Monthly Archives: March 2015

One Perspective On NYS Testing


I came across this comment and thought some readers might be interested since NYS testing is becoming such a very hot topic and there is still time to decide if you want your child in Grade 3-8 to take the tests or not.  The bottom line is that it is your choice and there are many opinions on it.

This article is a reprint from March 29, 2015 in the online version of Iohud: The Journal News by Anthony Cardinale.  The story is in the ‘Opinion‘ section and titled “View: State Testing And Parental Choice“.

Testing. It has become a dirty word. Last year, between 55,000 and 65,000 families refused to have their children take the New York State Common Core assessments. Those numbers are likely to increase in the coming weeks.

Parents and educators continue to voice their concerns regarding the vagueness of questions, a lack of transparency, the sheer length of the exams, and the recent monitoring of students’ social media accounts by Pearson. However, one of my major concerns is text complexity.

The best example of this can be found on the EngageNY website. “The Gray Hare,” by Leo Tolstoy, is included as a third grade sample reading passage. According to the Fry Readability Formula, this short story is written on a 7th grade reading level. As a teacher who has administered the last two Common Core ELA assessments, I can tell you that the passages presented to my students were just as difficult.

In addition to being unfair to students, the inclusion of these passages is in complete violation of Common Core Standard RL.3.10, which states that students should be reading material on their grade level. As a teacher and a parent, I know this is unjust.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo will tell you the scores can be used by educators to improve instruction. But when the reading passages are this far above grade level, the scores become invalid. The only thing these tests tell me is that my third-graders cannot read on a seventh-grade level. I don’t need a test to tell me that.

This situation is not unique to third grade, either. All students in grades 3-8 have been placed in a similar situation for the past two years.

The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently upheld the rights of parents to direct the education of their children. As parents, this means we can choose to have our children take part in these assessments or we can refuse on their behalf. Luckily, I have several more years until my daughter is in third grade. But if these tests continue to be as inappropriate as they are now, I will have my refusal letter ready.

The writer, a Fishkill resident, is a third-grade teacher at Kent Elementary School in the Carmel district.

The question I generally have about a test is: Does it tests the students knowledge and does it provide information that the student and their parents can use to improve upon?  To me the purpose of testing is to provide feedback to the individual completing the test/assessment so they can see their progress, fix issues or knowledge gaps, plan for the future and celebrate their accomplishments. Currently, it seems to me these assessments are just focused on teacher evaluations and teachers ‘teach to the test’ knowing the results are used that way.

Yes it is important that the results are used to improve instructional methods and also to coordinate learning across the state but it should not overshadow the individual asked to complete the test.  It would seem from the Mr Cardinale’s knowledge that the tests fail to meet another important criteria…they are not age, grade, nor knowledge appropriate.

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Filed under Education, Education Reform, Parenting, Test

Sunday Morning Shout Out


Who was your favorite teacher growing up?  Does favorite and great go together?  My favorite and great teacher was Miss Smith.  She was that teacher, that person, who made me feel like I could do anything in a time of adolescence existential crisis.  As an English teacher, her belief in my writing helped me get beyond my impediments of the existential and academic variety.  She did things in a large, overall sense. Miss Smith truly listened to her students.  She encouraged us to go further and higher with our thoughts.  She encouraged and supported us to take a chance and a leap of faith, at a time when different is shunned in life and academic courage is all too infrequent.

As this was written, NPR reported that the Varkey Foundation was getting ready to award one remarkable teacher a million dollars as part of it first Global Teacher Prize.  From an American teacher who started a school garden at a Bronx school to get more than vegetables to grow and thrive, to a Malaysian teacher who had made it policy for male students to bring a female family member or friend to address the large gender education gap, the ten finalists are incredible people who make a daily difference in education.  They are innovative and inspire/motivate their students-many who are in what seem like impossibly difficult situation.  They are characterized by the cliché statement of thinking outside of the box and not assuming all students learn the same.  We all have had great teachers.  Who was yours?

UPDATE:  …and the winner of the first Million Dollar teacher award is:  Nancy Atwell!  Interesting that although she moved away from Western New York years ago, Nancy Atwell has said in interviews that it was those first couple of years teaching in the Buffalo area that cemented her love of teaching in the 1970’s.  The first Grammy award to a music teacher also went to an amazing WNY’er (Kent Knappenberger).  Seems there is something going on in the local WNY environment that produces these great individuals who don’t follow the rules, question preconceived notions and make a difference in the world be it through children, education, business or medicine.  A true Renaissance is finally taking hold in one of the last ‘rust-belt’ cities!

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Sunday Morning Shout Out


Some moments of parenting you really have to work hard to keep your straight face.  Reflecting on these special moments with our three children always brings a warmth to my heart and smile to my face.  One of the funniest was when I had sent our three and half year old son to sit on his bed after a particular “naughty” incident or another.  He was calmly sitting on his bed “ working through his consequence,” – so I thought, while eating a sucker he found somewhere in his sister’s room.  He was the definition of swallowing the canary when I found him.

Then there are the moments when our effervescent youngest daughter tries very hard to put on her “mean” face.  Underneath it, those big, beaming baby blues just come shining through.  Tough girl isn’t going to work!  Or there are the moments when our sweet, albeit solicitor like when angry oldest daughter tries to talk herself out of the crime and punishment.  You just have to laugh, but not let them catch you if you know what I mean.

As any parent does, I have my moments where I am anything but laughing.  You want to scream and sometimes I have certainly raised my voice.  Yet usually by the end of the day, I come back to there’s got to be a better way.  Certainly we all go wrong at times, while we have the best intentions.

The folks at “Positive Parenting Solutions Blog” offer some great ideas for parents to help them in all their parenting efforts and needs.  I found their column “Ten Tips for Better Behavior” particularly helpful and useful as a reminder lately as we deal with this oppressive winter.  With its first edifying reminders to emphasize connection with your child to prevent and circumvent bad behavior and focusing on the all reassuring and reliable routine, to projecting a positive attitude and encouraging a team like spirit within your household, there are some great tips here that can really help to prevent bad behavior and promote familial peace.  Remember you can ‘hold it together’ and there will come a day when you can reflect and cherish the growth and development of your children into adults and know you did a fine job!

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Sunday Morning Shout Out


“This is really the first peer-leader program that has shown impact on school-side coping norms and the influence of youth connectedness.” Peter Wyman, a psychiatry professor at the University of Rochester, NY and one of the authors of a three year study in the “American Journal of Public Health” that looked at the effectiveness of “Sources of Strength

Depression and despair are terrible things.  Besides stating the obvious and making the understatement of the year, let me also add another given, they are perhaps worse in the teen years.  Do you remember then?  You’re young, hormonal, vulnerable, inexperienced, grasping to assert your identity and autonomy from your parents, but so completely unprepared for the world and all its demands.  Throw depression and perhaps mental illness into the mix and you have a ripe mix for potential tragedy.  Suicide and suicidal tendencies are no joke for today’s teens.  It is the third leading cause of death among 15-to 19 year-olds.  According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance, 17% of American high school students report having seriously considered suicide

This is where the program “Sources of Strength” is incredible!  Featured in a recent article at the NPR website, entitled “Preventing Suicide With a Contagion of Strength”Sources of Strength is a 15 year old, research backed suicide prevention program that focuses on developing strengths in teen lives.  Researchers and advocates state that it is one of the few programs that has research behind it showing it can work.

Skilled national trainers come into schools and teach the principles of the program to student leaders, who then meet with their peers.  The idea is that students will listen better to other students “preach it,” as opposed to adults.  Teachers, administrators, and parents are part of the picture, but in the background as adult advisers.  It is rooted in developing and promoting eight strengths: family support, positive friends, spirituality, healthy activities, medical access, mentors, mental health, and generosity.  Similar to the premises of the Search Institute’s Developmental Assets, the idea is the more of these strengths that are in place, the greater a teen is protected from suicidal behavior.  Peer mentors have these principles as a framework when they sit down with classmates.  The students meet and discussion problems and stressors in their lives. In sharing personal stories about overcoming adversity and difficulties, each person in the dialogue is helping the other do the same.  Connection and demonstrating understanding is everything!

Currently, the program is now in more than 250 and community centers in 20 states.  It has a price tag of about $5,000 per school.  While not cheap, certainly the suicides rates in this country among our young and the suicidal tendencies that exist among teens, should make it a priority in every district.  One life lost is one too many…..

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Sunday Morning Shout Out


To quote our three and a half year-old, quoting a “Thomas the Tank Engine” movie, I think my head is going to become a Popsicle. In fact, I think collectively Western New Yorkers everywhere are officially becoming Popsicles. With no annual January thaw and over 60 steady days of frigid, sub freezing weather and snow, we are getting freezer burnt! Before we all start going “mad” with collective brain freeze, perhaps it is best to round up some great winter activities to embrace the cold or beat it.  Remember these day lovingly since soon enough you’ll have the Air Conditioning on in July and August (that is if Lake Erie thaws) and begin dreaming of our winter wonderland!

The “Buffalo Event Calendar” allows you to search for WNY events and showcases top notch activities in our area.  From skating at Canal Side and Rotary Rink to annual events like the “Farm Show and the “Auto Show,” this is a great online source for individuals and families seeking fun and unique activities to do this season.  Check out your town or village’s website for winter festivals and special events. From inside music to outside skating, to vendors, chicken barbeques, lectures, and more, our area municipalities offer many fun things to do in the cold. –Which brings me to our local libraries.  Outside the great books and periodicals, many libraries offer in house movie nights; loan DVDS and video games; and host lectures, book clubs, and other special events to squelch the toughest case of cabin fever.  Pick up a book and start an adventure! Go to the library and have a great new experience!

Speaking of ending cabin fever, what do you and your family like to do to beat this “bug”? –Beat it before it beats you!  Sometimes ordinary activities just need a nice spin to become a special event in the home.  Make movie night, the home drive in, minus the exhaust fumes and mosquitoes!  Better yet, perhaps you can go camping after the movies in the great wilds of your living room.  Or maybe a game night, turns into a camp-out replete with storytelling (read or spoken) and a big bowl of popcorn and a side of laughter and good memories.  Which outdoor activity do you enjoy with your family this time of year, sledding, skiing , or riding snow mobiles?  Do you want to build a snowman? Snicker, snicker… Maybe going outside has little to no appeal? But perhaps just stepping outside on a beautiful starlit night, or bundling up and taking a walk is just what the doctor ordered. Look at the beautiful sparkle of the snow.  Winter will be over soon enough and time just keeps passing….’do you wanna build a snowman?’

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Sunday Morning Shout Out


Perhaps it started when I forgot my lines during the kindergarten play.  I was the narrator and man, what’s a play when the narrator forgets her lines?  Maybe I did not “show and tell” enough?  Maybe it’s just my funny personality?  Perhaps it is why I like to write, better than doing public speaking.  I usually can say in writing, what I wish would intelligently come out of my mouth.

My husband and I are hoping to change the course of history.  While I like to write, he is a quiet man by nature who prefers to absorb information and demonstrate knowledge by the completion of problems and tasks, than publicly speak.  As fate and the real world would have it, he has to do a great share of it at his job.  As we help our children prepare for their 4-H presentations that occur this weekend, we are hoping that these practices will get them more and more comfortable with public speaking.  This is year three for both of them.  With more ease than I knew at their age and at times now, they have had many experiences now to talk in front of others.

They have also been fortunate to have teachers that have emphasized this skill from an early stage.  In kindergarten, they both had a “talker’s club,” where they brought in a show and tell type item to share and discuss.  Our youngest daughter has something similar this year in 2nd grade.  Our oldest has presented science fair project and had to do a dramatic historical presentation at Halloween.  While she was less than excited to stand before the class and be Ulysses S. Grant, she had a great opportunity to speak before her class.  Thus far, they have had an impressive amount of chances to present and speak, for which I am glad.

We all know that public speaking skills serve us well throughout our lives.  Whether it’s projecting a confident image; demonstrating definitive knowledge orally; seizing job opportunities; and/or enhancing self-worth, when one can speak well and confidently it further enables them to go far.  The website speakingandspeeches.com  offers parents some great tips to encourage their children in this pursuit.  From suggestions for easy ways to encourage your child in public speaking and taking advantages of opportunities to do so to tips on how not to be fearful, this website is a good resource of the leery child and parent alike.

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