Acing All Life’s Tests, Bubble Sheets Or Not

by Kevin Bronk
Editor, Beyond

BLEH. Tests are the worst. 

This is exactly how I felt about exams all throughout elementary, middle and high school. It certainly didn’t help that I also struggled with a learning disability. When I reached college, I didn’t become any fonder of tests, but I did begin to understand that being an effective test-taker was necessary. Professors expected me to demonstrate a mastery of the content from their lectures and readings. Fine. Fair enough. But after college, I thought, I’ll never have to take another test again. What a relief that would be! Oh, how wrong I was…

CST Pump up Sign
A sign featuring Rocketeer parent signatures to remind students they’re supported.

When I became a teacher, there were a variety of tests to pass in order to earn and retain my credential. Despite my personal aversion to tests (especially bubble sheets), as a teacher in a traditional special day class, I found the data I gathered from tests extremely useful in honing my classroom instruction… even if I hated giving them.

I always had a good gut feeling of where my kids were, but my kids deserved more than a feeling to guide their education. Nonetheless, my students — all with learning disabilities — weren’t fans of tests and often performed poorly. This was exceptionally difficult for me to watch, as I was deeply invested in their growth and success.

My principal at Alma helped frame the importance of testing in our first one-to-one meeting after I transitioned to Rocketship.

“Data is one of the most powerful tools that we as a community have at our disposal,” Ms. Sharon Kim told me when I pushed back on the number of assessments planned for the year, especially for my kiddos with IEPs.

“Data helps the parent who works with their child every night on homework know that their efforts are paying off,” she continued. “Data urges teachers to dig deeper to identify where specific students are struggling. Data allows school leaders to make the most thoughtful decisions for our Rocketeers. And data arms our families with the awareness of the standard of educational excellence that their children deserve each and every day. When our community is equipped with data, we can expect more and respond powerfully for our Rocketeers.”

So, maybe we need data. Maybe our kids do need to know how to show what they’ve learned. But I still recalled the looks of dread on my past students’ faces when I even mentioned an upcoming test.

My first day at Rocketship hadn’t even begun and I had already resigned myself that ALL my new students would be just as stressed about taking tests. And the first time we gave a school-wide assessment — to all new Rocketeers — my fears seemed supported. The kids were not stoked.

Over the course of the year, however, many kids became excited for quarterly benchmarks. They knew they were learning, growing and getting closer to reaching their goals. Further, teachers — myself included — had valuable data to use when planning instruction. Expectations were clear. Everybody — staff, teachers, school leaders and parents — would come together to create a positive environment for kids to show off what they had learned when test time arrived.

CST tunnel
Students at Alma going through the CST pump up tunnel after morning launch.

“A strong test taking culture is as important if not more so than the test itself,” said Ms. Kim when she sat me down to plan a CST music video to pump kids up for the upcoming state tests.  “We always strive to build the I want, I can, and I understand why mentality in our Rocketeers. This is a critical part of our culture. When all three of these elements come together, our Rocketeers have shown to be unstoppable.”

I will never define a student by their ability to take a test. But society will. They’ll take tests in high school, tests to get into college, tests to graduate college, tests to become doctors and lawyers. Their persistence, problem solving abilities and critical thinking skills will always be put to the test — often on a test. And at Rocketship, I know we’re doing everything we can to make sure they’re equipped to succeed on all future tests life will throw at them, bubble sheets or not.

Below find four examples of Rocketship’s awesome test-taking culture in action:

Alma : “Alma’s Here”

After transitioning out of the classroom and onto our network support team, I was excited to still have the opportunity help Alma create their CST music video for 2014.


Brilliant Minds : “Ready”

As a member a Brilliant Mind’s campus support team, I was also invited to help the amazing faculty and staff there execute the creative vision for their annual video.


Mosaic : “ROMO 2014”

DJ Otte (also known as Ms. Otte, kinder teacher) has recorded Mosiac’s videos since 2012. Per usual, 2014’s CST video is packed with spicy lyrics, plenty of heart and hilarious character. Check out more from DJ Otte and Mosaic here.

Los Sueños : “Rock It”

Los Sueños borrows some inspiration from Bruno Mars for its motivational pump-up video. Ms. Pham dove into creating Los Sueños’ first CST video with, “the sole intention of making our kids laugh and using that laughter to propel them into greater motivation.”

Kevin Bronk works on the Rocketship Network Support Team and is the Editor of Beyond. He is a former Special Education teacher in San Jose, with experience teaching in both traditional public and Rocketship schools. He earned a BA in Journalism and Digital Arts from the University of Oregon. A current Bay Area resident, Kevin is passionate about education, story-telling and creative exploration. 

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