallies, ice cream parties, motivational name it.

When it comes to motivating students for the annual state achievement tests, schools go the extra mile.

This week, throughout most of May and into June, students in the area will take most of the crucial Standards of Learning tests.

And already, some school principals are jumping in with some creative - others might call it wacky - ideas on how to psych-up those test-takers.

"Food does wonders," said David Gaston, principal of Burbank Elementary School in Hampton.

An ice cream sundae party in June is what Gaston has promised. The treat will go to the grade that wins a contest that requires students to use test-taking strategies they've learned to correctly answer SOL practice questions.

The biggest prize of all, however, might come in the fall when Gaston agreed to dress in a pink tutu for a day if Burbank reaches full accreditation, the highest state ranking based on SOL scores.

Students are tickled with the idea. But does he think it will make them try harder on the tests?

"That's an interesting question," he said. "If anything, it's an attempt to get things focused. It does up the ante because they do want to see it, whether it's me kissing a pig or wearing the tutu. There were a few other
ideas out there."

But in the quest to improve test scores and motivate students, are some schools going too far by unnecessarily singling out students?

One school in Isle of Wight, Hardy Elementary School, mailed out fliers to parents with their children informing them that third- and fourth-graders passing the reading and writing portions of the SOLs would be invited to a
McDonald's breakfast sandwich and juice.

"Remember, only those friends passing the test will be invited," the flier read.

Whitney McBurney, who has a fifth-grade daughter at Hardy, said she hasn't heard about the McDonald's breakfast. Her daughter is taking the SOL tests this year, but she doesn't think there's anything wrong with rewarding
students who pass the SOL exams.

"To me, it's the same concept as the Honor Roll breakfast. It's recognizing their achievement," she said. "There are kids who don't get the juice and doughnut because they don't make the honor roll."

She said the school now has a "Bringing Up Grades" award for students who might not make the honor roll but still show improvement and work ethic.

"We really try hard not to single out people," she said. "We realize that all kids don't have the same advantages that other kids do."

Watkins Elementary School Principal Gwendolyn Clash in Newport News said she focuses her motivational events to include the entire school.

Fun activities help relieve some of the testing stress and anxiety that comes with taking such crucial tests.

"We want to get the school in a mode," she said.

The week before students begin testing has been declared SOL Spirit Week at the school, with every day having a theme and matching SOL activity. There's "Thinking Cap Thursday" where students get to wear wacky hats that help them
think better and then write about their experience to practice writing.

"What I try to get across to parents is that the SOLs don't start in third, fourth or fifth grade," Clash said. "They start before that."

— Miriam Stawowy
staff writer
Daily Press
Motivating Students for SOL Achievement

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