Of all the colorful education incentives in the Salt Lake City School District, sixth-grade teacher Sharon Moore might be offering the flashiest.
Moore made her class at North Star Elementary a bet during the 2017-18 school year. If the students improved their spring SAGE writing scores by 10 percent over their fall scores, she’d dye her hair a color of their choice.
They improved by more than 16 percent.
A promise is a promise, Moore said as a hairdresser painted her blond locks neon pink and bright fuchsia in her classroom Tuesday.
“I’m tickled pink,” she said. “I’m so proud of them.”
Moore initially planned to use a party as an incentive to get kids’ scores up, but the challenge quickly ballooned to a vibrant dye job that would make any multicolored unicorn jealous. To help set parameters to the challenge, Moore brought in a district writing coach to assess students before their campaign. Students also used their math and statistics skills to determine a goal of 10 percent overall improvement.
“In a Title 1 school, these kids get discouraged because they have preconceived notions that they can’t achieve,” Moore said. “So we’re growth-focused here. Believing in yourself is half the battle, and they believed in each other and helped each other out.”
When the scores were released, Moore projected the results on the wall and told the kids to work in pairs to figure out whether they won the bet. As the kids calculated their class averages, they exploded into excited whispers, she said.
The class eventually took a vote to decide which colors Moore would don permanently.
“At least it wasn’t construction pylon orange or crossing guard green,” she said.
Moore is not Salt Lake City’s first teacher to concoct zany incentives for kids to improve test scores. However, challenges with such irrevocable consequences usually happen on a school or even district level, as opposed to within just one classroom, district spokesman Jason Olsen said.
“I knew Ms. Moore was a fun teacher but I didn’t think she’d go that far,” said student Natalie Cornejo. “Other teachers are more subtle. She’s extra.”
Another student, Arturo Vazquez, 12, said his parents flat out did not believe him when he told them of Moore’s plans.
Students took turns Tuesday coming to the front of the class to partake in the dyeing process, carefully painting their teacher’s hair with color. Several school staff members occasionally filtered into the room, murmuring “I gotta see this.”
“I was nervous, not because I was afraid to have crazy hair, but because they were so determined,” Moore said during the process. “I didn’t want them to be disappointed.”
True to her word, Moore plans to keep her hair dyed all summer.
“I’m going to be a first-time grandmother in a few weeks and I’m going to have to explain the photos to my granddaughter one day,” she said.
When asked whether she planned to outdo herself next year, Moore’s eyes widened a little.
“I haven’t thought about that yet,” she said.
Correction: Sharon Moore teaches at North Star Elementary in Salt Lake City. A prior version of this story listed an incorrect school.