Before spending hours taking state-required exams, students and teachers at one Franklin school spent a week dancing and singing.

Students at Needham Elementary School carried on a new tradition before starting ISTEP testing this year, making a video to pump themselves up for the test.

Before ISTEP testing each year, Needham Elementary second-, third- and fourth-graders file into the gymnasium for a pep rally. Last year, students watched a video that they helped make, which reminds them to do well on the test and remember what they learned in class. It was such a stress reliever for the students that the school wanted to do it again this year.

“The students work so hard, and the teachers work so hard, and obviously the high stakes of it brings stress,” Principal Kent Pettet said. “So finding fun, creative ways to break that helps everybody.”

Third- and fourth-grade students have been taking sections of the state-mandated ISTEP test, and the IREAD-3 test is still to come later this month. The testing takes multiple hours to complete, and some students feel a lot of pressure to do well on the test. The pep rally was started so students wouldn’t be too stressed when taking the test, and the video has become an additional tool for the teachers and students to use when ISTEP seems too hard to tackle.

The trend to create videos as a motivational tool started at Northwood Elementary in 2010, after Principal Katie Crites saw another school make a video to promote a school activity. She thought the same concept could be applied to getting students excited about ISTEP and used a Lady Gaga song. Instead of incorporating students into the videos, Northwood Elementary only uses the teachers for the videos and filming takes one hour from start to finish, Crites said. The school does not have an ISTEP pep rally but sends the video to each teacher at the same time before the second set of ISTEP tests in April, she said.

“It’s a fun thing for us, and the kids love it,” Crites said.

Crites is happy that other schools have adopted the idea for an upbeat video, but the one downside is that she has to be pickier about what song she chooses. Since some schools are making their videos before the first round of ISTEP testing, some of her songs are already chosen by other schools before her video is made, she said.

Webb Elementary’s staff also creates videos, since principal Cheryl Moran used to work for Northwood and saw how it impacted the students.

“The kids absolutely loved it,” Moran said. “It shows that we believe in them and support them.”

Last year, Needham Elementary teachers got together to write a song and shoot a video based on the viral sensation “What Does the Fox Say?” changing it to “What Does the Student Say?”

The video included dance numbers from the students and teachers, and words of encouragement, and ended up being a great motivator for students, fourth-grade teacher Melisa McCain said. So she wanted students to get pumped up again for this year’s test.

This year’s tune was “Apache” by The Sugarhill Gang. Teachers and faculty re-wrote the rap to go over the tune of the song and students performed the dance moves, Pettet said.

“It was actually a student in my room who kind of inspired it,” McCain said.

When preparing for ISTEP a few months ago, one of her students said, “We own it, we own it” to the tune of “Apache.” McCain knew that would be the perfect song for their annual video.

Filming took place over a week, with third- and fourth-grade students recording their dance steps for the video during the school day. Teachers stayed after school to record their part, which included them rapping about critical thinking, times tables and showing your work. Pettet filmed his rap — donning a hat and purple mustache — during recess.

McCain edited the video over one weekend so it would be ready for this year’s pep rally. The video debuted Feb. 27.

The video helps students become excited about ISTEP testing instead of dreading it, McCain said. When changing the lyrics, teachers focus on encouraging students to be prepared for the test and dominate every subject.

“It really turns ISTEP into a big party,” McCain said.

Even though the students filmed part of the song, they could not see the video until it was played during the pep rally. Students kept coming up to McCain and asking if they could find the video online or if they could watch it, she said. But the video did not go live until the pep rally.

Now, the video is on YouTube, and students, parents and teachers can play it whenever they want to get excited for the test. The video was promoted on Needham’s school newsletter, website and Facebook page. Since the debut two weeks ago, the video has more than 1,000 views.

Teachers even play the song in between sections of the exam so the students can get up and dance, which keeps them motivated to finish the rest of the test, McCain said. Third-grade students will be able to use the video as a motivator later this month when they take the IREAD-3 test.

“The whole way through the test, they’re telling each other that they own it,” McCain said.

The video has helped younger students actually want to take the test now, Pettet said.

During the pep rally, which is only for second- through fourth-grade students, Pettet sends a link to the kindergarten and first-grade classes so they can also watch the video. Students have told McCain they can’t wait to take ISTEP next year because they want to participate in the video, too, she said.

How to watch

To watch Needham Elementary’s video, type into your web browser, or search “We Own It Needham Elementary” on YouTube.