School Principal Shows How To Best The Test
School Principal Shows How To Best The Test

One of the great little tales of motivation is told by the popular children's book, The Little Engine That Could.  The little engine pulls a long train over what seems to be an insurmountable mountain by repeating the words, "I think I can, I think I can."  

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Tohatchi, New Mexico Elementary School students have done just that.  The school of 228 students, 98% of them of the Navajo Native American tribe, was one of the lowest performing in the state.   That is until Principal George Bickert became the guiding force, pulling the school over its biggest "mountain" to new heights in reading and math.

When Bickert arrived in 2006, the scores on state-mandated tests in reading and math were in terrible shape.   About 15% of the students were proficient in math, and just 27% competent in reading.  Bickert made it a point to know every student and each of their test scores.   He employed some unique methods to get those numbers higher.

"We built curriculum-based measures and we named them "math monsters" and "cougar readers," Bickert said.   "We made these tests similar to the state tests in terms of multiple-choice questions and also short-answer questions." 

In 2008, scores jumped by about 61%.   They were followed up in 2009 with scores at about 70% proficiency in reading and almost 78% in math. 

Motivation was the key, and recognition of those who did well helped boost the scores.  "We announced student names each week," Bickert explained.  "There were 10-point tests and each student who scored seven or higher had their name announced.  The classes were trying to compete...and also just trying to do better than what they did before."

Parents also became involved.   They noticed the increased focus on academics and made sure students were doing homework.  "We had monthly parent-community suppers where we would recognize our students that were doing well with certificates," Bickert said.

Student achievement produced a strong academic base at the school in just three years.  "Even if you get into a situation where you're not being recognized," Bickert counseled, "keep striving to do great things and achieve great things because you can."  Just like The Little Engine That Could