It’s timeless knowledge that nothing motivates an elementary school student like promising to kiss a pig. The rub for any educator making that promise, though, is following through.
Two years ago, Franklin Elementary School principal Casie Kilgore told her students that she would engage in some porky puckering if they raised their Academic Performance Index (API) — based on Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) scores — by 25 points. She got a reprieve the first year when they only managed a 19-point jump, but this year they made the 25-point leap, bringing the school’s API up to 768 on a 1,000-point scale.
So on Thursday afternoon, the Franklin student body tittered as Kilgore ascended the school’s auditorium stage next to Snowball, a 130-pound miniature Vietnamese potbelly pig. As the pig’s owner, Marty Fast — who runs a small pig sanctuary in Ojai — lifted the top of Snowball’s crate, the kids started chanting, “Kiss, kiss.” Kilgore got down on all fours, hesitantly leaning in towards the oinker’s mottled snout when Snowball lifted her head and the principal backed away. Her second approach, however, was more successful. She diverted Snowball’s attention by feeding him a fig Newton and gave him a smacker right on the snout. After celebrating, Kilgore gave Snowball one more smooch for good measure.
The last time a principal in the district kissed a pig, it was to reward Roosevelt Elementary School families for raising $107,689 at the annual Rose Run jogathon. “Some schools…can do it for jogathons,” said Kilgore. “My concern is less about money and more about college attendance.” Considering that 93 percent of the students at Franklin Elementary School live below the poverty line, Kilgore doesn’t really have a choice in the matter.
A combination of parent involvement, teacher dedication, and student engagement led to the bump in scores, said Kilgore. While the correlation between standardized test scores and the learning that happens at a school is arguable, Kilgore acknowledged that the tests have real-world implications. Not for much longer, however. In two years, as California phases in the new Common Core State Standards, STAR tests will be replaced by “Smarter Balanced” assessments that require narrative answers and won’t be timed, among other changes.