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This week begins the STAAR testing season—officially closing the gap on the change in state testing from TAKS to STAAR. Last year was the first year students took the STAAR, but with no accountability for students and school districts—meaning students did not have to pass the test to complete a grade level, and school district “report cards” were not tied to ratings or funding. This year marks the real deal, with all those variables going into full play, and mounting tensions for every player—student, teacher, administration and school district.
Looking to the week ahead, my stomach is churning as both a teacher and mother. As a teacher, I’m letting insomnia overtake me as I worry about how prepared my students are for THE TEST. I’ve covered all the material, given test-taking strategies, and thrown as many practice problems as I could find at their little brains—but still, I worry. I worry they won’t take their time, that they will make a simple subtraction error, or that they will simply have a case of bad luck and bubble wrong. Even as we’ve reviewed and practiced, I’ve seen areas in which my students need real work—and that’s what worries me most of all. This community has had many private and public discussions over CSCOPE, the curriculum DISD has adopted, and how that curriculum has influenced instruction—particularly in elementary school, and even more specifically, in math. I do not intend to portray my opinion as pro or anti-CSCOPE, but I do want to showcase the backbone in which CSCOPE was founded–the TEKS, or the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills. These objectives are written by the state of Texas, and are the tasks all students in each grade level should master. The STAAR is then based on these objectives. It is this component of Texas education that should be held under a microscope and thoroughly examined. Below is an example of a fifth grade Math TEK, and a sample test question:
(5.3C) Use division to solve problems involving whole numbers (no more than two-digit divisors and three-digit dividends without technology), including interpreting the remainder within a given context
An employee at a video store worked a total of 90 hours in 3 weeks. She worked 5 days a week. If she worked the same number of hours a day, how many hours did the employee work each day?
The objective itself is a skill fifth grade students should have the number sense and computation knowledge to complete and master with a high success rate, but the way the objective is tested integrates critical thinking and problem solving. Students must interpret the math language, set up the problem, and complete the computation correctly to find the right answer—and every math test question is set up in a similar fashion. Many students can rise to the challenge, and do well, but there are also many students that for various reasons come up short again and again. I know how deflating it is for them, because it is for me, their teacher.
As a mother, I’m watching my children grow up in a very different environment than what I experienced. I remember taking standardized tests, but rarely realizing the impact those tests had on my educational success. However, my children know the drill of a good night’s rest, excellent breakfast, number 2 pencils, and focus needed for not just success—but excellence. My fourth grade son not only knows the definition of stress, but has shed tears because of it, and that doesn’t sit well with this Mama Bear.
During this state legislative session, there has been much discussion on Texas Education. There have been bills written and discussed to change some high school course requirements, and to change end-of-course exams also at the high school level, but there has been zero discussion on the topic of elementary testing. I understand the need for standardized testing to monitor growth and mastery of basic skills, and I would like to see elementary testing focused on in that manner. By monitoring academic growth each year instead of a set of tests given one day in the life of a child, school districts could focus on those state objectives at a deeper level, and more importantly, relieve the test anxiety of a 9-year-old. State representatives of every community in Texas vote on these matters daily, and those votes cause change.
My students are eleven years old, and are tasked with the job of a math test, a reading test, and a science test by the end of their fifth grade year. Last week one of them asked, “Why do we learn social studies? We don’t have a STAAR on it.” We should never STOP learning; we should always open our minds to art, music, theater, sports, photography, technology, cooking, and foreign language. Always. But, why learn about how our country was founded? Because one day you will vote, and it could make a differ
In helping my fourth grader with his math homework this week, I couldn’t help but notice he’d “x’d” out a box on his crossword, and added an additional box on another part of the crossword. I explained to him that the beauty of the crossword for homework was that if the answer he discovered did not fit in the box, THEN it was an INCORRECT answer.
“The crossword is wrong. That’s why I had to change it.”
Where did these people come from???
Me: You are becoming SUCH a great reader! You know all your sight words, and are really good at sounding out the words you don’t know. I’m so proud. :)
Kid 3: It’s because my six year molars finally came in. They are magic reading teeth.
I know I speak about the crazy in my life quite often, but in all honesty, I’m constantly amazed at how the level of crazy can just keep getting higher. I’m a little scared for the future! I guess each stage of parenthood trains us for the next one–like running a marathon. We all started with the Couch to 5K, and now we’re on to the next step. I’m telling you right now though–I’m no Ironman racer, so something is going to have to give before we get to that point.
But seriously, those crazy long nights with the crying babies…were SO hard!
The toddler potty training days were, if possible…EVEN harder!!
The early elementary school days were..maybe not harder…but SO hectic! (And emotionally draining for this mom who seems to create children that have difficulty earning those positive kudos in kinder!)
And now, early elementary, mid elementary and middle school…WHICH END IS UP?
I need my eleven year old to get a hardship license STAT. They make those, right?
The scary thing is, I’m pretty sure I’ve heard moms say, “Wait until they are in high school.” I might be insane by then.
Kid 3: “Mom, we are walking on a solid.”
Me: “Yes, we are.”
Kid 3: “Solids are hard, liquids are in containers, and gases are everywhere.”
Me: “Sounds pretty right to me.”
Kid 3: “But what about light? If light is a gas because it’s everywhere, how does it become a liquid and a solid? Is a light bulb solid light?”
Me: “You know you’re six, right?”
Kid 3: “You know you’re the Mom, right?”
This Friday, my birthday in fact, my first grader has his FIRST SPELLING TEST!! It really wasn’t that long ago that I was practicing my sixth grader’s first grade spelling tests–it really, really wasn’t. Besides the time flying factor, it’s confusing to me that my baby can even spell, let alone have a test over such a skill. I guess it is true that we tend to baby our babies longer, because I vividly remember rolling my eyes when my daughter didn’t immediately know how to spell every word on the list every week. This week I’m looking at the list and thinking, “TEN?? TEN WHOLE WORDS?? WITH MORE THAN ONE LETTER?? MAN!! We are getting him ready for the SAT now!” Which, by the way, I know is a little skewed…just goes to show how far I have either 1-lost all sense of reality, or 2-am holding onto my babies as tight as I can.
I think both might go hand in hand.
This year I have a sixth grader, a fourth grader, and a first grader–so yes, as people always note, I do have my hands full. My sixth grader is looking forward to band, a locker, and an ipad. I’m actually looking forward to that ipad myself. I’m curious to see how her teachers use it in class, and hope to “steal” a few ideas for my own class. My fourth grader is looking forward to not being the “littlest kids” on his hall. He thinks having a binder means he’s practically in college, and I’m looking forward to seeing how he manages to organize himself. I’m hoping and praying that I have a one in three chance of an organized offspring! My first grader is actually looking forward to “learning!” I’m holding my breath as I type that, but for the last week (since the purchase of the new “school” tennis shoes), he has been waiting on pins and needles for the First Day. He was overjoyed to meet his amazing teacher last week, and was giddy when we placed the “magic confetti” she gave him under his pillow tonight (genius by the way-GENIUS). I hope and pray he keeps his cool, uses his inside voice (although I’m pretty sure he doesn’t have one), keeps his hands to himself, and most of all–enjoys the day. One day can spill into another… and another. Before we know it, it could be Halloween and we’ve accidentally enjoyed a couple months of school!
I’m also thinking of those kindergarten and high school senior moms–sending their babies off to their first and last first day of school tomorrow. I’ve done the kinder thing, and barely made it through, so I know I’ll be a sobbing basket case when their senior year rolls around. I think all moms are in the same boat on this one–good luck!
And finally, good luck to everyone else waking early in the morning and starting the new routine. Fresh starts are nice, and tomorrow is one for all of us! Have a great First Day!
Tomorrow night students across the district will be tentatively walking into their new classrooms to meet their teachers for the new year. This week teachers have been preparing their classrooms, lessons, and themselves for the new year. As I stated in my article, DISD has some great things planned for the upcoming school year, so buy those pencils, spirals, folders and glue sticks–it’s time to start the ride.
PBL-Problem Based Learning. Flipped Instruction. 21st Century Classrooms. Rubrics. Digital Citizenship. These are some of the buzz words that students, teachers and parents of Decatur ISD are going to learn in the upcoming months as DISD kicks off its Future Ready Project.
What does it mean to be Future Ready? As a parent—that’s what I am asking myself. My definition of school in general is to prepare the children for the future, correct? But, as a teacher, I answer the question differently. While of course we are preparing our students for their future, we are also preparing them for a workplace that has not been defined—meaning our ever-changing, fast-paced technology society has not dictated its next step, so our children must be prepared to creatively and collaboratively design the newest professions and workplaces.
When I was in high school, I did not own a cell phone, a personal computer, or an ipod. In fact, I would record songs off the radio onto a cassette tape so that I could make my own “mix.” Teachers pressed us to read news magazines and watch the nightly news to learn about current events because apparently we never knew what was “going on in the world.” Today, my soon-to-be-6th grader has her favorite songs (already on a playlist), up-to-the-minute news information (actually, ANY information!), constant communication (including long distance!), and a camera at her fingertips. She lives in a digital world where, according to her, Google has all the answers she needs.
My job as a teacher is to give her a question Google cannot answer.
Decatur ISD has partnered with Abilene Christian University in a plan to redefine classroom instruction to fit the mold of students in the 21st Century. In this plan, teachers and administrators will complete an intensive three-year training and implementation process to give them the tools to change current instructional models. Some of these tools include buzz worlds like problem-based learning. In problem-based learning, the teacher provides a driving question for students that targets the state objectives the students are responsible to learn. Students then actively research the question to find an accurate answer by using a variety of resources including but definitely not limited to Google. In fact, the key to a perfect driving question is its innate “ungoogleablitity.” (Yes, students might even create new words.) Students work on a team and must collaborate effectively to research and present the answer professionally. Throughout the entire process the teacher facilitates the research, keeps students on target, spot checks with quizzes or classroom discussion on the topic, etc. The classroom climate changes from the teacher being “Google” to the students doing the work behind Google. In the end, students should not just know the “what” but the “why,” “how,” and “why are we learning this,” too. But, problem-based learning is only a piece of this puzzle, and the ultimate mission behind the Future Ready Plan is to create student-centered classrooms where students will learn digitally,
think creatively, and compete globally.
As parents, we need to open our minds to educational change, and understand that classrooms today do not look and feel like the classrooms we had. We had textbooks; our kids have ipads. No longer can we “turn to Chapter three and begin reading,” because sometimes the class doesn’t even have a textbook. Your child’s work will look different. Where you might have completed twenty-four math problems every night for homework, your child might be playing a video game tournament to analyze numerical place value in the game scores. And, that’s ok. Every teacher and administrator wants to reach every student and provide that student with an amazing educational experience. This shift in classroom culture will stretch everyone—students, teachers, and parents. Our kids are ready with a cell phone in one hand and an ipad in the other. It’s our job to push them into the unknown.