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Gearing Up for Tests Has Pupils Seeing Stars

April 21, 2002|DANIEL YI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Children at La Veta Elementary School in Orange have been star crazy lately. Not for the latest Britney Spears poster or 'N Sync news, but for little paper stars their teachers have been handing out for good behavior or a little extra effort.

"They earn them faster than we can make them," said school clerk Paulette Specht, whose office resembles a Christmas display with hundreds of yellow stars draping ceilings and walls.

The pupils bring their stars to Specht, who trades each set of 10 for a La Veta "Star Buck," a play currency. Three Star Bucks earn a prized invitation to a school ice pop party to be held later.

It's all part of a campaign to remind students of and motivate them for the grueling marathon of state-mandated tests that begin Monday.

In the next several weeks, public school students statewide will take the Stanford 9 and the California Standards Tests.

The results of the mostly multiple-choice exams count toward each school's Academic Performance Index, which is used to rate schools. Those that meet growth targets are eligible for cash awards, while poor performers run the risk of state sanctions.

Many Orange County schools have been gearing up for the tests, from reminding parents about the importance of their kids having a good night's rest and a hearty breakfast, to pep rallies.

At Rancho Alamitos High School in Garden Grove, which met API growth targets for the last two years, students and staff celebrated last week with a barbecue lunch and a dunk tank, where students lined up for a chance to soak their teachers.

The activities, Principal Gene Campbell said, are a light way to remind students about the importance of the test. "It keeps their eyes on the target," he said.

Last year at La Veta, teachers gave out bookmarks to remind students about testing season. This year's stars have been a bigger hit, Principal Toni Evans said.

"I've got eight," said a proud Jacob Ansari, counting under his desk in teacher Marianne Barone's third-grade class.

The 10-year-old had just earned one for focusing intently on a spelling lesson. Earning stars is fun, but it also reminds him of what lies ahead.

"I am sweating," Jacob said about taking the tests next week. "I hope I do good."

"You are going to do well," Barone assured him. "Because you are a star."

"I am a big star," Jacob said, drawing giggles from his 19 classmates.

Like Jacob, Zac Hemans, 9, also was a little nervous about the exams that test students' math and language skills. The sciences are included in tests for the upper grades. "I like the subjects," Zac said. "I just don't like the tests."

The tests are demanding. Depending on the grade, students take between seven and nine hours to complete. Tests are required from grade 2 to grade 11.

For some high school students, doing well in the test can mean up to $3,000 in scholarship money. Cash awards for schools can help boost funding for programs.

La Veta earned almost $50,000 two years ago, money that Evans used to buy computers for all 37 classrooms.

But Barone's students have a more immediate prize in minds--the ice pop party that takes place after testing is completed May 3.

Nine-year-old Mary Lester has been diligently collecting her stars. She had 10 by Thursday, a third of the way to an ice pop.

"At first we thought we needed three stars" instead of the 30 needed to earn three Star Bucks, Mary said.

"Now that," said her friend Daniel Coates, 9, "would have been really cool."

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