Sunday, January 30, 2011

Testing, Testing

I had a conversation this afternoon with a mother whom I believe is quite well informed, and whose child is now in high school. We were discussing something about education and I pointed out the theory that I've been mulling over, with a friend, that until children have a stake in the "high stakes" testing, it will remain difficult to motivate certain students to do well. Anyway, this mother expressed genuine surprise that the CRT tests that she knows are given every year are not a part of her child's grades. That this hugely important test is only important to the school's ranking, not the student's ranking or status or GPA.

I admit I was completely startled that she didn't know that. I thought after all the years that we've been giving these CRT (criterion referenced tests) that parents understood that the test is measuring the schools. Yes, yes, the students get a score, but it doesn't go on the student's report card nor affect whether they are passed on to the next grade --- in elementary school, that is. In high school, there are proficiency exams that are criterion referenced which must be passed in order to graduate. But the CRT's in elementary are only used as a way to rate the school.

[Actually, in my school, we use these scores to rank students and help us figure out who needs extra help. But the extra help is designed to get a passing score on the test--yes, as a by-product, the students should learn more, and gain mastery over certain skills, but the real goal is a higher percentage of passing scores so that the school can maintain its ranking as making "Adequate Yearly Progress."]

What I'm asking here is, are there other parents---a lot or a few---who don't realize that all this work and focus and effort isn't part of what we grade? Now, I realize that if a student is skilled enough to get above the "cut-off score" on the high-stakes yearly test, then in all likelihood, that student is also getting passing scores on their report card. But, seriously, the whole focus of our school year is that CRT test--it's all about the rankings.

I'm not stating that our ranking is irrelevant--I got a cash bonus last fall because we'd scored so well in our school. I know that I love working at my school because we are all aware of each student's ranking and we do give extra instruction, strategies and tutoring to the students who are "on the bubble" [almost passing] so that they can push on through to a passing score this year. It helps the students---they are learning more. But, again, it's about our ranking. That is our motivation as stated over and over again by our leader.

What I was wondering, though, is whether there is some way we can give the students a stake in this, too? We have informal ways: we have a drawing at our school for every kid who passes both the math and reading tests. All of their names go into the hat and the teachers and staff members all agree to donate prizes: iPod touch, movie tickets, gift cards for games and stores and restaurants, etc. So, a reward party is given. Also, my grade level is planning our own ice cream party for the students who pass one or both, and we're going to give an Olympic-type medal to the those who pass both. Then we're photographing them and making a poster to put in our Hall of Fame.

But, by the time kids get into 5th and 8th grades, where the tests are given (and some 4th graders, too) there are those who really don't give a hoot whether they pass or not. They don't like tests, they don't really care about the results and so they just blithely go through and check off...whatever...on their scantron sheet. Big deal, they shrug.

What if they couldn't be promoted if they didn't get a passing score? Would they be more diligent? Would the students get more help, or more encouragement, or more "You better do a good job or else..." insistence/help from home if parents knew their child would be repeating a grade until they could show mastery of reading and math at that grade level through this CRT?

Discuss...(and, hey, let me know your thoughts and experience on this topic.)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Field Trip!

It was 60 degrees today, the sky was the clearest blue, and we got to spend the whole morning outside tramping around in the Wetlands Park here. We had a field trip! Yea! Everyone was very excited! We finally managed to calm down enough to get out to the bus and sit down so the driver could get us there. I went with one of my fellow 4th grade teachers. The facility can only accomodate about 65 children at a time, and the bus only holds 75, so we divided up our grade level and scheduled two trips. The other classes will go on March 17th. We were lucky to even get any dates at all.

This is one of the most popular destinations here for elementary schools and they have limited openings. If you want your students to have this opportunity, you must call their office at 8:01 A.M. on the first day that teachers go back to work in August. This year, I temporarily lost attention, and didn't call until mid-morning....arrrgghhh! I was so relieved when there were still a couple of days open. Both of our dates were at the end of critical testing blocks, but we anticipated this trip and tested the traveling students first so they were finished for today. And the other team will be finished by their date, also. I'm sure the testing schedule is the only reason those two dates were still available.

Volunteer guides take us around the trails and really engage the students in "seeing" nature. Each student gets a field book and a pencil, a pair of binoculars, a magnifying lens and even a sling to secure their water bottle so their hands can be free to take notes and look at cool stuff. We get to keep the notebooks, but return the lenses, binocular and water bottle slings at the conclusion of the day. The whole concept is that the students are part of the NSI team: Nature Special Investigators (get CSI?? It's the LAS VEGAS Wetlands Park...) You can actually see the skyline of the strip from the trails.

We had a blast. We saw tracks in the mud from racoons, bunnies and coyotes. We listened to quail calls, we saw a shrike perched on a bare tree. We picked apart dessicated coyote "scat" with sticks to look at the rabbit bone fragments and, in another pile, we found the seeds from the honey mesquite -- the coyote's diet when rabbits are scarce. We found owl pellets and rabbit droppings and watched three snowy egrets soar slowly over the cattails as they looked for a likely fishing spot. We examined a stick that had gnawing marks left by a beaver (there are 17 beaver living in this wetlands--who knew??) We watched a turtle swim and saw many American coots. (No, really, they are a bird--not old guys taking a walk muttering about young boys who need to pull up their jeans..) Mallards flew overhead and a hummingbird fluttered by. Whew, it was simply divine.

We were divided into groups of about 10 students and their accompanying adults. The group I attached myself to had four of my most squirrely dudes. These fellows have varying official diagnoses that have resulted in each having an IEP, daily meds, and invitations to the counselor's social skills groups. But I like each of them a lot. They are quite intelligent despite their unusual personalities, and are very sweet, and we're good friends. They were on fire today! We need to go somewhere like this everyday and learn and read and write while investigating the real world. Seriously---I'd like to take them to a fire station, or the electric generating plant, or the kitchen of a big restaurant. Anywhere where real life is occuring would be such a magnet for their curious, investigating natures. We could see things and figure them out and then go back and get books and read some more things and write authentically. They were right on the heels of our guide, pointing out interesting tidbits, answering her questions, coming up with really intriguing queries about the next new thing. Wow. We learned today. Ain't nothing like the real thing, baby.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Ten Days....

That is how long it has been since I posted here. I've been very busy! Here are a few of the events that kept me away from the computer.

We spent the weekend of CoolGuy's birthday in Utah with two of our children and our grandchildren. The only reason I'd venture into the frozen northland in January is to spend time with family--believe me. The baptism event was terrific. The ceremony was bi-lingual because one set of grandparents is much more comfortable speaking and listening in Spanish. In fact, there were only about six of us in attendance who are not fluent in both languages, so much of the translation was for our benefit. Our son baptized his little boyand offered the prayer in each language. Their abuela from Argentina gave a lovely talk about baptism and our daughter translated her words into English. Jacob's confirmation was performed in Spanish by our son's dear friend, also an Argentine native, who then explained the gist of the blessing in English. The other grandfather gave a talk about the Holy Ghost, again professionally translated for the non-Spanish speakers by our daughter. (Good thing she got that second bachelor's degree in Spanish translation, huh?) Tears were shed due to the Spirit of God we all felt.

We reconvened at our son's house for food and conviviality, with all the children playing up a storm in the bedroom and all the adults talking up a storm in the living room. It was all in Span-glish, too. With the exception of CoolGuy and I, everyone else could speak Spanish well. But, the other grandparents have limited English skills. I can follow a conversation in Spanish, but I cannot make any sentences. So, we'd be telling funny stories, and it would get translated whichever way it needed to go, and then the other half of the family would laugh. It was quite a good time.

As all the guests had finally departed, it was pretty sweet to find our grandson busily looking up the scriptures from his "Scripture A Day" calendar in his new Book of Mormon and underlining them. I heard that later, he sat at the kitchen table and sang songs to himself from the pocket-sized, personalized hymn book I'd given him for a gift. He is truly his grandma's and abuela's pride and joy.

The next day, we met at our daughter's house for dinner to honor Grandpa CoolGuy. She made yummy food (including German chocolate cake for dessert) and we ate and laughed and talked and told funny stories again. And the kids played and played and played. Good times.

But Monday morning came and we had to leave. Bah. At least it was a beautiful day (cold, but sunshiney) and the drive home was pleasant. I dashed through a week of fourth grade. I started my new college semester. I was at a school training all day on Saturday and now it's Sunday afternoon and I'm already behind for the weekend on things I wanted to get done. Sheesh....So, I'll just grade some papers, and write some letters and go onto WebCampus and see what else I'm supposed to have ready by Wednesday night for class. It is a hybrid class (which is a problem for me, I'm not good at computer chatting for college) and so some of our meetings are supposed to be on-line. I hope I don't mess it up. One good thing about webclasses is that there will be fewer mad dashes across town to the campus during rush hour this semester.

Here was the best thing about getting home to the desert on Monday evening: (that's the temperature gauge in CoolGuy's truck. It was about 5:00 P.M.)

Thursday, January 13, 2011


Just a few, unrelated, thoughts.

Today, when I left the school at 5:45 P.M. the sky was still a little orange over the edges of the western mountains. Yea! The DarkTimes are leaving us! It is so nice to have the sun returning. Also, today it actually got all the way up to 60 degrees. The high on Monday was 42. face got cold during the 15 minutes we were out there directing traffic at 3:30. I'm ready for 75.

We've been using the laptop computer cart in my room all week. The students were typing a paper they wrote about a time they ate out at a restaurant or a fast food place. The goal was to use lots of adjectives to describe what they saw, tasted, smelled, felt and heard. It's been a challenge. Most of them can barely type. But we've been also learning how to use the spell check and the formating tools so that it isn't just me saying, "Oh look! You didn't put in any punctuation marks!" or " have many misspelled words." When the computer refuses to go on until you choose the correct spelling of the word from the list, then it is a real teaching moment.

I'm headed off tomorrow to Utah to attend the baptism of our oldest grandson. It is a wonderful event. Also, because of the federal holiday to honor Dr. MLK on Monday, we don't even have to start driving back until Monday. Yea! CoolGuy is already up there, and I'm flying on Friday night. He was babysitting while the parents were taking care of the baby and her scary medical issues. But, good news! The problem wasn't what was predicted and so the solution is more benign. We're all relieved. Prayers have been answered.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Little Luxuries

This might not look like much, but it is the very first manicure I've ever received. Or, that I remember receiving, at any rate. I may have had my nails done professionally before in my life, but I don't recall.

I used to polish my nails regularly when I had three tiny children. I'm not sure why...because my hands were wet most of the time back then: rinsing out diapers, washing diapers, washing dishes, washing off bottoms, washing faces, washing hands. But I also had really awesome, strong beautiful nails, too. I think it was related to pregnancy, because my hair grew long and strong and awesome then, too. My hair is still pretty good, but my nails now split and break and peel a lot. I think it is one of those old lady things.

But, since I had fine fingernails, I often polished them. One night, I re-painted them just after I got into bed, and then I laid down with my hands carefully spread out on the top of the covers and sighed and closed my eyes. CoolGuy, from his side of the bed, said, "Um, why do you paint your nails at bedtime?" I said, (without thinking) "It's the only time of day that I know that no one is going to be touching me!" ooooh....umm...I suddenly got his point. There was someone who was hoping for a little touching. So, I didn't go to bed with wet nails ever again.

I actually gave up painting my nails a couple of years after that, too. No I don't have lovely hands. I have working hands. They've always been big and sturdy. Once a boy gave me his ring in high school. He was a wrestler and played football, and worked on a ranch. But I didn't need to put tape on his ring for it to fit my cow-milker fingers. My best friend in high school, who is as tall as me, could drop her class ring right through the diameter of my class ring. She was willowy and narrow. I was sturdy, not fat, just sturdy.

I've always painted my toes, however. I loved wearing sandals in California. I love cute shoes. But, I had usually worn sturdy shoes to haul hay, or milking boots, or snow boots. It was awesome to live in a place where I could show my toes. Then, one day as I was painting them, Coolguy happened to mention that there were few things more attractive (ahem) than polished toenails. So, they've been painted ever since.

Now, I am at that awkward age--I'm not flexible enough to get my feet close enough to my face so I can see my toenails with my bifocals to care for them. So, I go to the nail lady. She trims and buffs and scrubs and massages. She clips and shapes and emolliates. Then, she has the skill and practice to swipe on that red laquer in one step. I love being pampered and I have nice looking toes on these goofball feet.

Yesterday, she asked if I'd like a manicure, too. I showed her my dry, cracked peeling cuticles and ragged, mishapen nails and she almost recoiled. So, I walked on my damp toes over to her little table and she did the whole ceremony on my fingers. Who knew? They look fabulous! She only put on clear polish because I didn't want to call attention to my manly hands. But, with the cuticles trimmed and the ends shaped and shiny, they actually look really lovely. I keep looking at them. I'll do this again! Who knows, maybe I'll even get pink polish next time.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Happy New Year! Brrr...

Baby New Year is shivering. I hope he's wearing more than just that banner and his diaper. Look at this temperature:

It might not look like much to those of you in the frozen northland (Afton, Wyo: -18 at 9:00 A.M.) or (Salt Lake City, UT: 13 degrees, 10:00 A.M.).
But this is the desert. We're more accustomed to this sort of temperature:
Yes, more whining...And the whining will continue until the temperatures return to a more moderate region. However, the five day forecast is for a high of 42 and lows in the 20's. We'll be shivering for another week. I actually feel bad for the tourists who came here to escape whatever frozen climes in which they live. I'm sure they were hoping for warmth.
Last night, we perched ourselves on the roof to watch the New Year's Eve fireworks show on the Strip, and it didn't disappoint. The Stratosphere look like it was launching for outer But we were seriously cold up there. When CoolGuy was skimming leaves from the hot tub prior to heating it up for our nightly soak, the water that puddled on the pool deck froze. Yeah. It was chilly. Remember---I don't whine about the hot.