Day One, check!

  • March 27, 2012 1:47 pm

Students and teachers survived the first day of STAAR Testing today, and I think it went well.  The day felt like any other testing day, with students entering class with pencils, water, goldfish, and erasers, and teachers reading instructions on exactly where and where not to bubble.  All of the hype seemed to fade into the background as everyone settled into their chair and began the business of taking a test.  In fact, with the new four hour time limit, the overbearing feeling of an “all day test” seemed to disappear.  Students finished in time for lunch, and were able to relax their brains in preparation for Day Two tomorrow.

Unfortunately, schools will not receive scores from these tests until the fall.  Personally, that unknown would drive me insane.  I loved those college classes that passed out test keys at the exit so we could grade our own tests immediately.  Watching all this new normal unfold makes me fret and worry about getting the three Scroggins Hoodlums through the next tenish years of school as productive, test passing members of society.

Honestly, should we wager on another educational change by that time?

Probably not, but for now we have Day One under our belts.  Check.  It feels good.

STAAR Testing Begins This Week–a few words from the Column

  • March 26, 2012 1:51 pm

Standardized tests seemed to be a right of passage for me.  I remember filling out bubble sheets in second grade, not knowing what year I was born, and copying that bit of information from the student in the next row.  Because of that, I used the wrong year for at least four years of my elementary career.  I’m sure that invalidated my scores, but I never knew about it.  No matter which state we called home, there seemed to be some version of the same.  One every year, we used a test booklet, and recorded our answer choices on the answer document.  (The phrases tend to stick with you.)  In high school, we added additional tests including the PSAT, SAT, ACT, and TASP.  Even with a college degree, my husband and I sat for standardized tests like the EXCET to ensure our professional certifications.  As I said, they seemed to be a rite of passage, and one that was part of the deal with this whole education package.  But somehow, this rite of passage has morphed into a war of performance.  Today, the bubble sheets are pre-bubbled to ensure the right birth year is recorded, and I feel certain such a mistake would result in fourth degree questioning from uniformed, badge-wearing officers of The Test.  But despite the change in perspective, standardized tests are here to stay.

 

TAKS is the most current system of assessing Texas students on their knowledge of basic knowledge and skills.  This system tests students in Reading and Math beginning in third grade, adding a writing test in fourth grade, and a science test in fifth grade.  The pattern repeats in seventh and eighth grade, culminating in an Exit Level test in high school that has held the key to The Diploma.  The new assessment, The State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, will do much of the same, with the Exit Level tests split into End of Course Exams, that averaged, will also determine Diploma eligibility.

 

This new assessment was the topic of conversation for Decatur parents during an informal informational meeting last week. Principals from various campuses outlined the changes in store for our students as the state makes the leap from TAKS to STAAR.   The most significant differences between the two testing systems were outlined as follows: increased question rigor, increased test questions, decreased allotted time to test, and increased evaluation of critical thinking skills verses basic knowledge regurgitation.  Parents examined sample questions illustrating these changes.  Those samples included testing third graders on poetry interpretation; testing fourth graders, not only on their ability to tell stories, but also their ability to write and explain a concept in detail, and, testing fifth graders on cycles, patterns, and relationships in scientific concepts.

 

Rigor.  Critical Thinking.  Analysis.  These are the buzzwords associated with this new question format.   One goal of the state is to recognize student comprehension of grade level material, thus analyzing their preparedness for the next grade level.  Parents at the meeting viewed some of the new questions as “tricky” and “meant to set up” the students.   They questioned the ability of ten-year-old children to see through the distractions and cut to the meat of the issue. As a mother of three, and a teacher of seventy-six, I tend to agree.  While I push for high expectations and critical thinking analysis, when I look at my kids I see their perspective. My third grader will be expected to understand the feeling a poem should convey to a reader, when perhaps on the same day he could be focused on carefully wrapping his tooth and placing it under his pillow for the Tooth Fairy.  Children are concrete learners, and any workshop on brain research and development will tell you that even a teenager’s brain is not completely developed until around age eighteen.  A teenager feels invincible and does not recognize the cause and effect of his actions because his brain is literally wired that way.  Education should challenge and push students to draw conclusions and to analyze data, especially in a Steve Jobs world, but their academic success should not solely rest on the assessment of those skills.

 

A second goal of this test is to assess the achievement of specific college and career readiness goals associated with each grade level.  The standard of education has changed from simple knowledge acquisition to concept application. With Google at our fingertips, no longer are we defined as intelligent based on our ability to master Trivial Pursuit.  With this new definition of education, intelligence is characterized by the ability to interpret and apply that information creatively to a variety of situations.  This change in the educational concept is causing growing pains in classrooms and schools nationwide, and I believe the mission in assessing these college and career readiness goals is in response to that change.  However, in the actual classroom trenches, teachers see the faces of real children who come in with real, but individual, stories.  College and career readiness might not be in every third grader’s or even every single high school senior’s playbook. Steve Jobs was a college dropout, as are Bill Gates, Mark Zukerman, Tom Hanks and Dustin Hoffman. They prove that the exception to the rule can redefine how the game is played.

 

Parents also questioned class size, student resources, teacher training, and classroom discipline as elements that impact student achievement and ultimately student success. The response to these concerns was disconcerting through no fault of the school district.  While Decatur has provided teacher training to increase classroom productivity in response to these new standards, our decreased state budget is out of our local hands.  Schools across the state are suffering the effects of legislation passed years ago, and changes will not be considered until the new Session bell rings.  In the meantime, schools have been asked to increase the standard of student achievement, as well as to increase the overall passing rate to 100% by 2014, accomplishing both with decreased basic resources including teachers and textbooks.  A daunting task, but one many educators have willingly accepted, despite worrisome doubts and fears.

 

Standardized tests are here to stay.  We do need a consistent baseline at which to compare our individual achievements, as well as a gauge for instruction accountability. However, they should be structured in a way that allows this right of passage to document student, teacher, and school district growth rather than student interpretation of the State’s version of rigor and critical thinking analysis.  In a time when the expectation of the workplace is collaboration, creativity, problem-solving, innovation, and technological adaptability, our standardized testing needs to showcase our dedication to academic perseverance instead of comparing, measuring, and judging our talents to a single standard of excellence.

 

 

Spring Showers

  • March 19, 2012 1:29 pm

It looks like rain is headed our way.  I know some people worry and fret over thunderstorms, what with the high winds and lightning, but I love them.  It’s one of my favorite things to hear the winds howling, the rain crashing, and then to see my family snuggling.  Suddenly there are pillows, blankets and cozy spots all over the living room.  Popcorn is popped and diet coke is poured.  Well, if I was a supermom, I guess water or some other nutritious drink would be poured.  I’ll work on that.

Of course, the hoodlums think differently.  I have one future storm chaser, and another future storm shelter designer.  They both want cell phones for the mere fact of tracking the weather radar.  We have duck and cover plans and back up duck and cover plans.  I suppose the balance is good.  Perhaps they are the superkids, and I should just put them in charge.

Or not.  ;-)

Picture Perfect

  • March 18, 2012 8:09 pm

I’ve always been obsessed with taking pictures, organizing pictures, and photobooking pictures.  But, with the invention of the digital camera, and well…blogging, I’ve relaxed a little in the organizing part of my picture mania.  I have intended to do a digital photo book for each year, but we always seem to be on a budget for one thing or another, and that gets shoved the bottom of the want list.  In addition, once we moved to Decatur, I stopped printing my digital pictures.  Before that time I’d been very diligent about “developing” them the same way old style film was developed.  As a result of all these new and fancy technologies, my pictures were a mess. And, I just hate messes, especially in the picture department.

Apple TV inspired my organizing marathon.  We’ve had the little Apple TV box for over a  year, and I’m not sure I could explain exactly how it works, but in plain terms, it talks to the computer, plays itunes, and runs a slideshow of our pictures on the TV.  I decided I wanted to see ALL our pictures (since the dawn of our digital camera), instead of just the pictures from the last four years.  So, I loaded all our pictures on the computer (from the CDs I’d made to ensure we’d always have them).  Over 12,000 pictures (yep, you read that right–obsessed, remember?) later, I have a slideshow showing baby pictures, vacation pictures, everyday pictures, and even boring out of focus pictures.  I have more editing to do, but I’m super happy with the results right now.  At least, I feel a little better about my picture organization.

Now, to get to those albums!

Disappointment is harder than Potty Training

  • March 8, 2012 11:09 am

My mantra these past almost eleven years of parenting has been that NOTHING, I mean NOTHING is as hard as potty training.  For us, and the Scroggins Hoodlums, this was by far the most difficult skill to master.  Even given the current status of my oh-so-not-into-school-kindergartener, I’d rank potty training as harder.

Until now.

Yesterday, our oldest hoodlum competed in the Regional Spelling Bee.  Reading, Writing, Spelling, Acting…anything with words and letters is completely her thing.  She’s a dog with a bone when she’s talking plot or word parts.  Because of that, she was pumped for the contest, completely high on her ability to put letters together in the correct sequence of a word.  We studied.  She studied.  We studied some more.  We were all prepped and ready.

When we arrived at the contest, I think we all were a little overwhelmed.  It was held on TCU’s campus, and was quite an official event, with printed signs and ready made name tags.  After a light breakfast snack, all the spellers and families headed into the ballroom to hear the rules, and the spellers took the stage.  At that point I realized we might be in over our heads.  The contest was held for third through eighth graders, and from the looks of the spellers, most were very mature eighth graders.  When the contest began, I knew we were in over our heads.  Many of the spellers asked for root words, definitions, parts of speech, etc.  It was exactly like all the Spelling Bees I’ve seen in movies–this was the real deal.

Watching our hoodlum walk across the stage to the microphone, listen to the words, and tentatively ask questions was…difficult.  On her final word, she looked at the moderator, asked for the word again, and turned three shades of red.  She held on to the bottom of her shirt and started to spell…A.  It seemed like hours while I watched the gears turn in her head, and her mouth say the word as she fidgeted on stage.  Finally, she finished…uria.  But, it was Aria, the soprano solo in an opera.  She was crushed, disappointed, and deflated.  It was heartbreaking.

I know it built character.  That’s what my mother always told me when something like this built my own, but it broke this mommy’s heart.  She recovered through the day, but I still saw the ghost of disappointment pass across her face as we celebrated all the successful words spelled up to that point.

She’s vowed to return to the Bee again next year, and to begin studying now, which is an amazing feat for her really.  At times I wonder if she thinks she was born with the ability to read.  I know she looked to those older girls with respect, and hopes to strive for that kind of success again.

I knew there would be moments like this.  I knew there had to be moments like this.  I didn’t know that it would feel like my own heart fell out of my chest and onto the floor as someone stomped on it.  I didn’t know that I would wish for superpowers, and hope for time to freeze as I snuggled my hoodlum to a safe, cozy place to recover.  I didn’t know that I could will something to happen with every cell in my body, and feel the hurt in those same cells when it  didn’t happen.  I know there will be more moments like this–probably many more.  Next time I will try to prepare The Mommy as much as I prepare The Hoodlum.

If we can get through the next month….

  • March 5, 2012 8:47 pm

I know one of the main themes I ramble about here is time, or rather time management. But, for real, we go in phases where I literally feel out of breath for an entire month. We are in one of those right now. Most of it I realize is self inflicted for whatever the reason…baseball, piano, 4H rabbits (!!!!), and just your basic date night or friendly gatherings. But, when I look at my to dos right now I don’t even know where to start. On top of the family stuff, this is crunch time at school. We’ve got just two six weeks left to get it all out there and reign in the year. While I love a good countdown, looking at all the things that need to happen in that short timeframe makes my head spin.

So, I think I’ll just think about all that tomorrow. I’ve done quite enough thinking for today…and soon, I’m going to spend a whole dy not thinking. Soon. Just gotta get it on the Calendar…

STAAR Informational Meeting Tonight!

  • March 1, 2012 9:39 am

There will be a STAAR informational meeting tonight at 6 pm at Young Elementary.  With all the changes in state testing this year, this meeting should answer many of the questions we have as parents, teachers, and students.  Come with a pen in hand!

Has Spring already Sprung?

  • February 27, 2012 4:12 pm

I’m an allergy sufferer, but usually my daily dose of Allegra and an occasional dose of Nasonex will cure all my sneezing.  But, this weekend, I was put in an allergy coma for about 24 hours.  It was absolutely nuts.  I sneezed my normal 20-30 times in a row, but then kept on sneezing, sneezing, and sneezing again.  I think I sneezed for about two hours nonstop–not even kidding about it.  After all that, I was just exhausted, and still my nose was trying to seek out all possible allergens.

I think I’m almost recovered–not quite sure, but I’m wondering.  Is there a crazy new pollen out there than I need to eradicate now?  I’m definitely not a fan of THIS part of spring.  Are we already there?

5-4-3-2-1

  • February 22, 2012 9:20 pm

I’m not sure why my kids choose not to hear me the first one or TEN times I ask them to do something, but they don’t.  I find myself repeating and repeating and repeating my requests again and again and again.  After a while I even tune myself out.   I’ve tried a thousand ways to get their attention, but it seems to always come back to the 1-2-3.  For some reason, when I speak in numbers, they realize I have asked them to complete a task.  Unfortunately, they still don’t seem quite interested enough in my words of wisdom for my liking–so I find my voice rising and rising and rising with all the repeating and repeating and repeating.

You can imagine how much fun this is for all of us.

Recently, one of my brilliant friends told me that she counts down to one instead of up to three.  Her theory was that in counting down to zero, her girls always knew when the end was coming.  When she started at one, they tended to hope for an “extra” number tacked on to the end of three, and the warning didn’t seem as scary.  So, I tried it out on my own hoodlums, and I’m very eager to report that it seems to be working much better.  I still find myself repeating and repeating and repeating, but perhaps not as much when combined with the counting.  As a result, we all seem a little more stable–for now.

I’d love to hear some other supermom advice on this topic.  Let us know if you have a perfect trick to tame the natives!

4H Season

  • February 20, 2012 9:45 pm

It’s that time of year again! Time to start picking out recipes, finalizing photographs, and getting all those animals ready to sell! It’s a whirlwind few months, and we aren’t even the family that has steers, pig, or chickens. We keep things safe with cooking and photography. Since I’m a little nervous to have an animal for more than a month, we ate testing out rabbits for the first time. We pick them up in just over a week, and will blindly follow everyone’s lead as we figure all this “showing” out.

I’m excited for the adventure, and from what I’ve seen of all things 4H, there isn’t a better organization to teach organization and leadership. Mark your calendars for the first week in April…Wise County Youth Fair.