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Sunday, March 01, 2009

The Million Dollar Test

Kids all over the state of Texas will be taking their first TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills) this Tuesday. It's often difficult to get the kids motivated to really take their time and do their best on these tests, so I'm trying a new approach.

I wrote a story this weekend called "The Million Dollar Test." It's the story of a group of kids who are offered the chance to make a million dollars, but only if they get a perfect score on the state test. Another 3rd grade teacher and I are going to read it to our classes tomorrow in the hopes that it will fire the kids up. My colleague is even printing out 1,000,000 dollar bills to give to the kids who DO get a 100 on Tuesday.

Read the story and see what you think. Anyone who likes this and thinks their kids might benefit from hearing it is welcome to print it out and use it. Feel free to tweak it to your needs as well (if you need to change the grade level, name of the test, etc). I would just ask that you give me credit if you're asked where the story came from.

The Million Dollar Test

"Yes! That's another goal for us!" Mikey shouted.

It was Sunday evening, and Mikey and his friends had gotten tired of studying for the TAKS test. Instead, they had met at the neighborhood park to play a game of soccer.

"We're still winning!" Peter yelled. "4-2!"

The ball rolled down the field again, and Peter and Mikey both ran towards it. Mikey got to it first, but when he kicked the ball, it bounced off Larry's leg and towards the playground.

As he tried to beat the other boys to the ball, Mikey noticed that it was heading towards a man sitting on a bench with a lot of birds at his feet. The birds flew away as the pack of children ran towards them.

Larry, who could be very rude, looked like he was going to kick the soccer ball away from the old man, who was reaching down to pick it up. The man was quicker than he looked, though, and he snatched the ball up before Larry could strike it.

"Just slow down there, young man!" he said. "I came out here to feed the birds," he continued, motioning at a bag of breadcrumbs on the bench next to him, "but you've scared them all away!"

"We're sorry, sir," Mikey replied. He was a very polite boy.

"You look like third graders to me," the old man ventured. "Shouldn't you be at home, getting ready for the TAKS this Tuesday?"

Peter answered, "We've been reading all weekend! We had to take a break and do something fun!"

Larry added, "I'm sick of the TAKS! Why do we have to take it anyway?"

"To show that we are good readers," replied Jose, who had chased the ball with the others.

"I'm already a good reader!" Larry bragged.

"Larry, you got a 50 on the practice TAKS test!" Peter exclaimed.

"So?" Larry replied. "I was the first one done, so there!"

At that, he began a ridiculous dance, waving his hands and arms, shouting, "NUMBER ONE, YEAH! FIRST PLACE, SUCKERS!!"

By this time, all of the kids had left the soccer field and joined the group watching Larry act like a fool. In addition to Peter and Jose, Mikey saw his friends William and Jenny.

The old man spoke again. "Well, I have a deal to make with anyone who is interested. My name is Mr. Franklin, and I have made quite a lot of money by being a good reader and a good mathematician. If you don't believe me, just take a look at my car and driver."

He pointed toward the parking lot, and the kids saw a big, black car with dark windows. Standing in front of the car with his arms folded over his chest was a huge bald man in a blue jacket wearing sunglasses and a frown. He did not look very friendly.

"The gentleman is my good friend Mr. Clark," explained the man. "Don't worry, he's not as mean as he looks. He probably is just watching to make sure nobody kicks me."

All of the kids glanced at Larry, who turned bright red and looked down at the ground.

"Sir?" Jenny asked. "You said something about making a deal with us?"

"Ah yes, my dear girl," Mr. Franklin agreed. "Thank you for getting us back on track. Here is my deal, and it is only for the six of you, so don't tell your friends."

Mr. Franklin removed what looked like a green piece of paper from his pocket. "I will give one of these to any of you who makes a 100 on the TAKS test."

He unfolded the piece of paper, and the children gasped as they realized it was actually a piece of money. Mikey saw a one followed by six zeros.

"Wow!" Larry cried. "One hundred dollars!!"

"That's not a hundred, you goof!" William argued. "That's one MILLION dollars!"

Mikey just stared at the money in amazement. He didn't recognize the man in the center of the bill, but whoever he was, he looked very important.

"We can each get a million dollars," Jose asked, "just for passing the TAKS test?"

"No!" Mr. Franklin replied. "Not just for passing! To earn this money, you must get a perfect score of 100. Even one wrong answer, and there's no deal."

"How much can I get for finishing first?" Larry asked.

Mr. Franklin ignored him and asked Mikey a question instead. "Who is your teacher? I will tell her about our deal and have her tell me your scores."

The kids all shouted, "MRS. MARTIN!"

With that, Mr. Franklin suggested that the kids get back to studying, and they hurried home excitedly.

When Tuesday finally came, Mikey was nervous but prepared. He could hardly sleep the night before, but he knew that a good night's rest was very important, so he had gone to bed early. Looking around the room, he saw that Peter, William, Jose, Jenny, and even Larry looked wide-awake and eager to read.

Mrs. Martin passed out the tests and wished the children good luck. She sent a nervous thrill down Mikey's back when she said, "This just might be the most important test of your life."

Mikey opened the test booklet and began to read the first story. He was really trying his very best to pay attention to every word of the story. He used all of the helpful strategies Mrs. Martin had taught him -- writing a quick summary of each paragraph, circling words that looked important, and using context clues.

When he read question number one, he was overjoyed because he remembered where he had read the answer. He flipped back to the story, underlined the sentence that proved it, and then bubbled in the correct response.

"I'm that much closer to a million bucks!" he thought to himself.

With a growing confidence, Mikey continue to answer questions, always sure of the right answer because he was finding proof in the story. However, when he began to read the second story, he started to get worried. The passage was a biography about someone Mikey had never heard of, and he couldn't keep his mind from wandering.

He looked at the clock. It was a little before 9:30. Mikey knew that he had all day to finish the TAKS, so he read the biography again, this time more slowly and carefully. He noticed a few important details that he had not even seen the first time, and he wrote these down in little notes on the side of the page.

The questions for this passage were a little harder to answer, but Mikey felt he was doing well. That is, until he got to number 17. Number 17 had him stumped. He knew that answer choice B was not right, but he just wasn't sure whether he should choose A, C, or D.

The clock read 10:05. Mrs. Martin always said not to spend all your time on one hard question. Mikey thought to himself, "I'll skip this one for now and come back to spend more time on it later."

Sure enough, Mikey was able to find the answer to question number 18 with ease. He was quite happy when he finally finished that set of questions and moved on to the third story, which was much easier to understand than the biography of what's-his-name.

Mikey had just finished reading the third passage when he heard a chair slide back. He looked up to see someone getting out of his seat and turning the test in. It was Larry!

Larry was finished with his TAKS test at 10:30!

Mikey watched Larry strut back to his seat. Larry was acting like he was king of the world, holding one finger up and nodding his head crazily.

"There's one person who certainly won't be getting that million bucks," Mikey thought. "Enjoy reading your Captain Underpants, Larry, because that's all you can do for the rest of the day!"

Mikey refocused on his own test and was soon finished summarizing each paragraph of the last passage. He took his time with each question and found every answer in the story. When he bubbled in the very last answer, he put his pencil down and looked at the clock. It was just after 11:15.

His mind raced. "I feel really good about this test!" he told himself. "I could turn it in right now and be done with it!"

But then he remembered what his teachers had told him over and over again. It's very easy to make silly mistakes when you take a test. The only way to be absolutely SURE you've got them all right is to go back over the test, read the stories again, and check every answer.

Mikey remembered all of these things, but he also felt really tired of reading. He didn't want to go back to the beginning and read the first story again. Fortunately, he remembered another piece of advice. His mom had told him that if he ever got tired during the test, it was OK to take a little break.

So Mikey closed his eyes. He quietly rubbed his wrists around and massaged his hands. He reached up and rubbed his neck for a few minutes. While he did this, he thought to himself, "It's almost 11:20. Lunch is at 11:30. I think I'll rest until lunch, then get some food in me (I hope it's pizza!), then I'll take on that first story again."

Satisfied with this plan, Mikey opened his eyes again for a moment. Sitting in front of him was William, who had his hand raised. Mrs. Martin came and picked up William's test.

Mikey was a little surprised that William was already turning it in, but he knew that William was in TAG and was very smart. Maybe he really DID make a 100.

Three or four other kids turned in their tests before lunch also, but Peter, Jose, and Jenny still had theirs. While they were eating, they weren't allowed to talk about test, but the four friends kept smiling at each other and giving the thumbs-up.

After lunch and a quick bathroom break, it was back to business. Mikey was glad he had not turned his test in because now he felt refreshed and completely ready to start over.

He devised a game plan. "Since the second story was so tough," he thought, "I'm going to save that one for last. I'll check the first story, then the third story, THEN the second story."

Mikey dove back into the TAKS. He read the first story as if he had never read it before and checked the summaries. He made sure that he had chosen the correct answer for each question.

He found his first mistake on question 12. The question asked what happened BEFORE something else, and he had chosen something that happened AFTER! He happily erased the wrong bubble and filled in the new corrected answer.

He found his next mistake on question 33, with the third story. This truly was a silly mistake. Mikey had put a check mark next to answer C, which he knew was the right answer. However, he had filled in the bubble for answer B.

"That almost cost me a million bucks!" he thought nervously.

It was almost 2 o'clock, and lots of Mikey's classmates were reading books, having finished their TAKS. Mikey saw Peter hand his test to Mrs. Martin. Larry was asleep, drooling onto the pages of the book on his desk.

Only one passage remained to be checked a second time. Mikey took a short stretching break, then he began to read again. This being his third reading of the biography, he understood it much better this time. He started to check his answers and then noticed he had skipped one question.

Number 17! Mikey had totally forgotten that he had not answered question 17!

"Whew!" he whispered to himself. "It sure is a good thing I didn't turn my test in before lunch!"

It was still the hardest question on the test, but this time, Mikey felt confident he had chosen the correct answer. He finished checking the rest of the questions on the second passage.

By that time, it was nearly 2:40, and Mikey was exhausted. He also felt excited because he was sure he'd gotten every question correct. He raised his hand and turned the test in with a big smile.

The next two weeks were the longest days of Mikey's life. He and his friends had to wait to learn how they had done on the test. Most of them, like Mikey, thought they had made a 100 and were already thinking of the things they would do with the prize money. Larry continued to brag about how he had finished first.

On the Friday before spring break, Mr. Franklin stepped into their classroom, and Mikey's heart nearly stopped. The old man said hello to Mrs. Martin, who then announced that she had received the results of the TAKS reading test.

First, she announced that everyone except two kids in the class had passed. She then read the list of students who had received a Commended score. Mikey almost couldn't breathe when Mrs. Martin said his name. Of the six friends who had made the deal with Mr. Franklin, only Mikey and Jenny were on the Commended list!

Mrs. Martin asked Mikey and Jenny to step out into the hallway to speak with her and Mr. Franklin. Outside of the classroom, Mr. Franklin said to them, "Children, I am so very proud of both of you! I have come to honor our deal. Jenny, my dear, you did so well on the TAKS, but I'm afraid you did miss one question. While you didn't make a 100, you did simply fantastic, and your teacher and your parents are so proud of you!"

He then turned to Mikey. "As for you, young man, major congratulations are in order because you did indeed achieve a perfect score on your test!"

Mikey's heart had never beat so fast as Mr. Franklin reached into his coat pocket and pulled out the one million dollar bill.

"Don't spend it all in one place, Sonny!" he said with a twinkle in his eye.

Mikey stared with joy and excitement at the money in his hands, and he knew his life would never be the same.

And to think that it was all because he had taken his sweet time on a reading test at school!


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Priest said...

Excellent approach and congrats! Anything that helps drop down the stress level associated with the moronic high stakes testing is a great move on the part of a teacher.

Here, the school admin starts cranking up the stress 2 weeks before the MSA test is scheduled. Letters home to the parents basically telling them that even if their Child is on their death bed they need to show up for the testing, etc. It's just crazy and the students begin to *ping* off the walls a few days before the test and that means lousy sleep among other bad things.

Reframing (NLP term - technique) the high stakes testing as a game could very well have a nice, positive influence and infusing a bit of humor into the mix can't hurt. Please post up how it went and your impressions of this experiment.

Ed U. Cater said...

You should play this for them too......

Anonymous said...

What a nice story!

Not to show off my age or anything, but I remember taking the TABS when I arrived in the Waco area. I guess the tests have gotten even sillier?

Melissa B. said...

Wonderful way to attack the problem. I actually have a Standardized Testing post up today, too. Will it ever end?

Anonymous said...

Read your story to my 11th graders today...and we struck a deal.

I offered...not a $1 million...but a test grade if they will just try on our End-of-Level Literacy Exam next Tues/Wed...just try!...they each receive a 100% on a test grade. You would have thought I had offered them that $1 million!

Thanks for sharing this story!

Mister Teacher said...

Thanks all! Hopefully it actually made a difference!!

Anonymous said...

Great story!
We just completed the first week of our three week Connecticut Mastery Tests. I will read this to the students next week, maybe I can come up with a challenge for my students.
Thanks! Michele