Thursday, March 8, 2012

High-Stakes Testing

I have to be very careful with this post.  I don't want to lose my job over it (those in the education field can empathize).  However, our school corporation has begun taking our state-mandated high-stakes test this week.  We'll have two sessions of it--one this week and one the beginning of May.

I haven't posted many teaching stories in my blog for a few reasons.  One being there are some parents who read my blog and I want them to know I enjoy teaching their children and I never want them to think I would tell stories about their children.  Another reason is that, this year, I'm pretty unhappy with my job and honestly don't feel like talking about it that much outside of school.  It's gotten better as the school year has progressed, but I am still longing for the day when I can get back to what I do best--teaching in the general education classroom.

That being said, I have a few things to say about the high-stakes test we're taking this week:

Number one: it's ridiculous to base student learning, teacher proficiency, and school growth on a stinkin' state-mandated test.  I'm sorry, but there are too many factors in the lives of the children, parents, educators, and administrators to base our pay, our yearly growth, and our children's successes (or failures) on one test.  For example, two of our elementary students and one of our middle school students lost their mother in a tragic accident last week.  Her funeral was today.  Although I am sure these kiddos will be taking the test next week, how well do you think they will be able to concentrate?  What about the student who was put into foster care for the first time?  The teacher who is trying to deal with personal loss?  The administrator who is unhappy with his/her job?  Everything factors into how well our school performs on this assessment. I can't believe so much is at stake with this test!

Number two: The vocabulary used in the tests is often unfamiliar to students.  As a special education teacher, I use "layman's" terms for my daily teaching.  High-stakes tests only offer technical vocabulary.  I was reading a question to one of my students (it's in his IEP that I do so), and he kept looking at me and saying, "What?"  I so badly wanted to say it in layman's terms so he could understand.  Instead, like a robot, I kept reading the prompt over and over.  He finally shrugged and started to write.  I moved away because I didn't want to see what he ended up putting down; I was afraid it'd break my heart because he didn't understand what was being asked of him.

Number three: As a special education teacher, my kiddos are not learning at grade-level.  Guess what?  The state doesn't care.  If they are enrolled in a fifth grade homeroom, then they are taking the fifth grade test.  My students that I pull out of the regular classroom for instruction are at least one grade level behind their peers, oftentimes two or three.  I've agonized this week over how frustrated they must've felt taking a test that they couldn't begin to answer correctly, even with the accommodations they have in their IEPs.  I can only hope they guessed right or maybe had picked up some information in their regular classroom that could've helped them.  I was fortunate enough to give the test to third, fourth, and fifth grade, so I saw the difficulty level of each test.  If my fifth graders could have taken the third grade test, I think they could've passed.

I'm not writing this to knock my students; they do the best they can with their abilities.  They've shown progress since the beginning of the year, and I'm proud to say one of my fifth grade girls needs to pass her x8 and x9 multiplication facts and she will have mastered them from 0-12.  They progress at their pace and on their level, it just happens to not be at grade-level.

With all the pressure on educators from the state level, I wish someone somewhere could stand up for these kiddos.  I'm fighting my own battle between the adults in my students' lives; we all want what's best, but we all have our own definitions of "best."  If my kiddos could take an assessment that is based on their ability level instead of their actual grade level, think of how successful they could be and how much frustration could be taken off their little shoulders!

Friday, August 19, 2011

First Week of School

I survived my first week in my new job.  I have to admit--although I'd absolutely love to go back to being a 5th grade teacher, I have about as close to having a teaching position in 5th grade as I'm gonna get (well, for this year at least).  Let me explain....

Another teacher and I are responsible for the third, fourth, and fifth grade special needs students.  We have students with learning disabilities, emotional disabilities, and impairments due to ADHD or other factors.  Our students are mainstreamed...they spend as much time in the regular classroom as they can and still learn the material.  We provide instructional support within the regular classroom and we also pull students out and teach small groups.  My caseload consists of all the fifth grade students we service in our school.  What luck!!  I'd be pulling out the fifth grade reading and math groups and having the fifth grade study hall in my classroom each day.  I also have a fourth grade math group 4 times a week, fourth grade study hall every day, and I go into a third grade classroom to help students with math.  Overall, I like how my schedule is set up.  

I was allowed to keep my classroom that I had the past two years as a fifth grade teacher.  I still get to talk with my fifth grade cohorts on a regular basis.  I even have lunch at the same time as two of the fifth grade teachers.  And, at the end of each day, I get to stand in the hallway and watch two of the fifth grade classes at dismissal time.  This is probably the highlight of my day!  Not only do I get to mingle with the kiddos, my sixth grade and seventh grade students can get off the buses and come visit me for a few minutes before dismissal.  I've had five students visit me so far.  It's so good to have the opportunity to see them and hear how their year is going.  

Do I like my job?  No.  Do I hate my job?  No.  Am I doing the best I can at my job? Yes.  These kids need someone who cares about them and wants to help them succeed.  They need someone who will take the extra time to teach them the way they learn.  Do I want to be that person?  Honestly, no, I don't.  Do I have to be that person for a year? Yes, I do.  I might as well make the most of it.  I just really hope it doesn't come back to get me and I won't be able to move out of this position.  I keep waiting to experience that joy that I felt when I taught preschool and fifth grade.  I know I never experienced that joy when I taught K-2 Special Education.  Will it come with time?  Maybe.  Right now I just feel like someone has taken my heart & soul and I'm just a shell.  Maybe someday I'll get my heart & soul back.

One bright spot this week:  I went into the third grade classroom for the first time.  As I walked in, the teacher was in the middle of her math lesson.  One of the boys looked at me and did a double-take.  He whispered, "What are YOU doing in here?"  I whispered back, "I'm in here to help."  He asked, "Don't you teach fifth grade?"  I said, "Well, yeah..."  and before I could finish, he said, "Well, what did you do with your kids then??"  I guess he thought I left them to fend for themselves while I popped into the third grade to check things out!!  I did get a chuckle out of that.  

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Florida Day 4 July 31, 2011

Day 4 started much earlier than Day 3….4:00am.  I’d pack most of my stuff the night before, so I headed out of the hotel at 4:30 and to Denny’s for some breakfast (it just happened to be right next door to the hotel).  The waitress forgot to give me my yogurt with my meal so she gave me a to-go yogurt.  This was perfect—I had just enough blueberries left over to make myself a tasty snack for the plane.

I took the rental car back to the airport and said goodbye.  I must say that my first experience renting a car was relatively painless.  After I got my luggage, I walked half a mile in the wrong direction before getting to my terminal.  I didn’t have long to wait before they called to board the plane for the trip home.   I was so tired that I nearly slept through take-off, and then couldn’t get back to sleep during the flight.  I was fortunate enough to have a window seat on the ride home, but unfortunate enough to get one on the east side of the plane (the sun was in my eyes so I had to shut the blind).

Orlando Sanford Airport at 5:30am

Goodbye, Kia Rio

We were getting ready to land when the bomb dropped.  Okay, there was literally no bomb; however there was fog in Owensboro so we had to land in Louisville to refuel before flying back to Owensboro.  Two hours after my ETA, we landed and I was able to start the drive home. 

Waiting for luggage at Owenboro

Looking back, I had a very enjoyable trip.  This is the second major trip I’ve taken by myself and I’m proud of the way I don’t have to depend on someone else to go with me, get me around, and to have another set of eyes, ears, and arms to help with directions and carrying things.  I’m glad I went somewhere this summer to relax, and I think the beach was just the place to do that.  

Florida Day 3 July 30, 2011

Day 3 started extremely early for me (5:00am), but not as early as Day 4 will (4:00am).  Reason for today’s early start?  I wanted to catch the sunrise that I missed yesterday.  And boy was it worth it!!  I first set my alarm for 5:00 because I had no idea what time sunrise was.  I didn’t leave my hotel room until about 5:50 or so.  I took my breakfast and tea with me and had it while I was waiting for the sun to fully rise.  I wasn’t the only one on the beach, and with each minute more and more people came to appreciate God’s miracle of a sunrise on the ocean.  I looked for some shells while I was waiting and waded in the water.  I saw some interesting wildlife: seagulls, crabs, and a jellyfish.  I also saw some boats & picked up some shells.  Today was my last morning at the beach….

Sunrise on Cocoa Beach
After the awesome sunrise, I went back to the hotel room & packed up.  I noticed my laptop wasn’t fully charged, so while it was doing that I ate breakfast at IHOP.  Then, I headed myself out on the open road toward one of the outlet malls.  I know traveling alone must seem like such a sad & boring thing to you, but let me tell you my Top Five Reasons for Traveling Alone (in no particular order):

  1. 1.     You don’t have to fight with anyone over the music selection in the car.
  2. 2.     No one is in the hotel bathroom when you really need to go.
  3. 3.     You can go where YOU want, WHEN you want
  4. 4.     If you decide to backtrack, no one groans but you.
  5.  5.      Cheaper meals.  Need I say more?

There are other reasons, of course.  Those are just the ones that come to mind.  The outlet mall I visited is across the road from Universal Studios.  I’ve been to a few outlet malls before, but none as big as this one.  Fortunately, all the stores I wanted to shop in were located pretty close together: Fossil, Gap Outlet, Disney.  I got my brother’s Christmas all taken care of for this year (and no, I didn’t buy him things at any of the above stores).  J 

Next, I went to Universal Studios.  I’d been there before, so I knew where to eat and what to see.  First, I went to CityWalk.  They have a Fossil store there too, and some other neat stores.  Then I made my way to the Universal Studios section since it was the section that had the least interesting stuff to me (always leave the interesting stuff for last).  I had lunch at Lombard’s Landing, which serves great seafood.  They have a very neat restaurant, and I was starting to get overheated again.  In fact, the waitress gave me a to-go cup full of water (bless her heart). As I left Universal Studios, I even caught the attention of a nice worker named Joe who kindly let me stand in his fan for about 20 minutes.  Turns out, he was originally from Boston (one of my to-visit places) and had lived in Louisville for a time.

Welcome to Universal Studios!

Lombard's Landing

Next, I headed past the Hard Rock CafĂ© and on to Islands of Adventure.  Here is where I planned on spending most of my time.  Since I wanted to spend the most time in Seuss Landing, I started with the opposite side and walked all the way around Islands of Adventure.  By the time I got to Toon Landing, I was so hot and tired that I seriously considered going home.  I finally got cooled off in Jurassic Park and spent some time in the A/C with my feet propped up at a table.  I was most excited to see the next section, Harry Potter, but by the time I made it around to that part I was REALLY overheated and had to stop at Three Broomsticks for some butterbeer and strawberry-peanut butter ice cream.  That did the trick for me.  

This is what I was thinking in Toon Landing

Seuss Landing was my last stop at Islands of Adventure.  Since I’m doing my classroom in Dr. Seuss this year, I took tons of pictures and bought tons of souvenirs.  I loved walking through the truffula trees and seeing the Lorax.  I think he’s my favorite, next to the Grinch.  I also rode on this train that takes you above Seuss Landing so you can see everything clearly.  I didn’t take pictures from here, but enjoyed the experience all the same.

Neat eating place
Awesome gift shop
 The afternoon was well-spent at Universal Studios (other than getting too hot).  Not only did I buy some things for my classroom, but I got several Christmas & birthday presents bought.  I left Universal at around 7:00pm and headed to my hotel by the airport.  I stopped at Panera Bread for supper (if I wasn’t so exhausted I would’ve went back to Joe’s Crab Shack).  I spent the evening trying to reconfigure my suitcase to fit all my purchases and headed to bed early…4:00am was going to come around very quick.

Florida Day 2 July 29, 2011

I woke up really excited this morning to see the sunrise.  In fact, I woke up too early, then overslept and missed it altogether.  Sounds like something I’d do!  I’ve got one more morning to get it right before I leave Cocoa Beach.

Today I decided to walk down the beach to the Pier and do some shopping.  About halfway there, I realized I forgot two things: my water bottle and my sunscreen.  I was far too worried about having my phone and my keys with me.  I got to the Pier and went in two stores without buying a thing.  I headed up the street to a beach towel place (I was hoping to score a Saints towel).  I decided to try on two sundresses and quickly changed my mind; the dressing room attendant said I needed to leave my purse outside the dressing room.  I’m guessing they’ve had theft problems.  I put my dresses away and quickly left that store. 

Cute sign I saw on my "sunburn" walk

Next, I headed to Ron Jon’s Surf Shop.  I’d only been there once before when I was about 6 years old.  I spent quite a lot of time (and quite a lot of money) in there before heading to Captain J’s for lunch.  I’d seen Captain J’s on my way to the Pier yesterday.  I ate outside on their balcony and had a good view of the ocean. 

Ron Jon's Surf Shop

Captain J
My lack of sunscreen was causing my shoulders to burn, so I headed back to the hotel to charge my phone and take a lil nap.  After my phone and I charged our batteries, I spent three hours on the beach.  I would’ve stayed longer, except I caught sight of my face in the reflection of my phone and saw my super red nose.  When I got back to the hotel, I not only had a red nose, but a red chest & back from where I failed to put on sunscreen earlier in the day.  There went my visions of a nice, dark all-over tan!

Sunburned me on the beach.  I love this picture!

I showered and headed out to do a little more shopping.  After a quick stop at an ice cream place (ice cream is a proper supper food on vacation at the beach, right?), I headed back to the hotel for the night.  I was determined to catch my beach sunrise, one way or another!

Florida Day 1 July 28, 2011

I decided that I needed to take a quick summer trip, so I packed a bag and booked a flight to sunny Orlando, FL.  The morning started way too early for my “summer” tastes—5:30am.  I was mostly ready to go, but still didn’t get out of the house until 6:30.  I drove to Owensboro, KY, to hop a plane to Orlando.  If you’ve never had the pleasure of taking the non-stop flight from Owensboro to Sanford Int’l Airport (basically North Orlando), you should give it a try.  Although at first the flight seems cheap, they charge you for everything extra, from priority seating to drinks & snacks on the flight.  I saved big by going with the Open Seating option and smuggling my own crunchy snack on board.

My plane
Everything looks so small from up here

The flight itself was fairly uneventful.  I sat next to a girl who put her headphones on and closed her eyes.  I was lucky enough to get a window seat, and even luckier to have very few clouds obstructing my view of the ground below.  A short two hours later, I had my suitcase (it was the first one off the plane—that never happens) and was plugging along toward the Alamo Rent-A-Car station.  I’ve never rented a car before, but I can now say that the experience was pretty painless.  I rented a Compact car and got to have my pick of the lot.  The Kia Rio spoke to me, and before long I had my borrowed GPS up and running (thanks, Granny!) and was on my way.

First, I drove to the hotel near the airport where I’ll spend Night #3 of this trip.  I wanted to see how far away from the airport it was.  On the way there I spied a Walmart (mental note: go back there later!), among a bazillion other stores.  I think I could’ve spent the whole trip in that one area!  I found my hotel and lo and behold—across the highway from it was a Joe’s Crab Shack (my favorite).  After a not-so-quick lunch there, I went back to Walmart to pick up some snacks before heading myself to Cocoa Beach.
Kia Rio rental car...she was a good lil rental

This bridge was sooo tall.  I'm near Port Canaveral, which is a couple miles from Cocoa Beach

On the way to Cocoa Beach, I really think my GPS was trying to send me on the scenic route.  I got off the main road and went through a town called Oviedo (a place I can totally see myself retiring to in the winter months….someday).  I went through a few more little towns and picked up some halfway healthy ice cream to be my traveling buddy.  An hour and fifteen minutes later, I popped up over a bridge into the Port Canaveral/Cocoa Beach area.  I’ll admit, I had that “tourist” look down pat—slow driving, picture taking, and oogling a mile a minute.  I pulled into my hotel and marveled that it was less than half a mile away from Ron Jon’s Surf Shop and one block from the beach.  YES!  After I got checked in, I was even more excited to learn my room was a suite with a fridge (for all my Walmart-bought snacks), it was the only suite on the right side of the elevators, AND it was located near the stairs (extra exercise)!  What more could a girl ask for?  Oh yeah, how about a fantastic view of the ocean, barely a block away???  Yes, please!

Leading up to the beach

Wet tootsies

I spent a couple of hours soaking up the sun and waves on the beach.  I can’t tell you how good it felt to lay there, hearing the waves and feeling the sun beat down on my skin (and not in the mowing-the-yard or working-outside-because-I-have-to ways).  It was awesome!  After that I went back to my hotel room, showered, and headed to Cocoa Beach Pier.  The Pier was about a mile from my hotel and a very nice walk.  I ate supper on the Pier at Atlantic Ocean Grill.  They had the BEST house salad I’d ever had.  Maybe it had something to do with the grilled Jerk Shrimp I added to it.  I also tried GATOR for my first time ever!!  It reminded me of a porkchop.  Unfortunately, my meal lasted until after dark, so I walked back to my hotel in the most well-lit, occupied area I could find—next to the highway.  I’d planned on walking back along the beach.  I guess I’ll just have to do that tomorrow!