Worksheet Curriculum

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Just another Pearson print-out!

My son brings them home all the time.  Not on a daily basis, like his kindergarten friend in another district, but we certainly see more Pearson coming home in his folder than ANYTHING else!  I am instructed to review these with my child, but mostly they just go into the recycling bin so we can get down to some real book reading or playing, or anything else really.  He isn’t interested in them, and I can’t blame him.

But I did think of a very good purpose for them:

I save them now, and when I need to send a note to school with my son, I tear off a section of Pearson and write on the back!  Then I don’t have to waste my own notepaper and the print-outs aren’t a complete waste of resources!

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My 15 Minutes…

…not of fame… but of pointless parent-teacher conference.  Yup, that’s 15 minutes that I’ll never get back.

It’s not my teacher’s fault, I guess.  She certainly does love the kids, and she is caring and involved. I imagine that she was once a clever teacher, before her curriculum was dictated and she turned to teaching using Pearson print-outs and the overwhelming focus on ELA.  (PreK is just starting with math, or so I gather from one of the latest Pearson unit worksheets).

Anyway, I had been waiting to offer my verdict on what was going on in the classroom until this conference.  I saw a lot of Pearson coming home, but I hoped that maybe something else was going on besides that–something good and wholesome!  I was hoping these alternatives to Pearson would become apparent at the parent-teacher conference, but alas that did not materialize.

Folks, 15 minutes doesn’t give a lot of room for questions.  So I really just listened.

First I was given his art– three papers, one of which was a pumpkin, with crayon scribbled all over them.  Ok, no real complaints yet.  Then I was given his report card, which was actually created by the school!!!  The kids got a grade of 1-3 (1 being the highest) in categories like, “Shares most of the time,” “Expresses self freely,” “Listens to stories,” etc.  My son excelled with a 1 across the board.  I think I was supposed to smile and beam with pride at this point… but I knew all of this already.  He’s a great kid with a nurturing upbringing.  I had no fears about these qualities developing naturally within him!  OK, still no major complaints.

I was also shown several picture print-outs that the kids color in with crayons “to develop hand strength.”  I hate to see kids doing copy-art like that.  It does nothing for the individual.  Would it be too much trouble to develop hand strength while having the child make his own picture?  Anyway, back to the print-outs.  Most were scribbled in with one color, but we got to one that had multiple colors of crayons all over it!  My knee-jerk reaction was “finally some passion in these exercises!”  But quickly I was deflated with his teacher’s comment that he “got a little sidetracked on this one.”  HUH?

Then we got into his assessment.  NOT a STAR assessment.  We opted out of that.  But his teacher did sit down with him and present to him various exercises to rate his development.  First of all, I was thankful that she did the assessment herself and that it was one-on-one.  But I was also annoyed that it was about a dozen sheets, all made my Pearson.  The exercises consisted of the student having to determine which group of characters were the letters, for example; or which letter makes the ‘tuh’ sound?; or which is the letter ‘B’?  Again, he “passed.”  And again, this was nothing I didn’t know already.  And to be honest, nor did I really care.  If he didn’t know ‘tuh’ I was pretty sure it would come to him eventually.  One question was completely asinine.  “Which version of the word was written the best?”  Then the word ‘DINNER’ (or something) was written in four different ways, with one supposedly being the correct and neatest way to write it.  I said it was a ridiculous question, highly subjective.  I kind of liked the wavy version myself– almost calligraphy!

Anyway, why didn’t I care if he did well on these assessments, you wonder?  Because they are just a small part of his natural development at this stage and I don’t see why we place such a huge focus on academic learning in these young children.  It would have been different if there was more proof of process-based learning.  There was little talk about art.  There was no talk about music, except for the fact that he likes the Ghostbuster’s song.  I wasn’t given much indication what he enjoyed most about school, or what interests him.  There were only brief comments that referenced him as an individual.  Most of the formal stuff had to do with how well he fits protocol.  I would have gotten more from a 15 minute anecdote about what he did at recess one day!  In fact, every day I ask him what his favorite part of school was, and every day he answers “recess!”

I was also told that his pencil grip was poor.  The teacher wasn’t concerned and recognized it would develop in time.  And I couldn’t give a flying f***.  All of this focus on learning to read and write so young, everybody following scripted curriculum.  Didn’t anyone notice that when he is given the freedom to make his own drawings that they are always treasure maps?  I would have liked to talk about his fascination with pirates and ships and buried treasure.  I bet he’d learn ‘tuh’ if you associated it with “Treasure!!!”

My son loves to write though.  He revels in possessing little books and journals and he fills them with all sort of drawings, letters, his name, numbers.  He recently received an old unused store ledger from a friend of mine who is so attuned to who he is and what drives him.  Needless to say, he just loves it and is always “doing his work” inside of it.  He brought it to school one day, but he is only allowed to write in it during free-play.  Here’s a thought, he might be more inclined to learn the letter of the day if he could do it in his special book.  Maybe, just maybe, this crazy notion of excelled learning might actually be more effective if you let kids connect to it in their own way.  And maybe some of them just aren’t ready, and that’s ok too.  But take away a kid’s passions, his excitement, his space for creativity, and you disappoint him.  Do it on a regular basis and you ruin him!

And in regards to the Pearson print-outs that my son brings home on a regular basis.  I was told that my son was ready for reading.  He’s an “emergent reader.”  It was suggested that I use the print-outs as an aid to learning the words as we read along, pointing to each word as we go.  (I was given an honorable sneak preview to the future print-outs that will be coming home–simple sentences).  We parents have already been instructed with notes home to review the Pearson worksheets with our children–learning through repetition we are told.  Anyway, NO THANK YOU!  I will read real books with my child.  And if he shows an interest in reading, then I will certainly encourage it and work with him.  But if he shows the same interest he shows to the Pearson sheets, which is NOTHING, then I will wait patiently for the desire to read to emerge in him on its own.  He’s not yet 5.  He’s got time!  And I’m not worried!

15 minutes was over in no time.  The teacher apologized for the rush, explaining that’s how these things are.  I didn’t mind really, saying I understood and that she could always tell me anything through a note home or a phone call.  I thanked her for “assessing” my son herself and stated again my opposition to Race To The Top, The Common Core, and to the ridiculous emphasis on state assessments.  No one in the room, not the teacher nor the two aids who were putting things away, even pretended to acknowledge what I had just said.  Like the elephant in the room, it was completely ignored.

Is Learning a Product or a Process?

Is Learning a Product or a Process?.

This is an interesting read!  The author lays out a concise, yet clear differentiation between product-based and process-based learning.

Learning, in my opinion, IS a process– a beautiful process!  The Common Core is product-based.  I see it already in the Pearson print-outs my son brings home on a regular basis.  I also see it in the “art” (coloring in the picture) “projects” that seem clearly crammed into the schedule–They’re quick and easy and don’t take much time away from “curriculum.”  They’re also boring, like the Pearson worksheets, and do NOTHING for process-based learning.

Anyway, please read the essay linked above.  I’m sure more on this subject will follow from me, so stay tuned!

The CCSS–Time To Start Worrying

The more I read about the Common Core State Standards taking the place of real curriculum in education, the more hopeless I feel.  I don’t see how anyone can think this is a good thing once they’ve had the chance to really see what it’s about.  The Common Core is being sold to us (literally, as the only ones who will reap any reward from this nonsense is big business) as a solution to all of our educational problems–supposedly higher standards, better college preparedness, more rigorous.  I’m scared to death of the Common Core.  And to me, even this innocent sounding name, Common Core, has connotations of tyranny— one definition being “oppressive power.”

This beast is too big to ignore, and I have a lot of thoughts on the subject.  But part of the reason I started this blog was to have a space where I could refer other parents who are also struggling to understand this educational disaster.  So for now, I’d like to share some videos which were recently posted in our Opt-out New York group.  As with the pro-rhetoric out there, I understand that every source has its own agenda.  But these videos do portray a clear picture as to the other side of the Common Core–the one that should scare every single one of us!  Dear reader, once you understand my feelings, my fears, and my frustrations, I will attempt to dissect all the problems I see with the Common Core.

Black Friday

Happy Black Friday, a disgusting display of American consumer greed.  Until the masses are no longer willing to get stampeded to death, tasered, and peppersprayed, all in the name of a good deal, I see no hope in addressing the many real problems going on in the world today.  Black Friday is my day of pessimism.  Tomorrow I will be better.

STAR Assessments, part 2

It’s clear to me now that STAR assessments are not all that good… at least not from my perspective.  Yes, they give immediate feedback to the teachers.  Yes, compared to other testing systems, they are short.  But when you weigh the pros and cons of using STAR, I have to come out against them.  I will continue to opt my children out from all standardized tests, including STAR assessments.  I can understand why some teachers see the positive side of STAR… I guess if you’re forced to choose a system of assessment for your school, STAR is one of the better choices and I suppose teachers have to make the best of it.  But as a parent, I will not relinquish my choice to say “no thank you!  This does nothing for us!”

I presented my last post to several wonderful FB support groups and received some great feedback, much of it from teachers who use STAR themselves.  Nobody had anything completely positive to say.

Like all tests, they are being overused, with some teachers being told they should administer a STAR assessment every week!  Would you want your child doing this every single week?  I wouldn’t!  I consider this valuable hours wasted at the expense of real learning.  There is also the danger of administrators (and some teachers) relying on STAR too heavily.  In this way, students are seen more as data rather than as individuals.

STAR is just one indicator of how a student is doing, and depending on the day it isn’t even a reliable indicator.  I was curious if STAR focused too much on vocabulary and short-term memorization skills.  One person said this, “the ones we give supposedly test reading level, but the sentences are out of context, timed, and do not include comprehension. No good teacher would ever consider it a conclusive reading diagnostic piece.”

For those of you unfamiliar with these assessments, they are done on the computer.  Many schools don’t even have the computer infrastructure to administer these tests in a timely manner, with classes fighting over computer time.  Only the richest schools won’t be burdened.  But most of us will have to deal with this added financial stress, not only to pay for STAR, but to upgrade computer labs as well.

To one teacher, STAR is “Not authentic, in my opinion, to sit students in front of a computer screen and have them complete brief multiple choice exercises on their own…  Too many variables and too unlike real life (or even ridiculously invalid, isolated and sanitized state assessments), in my opinion, to base evaluations on. But it’s an easy way to churn out numbers, and THAT’s the new money is speech, corporations are people, people are numbers approach.”

Rural Teacher had this to say in a comment on my last post:

Here’s what I know from my limited (my first graders have been tested twice on the Early Literacy STAR) experience: YES, there is immediate data – percentile ranks, range of proximal development (how much we can expect a child to “grow”), estimated oral reading fluency, estimated reading level, amount of growth or decline. It also spits out handy, dandy parent reports and detailed skills based reports for teachers. HOWEVER, all this data tells me NOTHING REAL as a teacher. All it does is give some support to my observations. I don’t watch them take the test, so I have no idea which questions they answered incorrectly – which is what I really want to know. I learn more from wrong answers than from right ones. I also have one case where a student who took the Early Literacy test (which is all read to them) is now considered to be a reader, when I KNOW that this child is NOT reading at the estimated level that STAR tells me.
Our school is using STAR as “Progress Monitoring” only and NOT as our local growth score. I believe that is a decision that is made at the local level, but STAR is absolutely an “APPROVED VENDOR” for that use. We purchased STAR because it was the cheapest and honestly, the shortest tests we could buy. A testing session lasts about 30 minutes – so I guess if a district HAS to use something, I would prefer it to be a 30 minute ‘test’ than days upon days of testing.
I got the parent STAR reports for my sons in READING, because the MATH doesn’t go beyond Geometry and they’re both past that. My sophomore should be choosing books (according to STAR) in the range of 4.8 (fourth grade, eighth month) and 10.1 (tenth grade first month). My senior should be choosing books in the range of 5.0 to 13.0. I guess that means that if either of them chooses a 5th grade book for a book report, it would be acceptable?? I wouldn’t stand for that as a parent! The parent report claims that the teacher will be using these test scores to “help develop his reading skills through the selection of books for reading practice at school.” but both of them are in classes where the whole class is reading the SAME BOOK ! When parents brought their STAR reports to conferences with me, I told them to basically ignore the report (it was from September) and I talked to them about what I SEE in my classroom and explained why I either agreed or disagreed with the test report. ALL of the parents were HAPPY to put the damn report away and actually TALK with me about what their child is doing in school.
WHEW- didn’t think I would have that much to say, and I don’t know if I helped you at all in getting information, but thanks for giving me a place to have my say about STAR!!

I am a supporter of locally developed methods of assessment, but many schools use commercially developed tests such as STAR as part of their state mandates, not only to gauge student progress, but rather as a predictor to how the student will do on the end of the year state tests.  But there is evidence out there that indicates that these tests have little to no predictive ability in regards to how students will do on the state tests, and there is little evidence that they have actually improved student achievement.

A study by the Regional Educational Laboratory at Pennsylvania State University, The predictive validity of selected benchmark assessments used in the Mid-Atlantic Region, found that “…that evidence is generally lacking of their predictive validity with respect to the required summative assessments in the Mid-Atlantic Region jurisdictions.”

Furthermore, in the article Exposing the Imbalance of ‘Balanced Assessment‘ (page 14) by W. James Popham, Professor Emeritus at UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, interim assessments such as STAR are described as “neither supported by research evidence, nor are they regarded by the public or policy makers as being of particular merit.”  Their biggest advocate?  The for-profit companies that make and market them.

And it is the concept of outsourcing our needs to for-profit test developing companies that seals the NO deal for me.  I’m told that STAR assessments are the cheaper of the choices, but what is it costing our district?  What is the cost of this product each year?  And how much money do we have to pour into new computers and other infrastructure just to accommodate this type of testing?

I recall one teacher at the Geneva gathering who said her district is already spending more on STAR than they get from the Race To The Top grant.  I know that my district only gets a bit over $32,000 over four years.  That’s only $8000 a year!

They are my children and I am and will always be an involved parent and their greatest advocate.  If I continue to choose public education (as opposed to homeschooling), it will be contingent on some good old civil disobedience.  I will continue to question everything and opt out if I have to.  If I am seen as the pain-in-the-ass parent, then so be it.

STAR Assessments, Are they really that good?

Can somebody please help me?  I need to know more about STAR Assessments!

I missed the last board meeting at my school.  My bad, yes I know… But any parent of very young children will attest to that time of day being the MOST difficult.

Anyway, I was informed by one of the board members, who happens to be a friend of mine, that I missed an “interesting” presentation by our two middle/ high school English teachers.  Apparently they had nothing but positive feedback on the STAR Assessments that are used at our school.  They loved getting detailed and prompt results to see which students needed help and in what areas exactly.  My board member friend recounted their gushing praise of the system.  Our younger middle/ high school math teacher had similar praise, which I learned from my sister who is her friend.  I guess that before STAR they had no clue how to evaluate their students???

So, am I the one who is misinformed?

I don’t have a problem using a form of technology like this to aid in student assessments.  STAR products are made by Renaissance Learning, whose slogan is “Advanced Technology for Data-Driven Schools.”  Enough said for me… I’ve already talked about my opposition to schools being so data-driven.  But if teachers do in fact find STAR so helpful, am I wrong to criticize?

Our principal loves STAR.  During my opt-out meeting with her she stated she would use it even if there wasn’t a requirement for the state.  She also said that STAR was not being used for teacher evaluations, at least not for elementary (as far as I know).  We opted out anyway as there is no good reason for all these assessments in young children.

Is STAR being used to evaluate teachers?  I’ve found it hard to research all the ins and outs of STAR.  Much of the heavy criticism is aimed at the high-stakes state tests that begin in 3rd grade.  I did read that STAR is just one of many state-approved assessment systems used in VAM (value-added modeling), which scores the teacher on his performance.  And I have a problem with value-added assessment. 

My problem begins here:  If STAR is touted as a useful aid for a teacher’s assessment of his/ her students, then why can’t that teacher be present when the test is being administered?  Don’t we trust the teacher?  You’d think the teacher might actually benefit from watching his/ her students answer the questions.  Could it be that the process is just as important as the outcome?

I also do NOT like the idea of our children’s data being compiled in some bureaucratic office.  Anyone else freaked out by all the data-gathering being done out there?

STAR might indeed by innocuous, but it is still a product for which someone has to pay.  When our meager RTTT dollars run out, who will foot the bill?  (We know the answer to this).  And is it worth it when we have so many other things that must compete for our schools finite budgets?