Students throughout the Sacramento region are sleeping longer, eating better and taking part in fun activities all to help them to do well on state tests.
The students and their counterparts throughout California are in the midst of the state's Standardized Testing and Reporting, or STAR, exams. The tests show how well students meet state standards and measure achievement gaps among ethnic groups.
The tests have high stakes for schools: Multiple years of low scores could mean sanctions or even a state takeover. The state scores schools between 200 and 1,000, and it has set 800 as the target schools should achieve.
The pressure for schools to improve their overall scores has administrators sending home fliers and making automated phone calls to parents, reminding them to make sure their kids take the test seriously, get plenty of sleep and eat a good breakfast before the exam.
Staff members at Heron Elementary in Natomas wearing camouflage shirts took the message directly to their students, handing out pencils that read "Do Your Best on the Test: Eat a healthy breakfast, get plenty of rest, arrive on time to school, take a deep breath and don't stress."
Some educators are pulling out all the stops. Kenny Lee Lewis, singer and guitarist with the Steve Miller Band, was the star attraction at a Caroline Wenzel Elementary assembly in the Pocket last week.
"The theme at Wenzel for the STAR is 'Rock the STAR,' " said Principal Judy Montgomery. "So we were excited to have a real rock star facilitate the assembly."
At James Rutter Middle School in the Florin area, Principal Yuri Penermon has offered an unusual prize for improved scores. If students increase the school's overall score by 10 points, he will spend 24 hours on the school's roof.
Some schools aren't lucky enough to find a rock star willing to volunteer his time or a principal who will climb up on the roof, so teachers and administrators find other ways to rev kids up.
James Marshall Elementary near Rosemont has been gearing up for testing with weekly activities that include hula hoop, bubble blowing and paper airplane flying contests.
On Monday the kids at Herman Leimbach Elementary in south Sacramento will get a visit from mascots Sgt. Proficient and the Kings' Slamson.
Other educators are tapping into their students' competitive sides. The marquees at Kennedy High School and McClatchy High reveal a unique rivalry. It's not over a coveted football title; instead, the schools are competing to see which can reach a score of 800 on the STAR tests first, said Chad Sweitzer, principal at Kennedy.
The schools haven't decided what the prize will be for the winning school, but Sweitzer says it's likely to be a lunch served in the quad by members of the losing school while wearing the winning school's colors.
All the preparation and focus on the test can put a lot of pressure on students. Jamal Abedi, a UC Davis education professor, said it's important that students don't get too stressed about taking the test.
"Sometimes anxiety has a negative impact and could mask their knowledge," he said. "Parents can do a lot to make things easier for them. Lower the level of anxiety, without reducing the level of importance."
He suggests that parents tell children they love them and will continue to do so no matter what happens.
Kiyomi Meeker, principal of Margaret Fortune School in Sacramento, has asked parents for their help. "Each parent wrote a letter to their student saying they are proud of them and wishing them good luck," she said. "It will be on their desk the first day of testing."
The yoga teacher at Fortune School also has designed a three-minute relaxation exercise for students to do just before the test. Meeker said the students take deep breaths and repeat a positive affirmation: "I am calm. I am relaxed. I am confident about taking the test. I am ready."
Kids can't score well on the tests if they don't show up, so most schools are offering incentives for coming to school. McClatchy High is offering a class pizza party and a drawing for an iPod to encourage attendance. Leimbach Elementary students who attend every day and take the test seriously will be treated to a carnival.
The encouragement will continue into next school year as schools celebrate test scores released in August with more assemblies, parties and prizes.
How will parents learn how their child scored on the tests?
School districts are required to report all state test scores to parents. Individualized STAR student reports will be mailed to families at the beginning of next school year. The report shows how the child stacks up against other California students in English, science, social science and math. They are scored advanced, proficient, basic or far below basic.