Category Archives: Schools

Testing boundaries

Last week I attended a meeting sponsored by the NYS Alliance for Public Education. The forum discussed current controversies and issues in public education including the Common Core Learning Standards, teacher evaluations, Governor Cuomo’s 2015 Education Budget and the NYS assessments given to elementary students in grades 3-8.

My interest in attending the meeting was more personal than professional, I have a child in 4th grade who will be expected to sit for multiple days worth of testing later in spring. At this time I am actively seeking information about the credibility of the exams and the impact they may have on my child, his teacher(s) and his school. His experience with the tests last year began the very first week of third grade when he came home from school talking with concern about the assessments he would have to take 7 months later. The very same tests which we wouldn’t even receive the results of for more than a year after that first conversation.

The presentation was professionally delivered and informative. I left with a sheaf of papers and the commitment to do a bit of research before making a final decision regarding my own child’s participation in next month’s assessments. A day later, I saw this document shared on Facebook and immediately became outraged. A friend of mine (who has been involved in the news business for more than two decades), suggested I look at the document a little more critically. I mean, is it feasible that a big testing company would really be monitoring the social media accounts of millions of students?

Apparently, the answer is “yes.” I suppose all it would take would be a bot of sorts to troll hashtags focusing on things like #Pearson and #PARCC, right? Geez, Pearson could probably spend some of the $108 million they were paid by the state of New Jersey to actually hire a person or two to monitor Twitter and other social media platforms, if they chose to.

I’ve spent an almost combined 40 years being a student and teacher. I remember excitedly taking the CAT tests, confident in my abilities to demonstrate my knowledge. Sitting down with my sharpened #2 pencils in the cafeteria felt like a special treat, not a stress inducing threat. I’m not opposed to testing in theory, but the commercialization of education, complete with a single vendor who provides curriculum, assessment and remediation for those scoring poorly on tests doesn’t sit right with me. I think we’ll pass on the tests this year.

A couple of other related posts to read:

Bob Braun’s Ledger
Diane Ravitch’s post

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Filed under Boys, Education, News, Schools

Feeling testy about NYS assessments

imageHow much do you know the mandated state exams administered to elementary school students in New York State? What do you know about these tests and their significance? Have you heard about Assemblymember Jim Tedisco’s bill proposal to allow parents to “opt out” of the required tests? If these three questions were on a test you were taking right now, how would you do?

As a teacher and a parent, my interest in these exams is pretty intense. Although there was initially the threat of my being required to test my population of students, I don’t have to administer tests in my “subject” area because I’m a secondary (grades 7-12) librarian and we have been given an alternative assessment rubric. At present my annual professional performance review (APPR) doesn’t include a student test component.*

That fact that I am currently exempt from delivering tested curriculum does not mean I am unaffected by the exams. I see the impact of these tests on my colleagues, my students, and of course, my own child. Last year, when my then-third grader came home the first week of school talking about “the tests,” I was dismayed. This year, I’m disgusted.

I’ve heard about a dozen different “facts” related to opting out of the tests. Things like “if less than 16 children in a given class or 95% of a building’s population take the tests the results can’t be counted against the teacher of the school” and “students must sit for the tests even if they refuse to participate, yet will be given a score if they so much as mark the answer sheet.” I just don’t know what is accurate information and, believe me, contacting NYSED with my questions is probably about the last thing I’d consider doing.

This Thursday, March 12th at 6:30, the Bethlehem Public Library is hosting a forum presented by the NYS Alliance for Public Education on the topic of the excessive use of testing in New York State. A portion of the forum will be devoted to Opt-Out and I hope that many of the questions I have will be addressed. If you have questions of your own this may be just the opportunity to get some answers.

*It also doesn’t include any evaluation of how I manage a budget, a sizable collection in multiple formats, or a facility (or two).

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Filed under Education, Events, politics, Schools, Uncategorized

Getting educated – 500 miles worth of lessons

Three day weekends should leave those fortunate enough to have had 3 consecutive days off feeling relaxed and satisfied. There definitely were some moments during the 72 hours which prompted some pretty positive emotions, but the overwhelming sensation I’m experiencing right now is simple exhaustion.

As I am inclined to do, I scheduled the weekend pretty tightly. My agenda included a ski, some yoga, a house party or two, and a whole lotta driving the Lilly boys where they wanted to go. All in all, the weekend was a success, but not everything went as planned. I mean, really, does it ever?

Lesson 1. Plans need to come with alternatives, options and flexibility. Sometimes the unexpected is welcome, like running into someone special at a party. Those are the moments we’ve got to hold on to.

Saturday I dropped my middle son off at the train station in Poughkeepsie. I resisted the impulse to get out of the car and walk inside with him to help him get his ticket and find the right track for NYC. Griffin’s independent trip to Grand Central Station was the second leg on his journey to his first show at the Beacon. Upon his arrival in the city, he met his older cousin and he went to see a jam band that his father assures me I would have hated.  He loved it.

Lesson 2. My children are growing up and I need to encourage the pursuit of entertainment and adventure, even if the thought of sending my 15 y/o son to Manhattan solo is scary. It’s time.

Sunday, my oldest child took the train from Albany to meet me in Poughkeepsie (I had spent the night with friends nearby). We immediately got on the road for an epic trip to Elmira College for a Monday morning tour. The roads were insanely icy as the rain fell on highways that were ever so cold and the drive took much longer than expected. After our visit on Monday, Liam decided that while Elmira had a lot to offer, it was probably too far away from his family for him to continue considering it as an option for the fall.

Lesson 3. Often the road to where we want to get to is treacherously slippery. Sometimes, once we arrive we find that the place isn’t really where want to be.  The thing is, you’ll never know unless you make the trip.

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Filed under Boys, Education, family, NYC, road trips, Schools, snow, upstate New York

Dog years and the passage of time

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The day we first met Jeter

The youngest of my “boys” recently celebrated his first birthday and, while the occasion was a happy one to mark, I also noted the date with a tinge of sadness. That year certainly went quickly. When I thought about the number of years we got to love Cassidy (12.5) and started doing simple math in my head, I got a bit melancholy considering how few more years we can expect Jeter to be our baby. It simply doesn’t feel like nearly enough.

I don’t dwell on the lack of how much time remains, but I do find myself conscious of it. I’ve been thinking a lot about time recently. The older I get, the more I value it. What to do with my time and who to spend it with are two of the most important decisions I make each day. What once seemed infinite has definitely evolved into being one of life’s most precious gifts. It’s true, time is a present and I’ve vowed to become even more discriminating about how I use it.

When it comes to time, how long are you willing to invest in someone? What length of time would you give a person to show you their very best? A week? A year? Or, are you of the mindset that we’re all works in progress and it is acceptable to wait forever? It’s a tough call, one we each have to make (and live with) ourselves.

How do we ever know if we’ve done the right thing(s) with our time? As my oldest son gets ready to make decisions about where to continue to his education and to leave home, I wonder how the time of our living under the same roof went by so remarkably fast. Is he ready? Did his father and I sufficiently prepare him for what comes next? Was our time together well spent?

Is there a way to ever truly know? Or, maybe a means to just slow down the clock?

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Filed under aging, Boys, family, love, musings, relationships, Schools

12/13/14

Image: nydailynews.com

Yesterday’s date was remarkable because it was the last time in our lifetime, barring some crazy medical advances, that we will see a consecutive numbers date. What begin with 1/2/3 is now over for the current century. Pretty momentous, don’t you think?

I’ve learned there are occasions which demand recognition for various reasons – holidays, anniversaries, cool calendar dates, while others only reveal their importance retrospectively.

Two years ago today, on 12/14/12, Adam Lanza entered an elementary school and executed 26 people. Twenty of the victims were children who were essentially the same age as my own youngest son. Two years ago, 12/13/12, was the last night all of those families were intact.

I cant help but imagine the children on the final night of their lives.   I picture them talking excitedly about their Christmas lists and other holiday traditions. Maybe they did some homework, played a game or two, or attended a sports practice or other activity. Along with their teachers, they were probably looking forward to the weekend to have some time with family and friends. There was nothing to suggest that they would never again sleep in their beds.

On 12/14/12 the residents of Newtown, CT, and the world, learned what a violent and mentally ill individual was capable of destroying. We’ll never know what the future held for those twenty children – what they would have grown to achieve and accomplish, how they might have changed the world with their presence rather than with the void of their absence.  My own heart will always be missing a piece which was taken on that day.

In the next century, when those cool consecutive number dates roll around again, I hope that thought of an individual possessing and using weapons such as the Bushmaster rifle used to execute 20 elementary school children, is considered even more insane than Adam Lanza.

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Filed under Events, musings, News, Observations, politics, Schools

Writing my son’s college essay (in my mind)

Dear Prospective College Admissions Officer –

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. I can only imagine how many of these letters you must read and how difficult it must be to evaluate potential students from mere words and numbers on a page. Since neither words nor numbers adequately describe my oldest son, maybe I can offer some assistance?

To satisfy the need for percentiles and numbers of measurement, let me offer this – he was 5.5 weeks premature and, at one time, weighed less than 3.75 lbs. His father and I were advised that he was at risk of never recovering from the health challenges he faced and that, even if he survived, he might never walk. He crawled at twelve months and finally walked at 17 months. He was a willing participant in speech, OT, PT and special education services beginning at the age of 18 months, never complaining about the demands made upon him, the leg braces he wore or the frequent doctor’s visits.

Early in my son’s elementary career he was diagnosed with ADD and prescribed medication, which he continues to take. In the ensuing years, his dosage has been adjusted but he has also developed coping mechanisms and skills to increase his self-control and capacity to stay on task. His study habits and commitment to academic endeavors are remarkable and his grades in recent years reflect his strong work ethic.

While standardized tests are not my son’s strength, his passion for history has clearly been documented in his mastery of the NYS Regents’ exams in history. While his math and science scores have not been as stellar, I couldn’t be prouder of his decision to retake state exams to improve his transcript, despite his guidance counselor’s assurances that the importance of the grade ultimately was negligible.

My son has tackled the college search process with realistic independence, researching academic requirements and offerings, along with campus activities and opportunities. He has scheduled his own campus visits and participated in the process with excitement and enthusiasm and welcomes the new opportunities which will be available to him on campus.

In addition to his interest in history and government, my son is curious about the world.  He is an experienced traveler and witnessing his response to some of the world’s wonders has been one of the most rewarding gifts of parenthood.  He truly is one of my favorite travel companions and his choices, in terms of foreign locales to visit, have broadened my world immensely.

In closing,  if you’re looking for a student who shows their worth when they are faced with a bubble sheet, your institution may not be the right one for my son, but, if you’re seeking students who demonstrate their abilities when faced with challenges, my son may be exactly who you want to join your academic community.  Like his father and I, you’d be lucky to have him.

 Sincerely, a proud parent

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Filed under Boys, Education, moms, Schools

Reflecting on 30 years

IMG_0314Despite my attempts at processing the hundreds of distinct thoughts and images in my head following my trip to the past last weekend, my mind is still in a whirl.  During my drive north, while I tried to assert a sense of order to all that had been stimulated in my head, I realized that the 30th reunion I had attended had prompted more questions than it had answered and I wondered if other alumni felt the same way.  I wished that I were better in those sorts of situations, more open to approaching others and initiating conversations.  I had wanted to feel a connection with those around me, a connection which ultimately I could only find in fits and starts.

I’ve attended each reunion planned by the class Dynamo, Robin.  There have been four.  If I take the time to consider what compels me to insert myself in an environment which doesn’t necessarily feel comfortable, my only conclusion is that I’m seeking something, some sort of resolution or denouement.

Kind of silly, right?  What can be learned from surrounding myself by people with whom I shared a building, along with some experiences 30 years ago?  I just don’t know.

High school was not four years of social activities and academic achievements for me. I was not present for much of it, figuratively and literally.  I felt lost in the hugeness of the high school after the intimate experience of my Greenwood Lake education, going from a class of 65 to one of more than 400 in the blink of an eye.  Cliques and expectations were well established and I flitted between groups (heads, brains, jocks) committing to none.

Each reunion has invoked a similar lack of ability to engage.  I simply don’t know what to say to anyone.  There are familiar faces, some from high school so long ago, others from social media, and flashes of memories race through my mind.  But where does one start when it comes to covering the last three decades?  And – to what purpose?  My high school experience will never change and my future probably doesn’t include any of the people I struggle with to make meaningful conversation.  If an opportunity presented itself – say a classmate was going to be in the Albany area and wanted to grab a cup of coffee or glass of wine, I’d be interested.  I’m just more comfortable interacting in a smaller, lower-volume setting.  Perhaps that’s my take away, my conclusion?

I think this was my last reunion.

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Filed under aging, Education, Events, friends, girlhood, musings, Observations, relationships, road trips, Schools