Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Nobody told me there'd be days like these...

Nobody told me there'd be days like these
Strange days indeed -- strange days indeed...

John Lennon, you had NO idea..

February is nearly over and as March begins students will be assessed on their progress using the state test. They will be taking three reading tests and three math tests as fifth graders. Some are multiple-choice, while others require written responses. I’m fairly confident that they will all do well provided they take the test seriously. Once testing is complete and tests are sent in, scores should be available by June. Teachers, schools and parents will all be given the results. Scores will be published for schools and districts, ranking performance. While I understand the need for standardized tests, I feel the weight of the testing, as do my students. Expectations are set high. Assessments are an important part of instruction, but the ones that allow me to access student progress and adjust instruction accordingly are much more valuable than these one-size-fits-all assessments. Scores aren’t available until my students have already advanced to the next grade.

An added worry crosses my mind as I think about how our state will be using our test scores as a portion of our evaluation. Our jobs will increasingly depend on maintaining high scores. Will our instruction change to one where we focus more on this high-stakes test and less on differentiation? I hope not, but I’ve seen the signs in so many places. What happens when you have a year where student scores are low based on their ability or test anxiety?

I wish there was a way to evaluate students, mark their growth and help them learn without forcing them to take these cookie-cutter like assessments. I learn so much more from assessments given throughout the year where I am able to adjust instruction to meet the needs of individual students. We are living in the information age, not the industrial age. The assembly-line mentality behind standardized tests should be replaced with a more flexible, authentic, student-centered model.

I’m stepping off my soapbox now with a sad shake of my head and knowing that once March 14th arrives we will all be free of these assessments for another year. The ten weeks after will be spent on instruction that will prepare my students for the next steps on their educational journey. No more bubbling in the best answer, but truly thinking.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Standardized Testing and Evaluations

My husband and I just returned from a long weekend visit with family in Nashville. It was nice to have the extra time off to make the trip. We left in the morning on Friday since there was no school and returned Monday evening just in time to get ready for a busy, yet shortened workweek. Having a comp day the Friday after parent-teacher conferences followed by the President’s Day holiday allowed for some much needed R&R.

Now school is back in session. My students are getting back to work, but the longer weekend makes focusing on routines a bit more challenging for them. I find myself looking at how I can get through all of the material for this week with one less school day. I’m also feeling the pressure from the upcoming state assessments. Can they really be so close at hand? The beginning of March seems too soon. There is so much more I’d like to introduce before those assessments.

Our state, like many others, is changing teacher evaluations with a much stronger focus on assessments. Our student test scores will play a much larger role in the process. Next fall our principals will be evaluated on the scores in their building and by 2016 classroom teachers will as well. I have no problem with accountability, but wonder if the tests being used are really the best instrument. In New York, those changes will impact both teachers and principals even sooner. Many are rightfully concerned with the impact of this on education.


I’ve been in education for a number of years and have seen the emphasis on standardized testing escalate at an ever more rapid pace. I worry about the effects it will have on our schools and the many people who dedicate their lives to education. I hope for the best, but can’t help but worry.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Valentine's Day

Today is Valentine’s Day. A special day where we show our love, send cards, receive chocolates and flowers, but most of all reflect on the special people in our lives. I am fortunate to have many wonderful people in my world. My husband holds a place of honor and is the best Valentine I could ever hope for.

I met the wonderful man who would become my husband in the summer of 1983. We were both working in the dinning room at a resort in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin for the summer. We started dating at the end of that summer, and in February 1984, as Valentine’s Day approached, I wanted to make a special dinner just for him. The magazine Redbook had recipes for just such a dinner. It included a salad complete with avocado and shrimp, rolled flank steak, roasted potatoes and a chocolate-toffee dessert topped with coffee ice cream.

Twenty-eight years later we still celebrate Valentine’s Day with the same dinner. I only make it once a year and it always brings back special memories. This will be our 29th Valentine’s Day together. This coming August will mark our 25th year of marriage. We’ve been together well over half our life and shared both good and bad times, supporting one another through all the ups and downs.

I am so fortunate to have this special man in my life. He’s always there for me. Celebrating Valentine’s Day with our special dinner is a tradition I hope to be able to continue for years to come. We all have our special traditions and the fantastic memories built around them. I hope everyone has a wonderful day filled with happiness and love. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Blogs in the Classroom

My fifth graders have been using technology all year. We have a class wiki where we work on projects together. Our class web site has many resources, published projects and news. Movies related to various curriculum areas using green screen have been created and student created podcasts are also available. As 2012 began I decided it was time for another tool. We are now using Kidblog to write weekly slices. The students are able to write about anything on their mind. Once they publish other class members can read and add comments. It’s opened up a new writing world to the class.

Here’s what I like the best, they are writing during the 40 minute workshop block and seem to find ideas easily knowing they can write whatever is on their mind. As they write they do talk a bit, but their writing has voice and passion. They love this opportunity and I am also gaining an insight into their world and what matters more than ever before.

Some of my slow starters or reluctant writers are writing more than they do in their notebooks or on writing projects. I’m amazed at what they write and the volume too. Any time I can get students to want to write, I’ll take advantage of it. Perhaps this will turn them into writers rather than students who write for school.

As I looked over the entries for this week I smiled when I can across this one:

“Write. Writing is my life. Everyday when I wake up in the morning I am excited to go to school and write. I love how you can really let out all of your feelings. Even if you write something down in your writer’s notebook that doesn’t mean that is what you have to say in your final draft. Your writer’s notebook is like your planning, or your rough draft. And in your writers notebook you don’t even have to press save, because it is automatically saved right there in the book. I love everything about it. Don’t you realize that you can do anything with writing! you can make it into your diary, a dictionary, your page of cool words, a full story, or just use it as a writing page that you can write what you think about. Those are some of the reasons why I love to write SO much!!!”

I started writing a Slice of Life this summer, but didn’t write one every week until December. It’s become a goal for me. While I don’t always love everything I write, I’m always happy I took the time to write. Sometimes it’s a little scary putting my thoughts and ideas out there, but it’s helped me look at writing differently. I’m glad my students have that chance too.