Roadkill Goldfish

Texas officials upset over low STAAR scores; won’t admit problems with the test and curriculum.

Pencil eraser2

 

It’s time to increase rigor because Texas kids are stupid.

That’s the message Texans heard this week from our legislators in Austin. State Education Commissioner Michael Williams came under fire over his decision to keep low passing standards on state achievement tests (STAAR) for the fourth year in a row.

How low are they? Fifth graders need to answer 54 percent of the items on math and reading tests to pass.

Needless to say, the editorial pages are filled with commentary from outraged citizens about how poorly our schools are doing. We need more tests! We need to rigorous curriculum! Teachers need to do a better job!

Sorry, I gotta call BS when I hear it. This has nothing to do with our kids or our teachers.

It’s the god-awful tests, standards and curriculum!

As a college professor, I know there is something wrong with the test – not my students – if a large number of them do poorly on an exam. The problem usually stems from badly written questions or answers, and it’s my responsibility to fix it. The state of Texas has the same responsibility.

Based on the sample problems my children bring home, even I can see these tests have very obvious flaws. I tried to help my crying 9-year-old with a STAAR reading worksheet, but I had no idea what the questions were asking. My daughter’s high school materials were also difficult to decipher. Many of the teachers I’ve talked to admit they have a hard interpreting this stuff. No wonder the kids are struggling!

In addition to very poorly constructed questions and answers, the STAAR exams and their accompanying standards are developmentally inappropriate. Children’s minds are simply not mature enough to process, let alone master, the content Texas mandates. The ability for abstract thought does not develop until roughly age 12, and yet word problems and reading interpretation make up a large part of the elementary curriculum and testing.

The saddest part about all of this is that our younger children are internalizing this. They see their STAAR scores, and they’re smart enough to know that 54 percent would be a failing grade in class. The system is setting them up to fail now and in the future. Children who see “low” STAAR scores year after year get demoralized and many will give up by the time they hit high school.

My little boy was demoralized. He came home in tears a few years ago because he couldn’t understand the STAAR questions. It killed me to hear him say, “I’m too stupid to do this.” My husband and I were was so worried that we paid to have him tested. His test results came back NORMAL for his age and grade level, and we could not understand what was happening until the test administrator explained to us that the Texas grade standards are one year higher than the rest of the country. The math standards jumped up another two years for the 2014-2015 school year. My stomach is already in knots.

I wish I could say the folks in Austin know how this system is failing our children. I’ve contacted many legislators and several of my friends have testified about what testing culture has done to their children. The only response we get is legislative demands for rigor and more tests. One of the gubernatorial candidates even wants to expand standardized testing to preschoolers. Ugh, they just don’t get it. We have far too many tests as it is, and rigor is worthless when the content is developmentally inappropriate and poorly written.

My son took six state standardized tests last year, each one running four hours long. My high school daughter has already taken her state algebra exam and must pass four more standardized tests in order to graduate from high school. Everyone in education knows that standardized tests are not an accurate measurement of intelligence or achievement, and yet our state dictates all children must pass these tests to move on to the next grade or graduate. It doesn’t matter if they’ve passed all their classes or if they have special learning needs; the tests decide.

Our kids are not stupid, and our teachers are not lazy. For those of you who hold this belief, I invite you to take a practice STAAR and see how you do. The Texas Education Agency, Pearson and our politicians are pushing a well-financed, and horrifically ineffective, product on Texas children. Four years of this mess is enough.

 

Listen to the podcast for this post. Writer Kim Keller gets a bit fired up.

 

 More on standardized testing and ed-forum from Roadkill Goldfish:

 

Nicki Minaj’s bum causes more outrage than ISIS murders

Singer Rita Ora looks horrified during the Nicki Minaj's VMA performance.

Singer Rita Ora looks horrified during the Nicki Minaj’s VMA performance.

The MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs) went just as expected. There was simulated sex with a back-up dancer,  a wardrobe malfunction, and an F-bomb heavy ode to the powers of a big booty. (Congratulations, Nicki Minaj. Stay classy.)

Social media and news outlets have already begun the over-saturation process by showing and analyzing the event’s performances. I’ve seen Minaj’s twerking butt on three news shows this morning, and sadly, what has been seen cannot be unseen.

Just as in years past, the fires of outrage and disgust are reigniting on all fronts. Half are abhorred by what is being peddled as entertainment, and the other half is sick and tired of archaic beliefs that stifle sexuality. (See my post on the 2013 VMAs.)

Surprisingly, I’m not outraged or disgusted by last night’s spectacle. I’m sad and a little nauseous, but my outrage and disgust are reserved for topics that will get short shrift while we all debate entertainment’s debauchery and the feminism of Minaj, Beyonce and Miley Cyrus.

While we’re bickering, the following evils will not get media attention or societal outrage:

 

James Foley

James Foley and his ISIS executioner

ISIS
Earlier this year, media called ISIS fighters “rebels” when they were battling against Syrian military forces; however, the group has become much more sinister as they’ve successfully moved through Syria and Iraq. The UN estimates that more than 40,000 people have been killed by ISIS, and their cruelty and barbarism are unmatched, especially on Christian targets. Closer to home, ISIS has repeatedly made threats against the United States and while we were gearing up for the VMAs, the group beheaded American journalist James Foley. The U.S. response to Foley’s murder and ISIS’s threats did not reflect the outrage they deserved.

“The United States of America will continue to do what we must do to protect our people. We will be vigilant and we will be relentless,” said President Obama in a statement. “When people harm Americans anywhere, we do what’s necessary to see that justice is done.”

And then he went golfing. And 19.6 million people went to check out Minaj’s new video on Vevo.

 

Human skull and clothing

Human skull and clothing that U.S. Border Patrol agents discovered while on patrol at a ranch near Falfurrias, Texas.(Photo: Todd Yates, AP)

The Border
No one really grasped the magnitude of the border crisis until news broke earlier this summer about thousands of Central American children illegally entering the U.S. through the Mexican border. Authorities say more than 63,000 children have been detained since October 2013, and federal and state officials have been forced to set up more than 100 facilities to care for these them until immigration hearings can be held.

While the plight of unaccompanied children stirs our hearts, the surge and continuing influx has revealed many concerns such as immigrant deaths caused by heat stroke or drowning; sexual assault of immigrant women and girls; crossings by gang members, drug cartels and possible terrorists; and increased demands on an already-struggling social service system.

So where’s the outrage? Both immigrant and American safety are at huge risk, but nothing has been done. Unfortunately, we hear very little about border security these days, but we did get to hear a good bit about security and VMA attendees. Apparently, it wasn’t very good because rap mogul Suge Knight was shot hours before the event at a party thrown by singer Chris Brown.

 

A still taken from a video by Nigeria's Boko Haram terrorist group.

A still taken from a video by Nigeria’s Boko Haram terrorist group.

Boko Haram
Earlier this summer, the world joined together to protest this militant Islamic group that kidnapped more than 200 Nigerian school girls. Sadly, mass tweetings of #BringBackOur Girls didn’t lead to the release or rescue of these young women, and Boko Haram continues its terrorism through assassinations, bombings and other atrocities. The group took over the Nigerian town of Gwoza and set up a caliphate yesterday. Unfortunately, that tiny development was eclipsed by breaking news about Iggy Azalea’s fall during VMA rehearsals.

 

 

8 things every high school freshman needs to hear NOW

One of the best things about high school? School spirit. IMAGE: The Prowl

Learning about school spirit is easy. Learning about the stuff that really matters is a bit harder. IMAGE: The Prowl

Today’s freshmen aren’t told the whole truth about high school and life after graduation. Here are the 8 things they really need to know.

 

My daughter starts high school next week, and she’s already stressed out.

Why? Freshman orientation did her in.

In their efforts to inspire impressionable teens toward greatness, the principal and teachers scared the snot out of them. The kids were excited with all the talk about pep rallies, clubs, sports and other activities at school; however, the enthusiasm died when the topic turned to academics.

These 14-year-old Texas kids, who can’t decide what they want to wear in the morning, were told to decide what college they wanted to attend. The next four years are to be used to prepare for that particular college, and their ultimate fate would be determined by their class rank, overall grade point average and number of Advanced Placement classes they took.

I looked at my daughter and rolled my eyes. As a college instructor, I knew the school officials’ intentions were good, but the information was bad. Actually, it was a lot of unnecessary hype.

Here’s the important stuff they missed:

 1. College is not the only option.

According to the Department of Labor, there are 3 million jobs out there that companies are having a hard time filling. These positions don’t require people to shell out $100,000 in tuition money or postpone a real paycheck for four years to get them. These jobs are in skilled trades, and apprenticeships and vocational training can provide students with the training they need for careers that are always in demand.

College is expensive, and sadly, a degree does not come with a promise of employment upon graduation. The demand for workers with art, history or literature degrees has always been small, and it’s nearly microscopic today.  Even people with popular “job ready” degrees like finance, management, education and marketing are having a hard time finding work and an even harder time paying off student loans and other college debts.

2. Don’t stress about your GPA.

The only people who will ever see your high school grades are college admission officers, and they know grades are not an accurate indication of your real talent or intelligence. Contrary to what you may have been told, college acceptance is not based on your high school grades. They’re just part of the equation in higher education, but factors such as SAT or ACT test scores, extra-curricular activities, part-time employment, life experience and volunteer work carry a whole lot more weight.

3. Learning about people is just as important as learning in the classroom.

THE most valuable skill you can pick up in high school has nothing to do with what’s taught in the classroom. You’re going to meet adults and peers who don’t share your background, beliefs, life experiences and interests. Rather than writing them off, it’s important to take the time to build relationships. Get outside your comfort zone. Don’t judge; simply ask questions and listen. Be compassionate.

The ability to communicate and interact with others will serve you well for the rest of your life. Judgmental attitudes and poor social skills, not so much.

4. Failure is good for you.

You are going to fail at some things, and those failures may sting a little bit. Notice I said “sting” and not “destroy.” Learn to gracefully accept your mistakes, learn from them and move on. The lessons we learn from failure are the very things that lead us to success.

You’re not alone in failure. Author J.K. Rowling was told not to quit her day job, and 12 publishers rejected her manuscript for “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” Her seven books about the boy wizard ended up becoming the best-selling book series in history. Basketball player Michael Jordan was cut from his high school team and has confessed to missing more than 9,000 shots and losing almost 300 games during his career with the NBA. Nonetheless, the NBA still regards him as “the greatest basketball player of all time.”

Not bad for a couple of screw-ups, eh?

5. Take time to notice people.

Some kids go through the entire day without anyone acknowledging their existence. No one says hi, smiles at them in the hall or talks to them during class. To make matters worse, the only ones who do notice them use those interactions to bully or belittle them.

Take the time to notice others. Talk to the people who sit near you in class, especially the quiet folks. Smile when you pass someone you recognize. Your little kindness may be the only good thing a person experiences that day, and sometimes, your kindness may be the only thing keeping them going.

6. Get a part-time job.

Somebody’s got to say this. Your parents cannot and should not provide you with everything you want. If they do, you will never learn how to take care of yourself or manage money. Unfortunately, many people never learn that lesson when they’re young, and they grow up with a distorted sense of entitlement or encounter debt from foolish choices.

A part-time job during high school can provide you with the money you need to take purchase the things you want and save for future needs like a car, college or trade school. A job also helps you learn how to budget your time, develop leadership skills and handle responsibility – all of which are critical for whatever you choose to do after graduation.

7. Take classes that interest you.

Every school has a core group of classes that everyone must take in order to graduate. Get those out of the way, but when it comes to your electives, study whatever interests you.

Don’t buy into the lie that your schedule needs to be crammed with AP or accelerated courses so you’ll be ready for college. Do that, and you won’t be ready for life. This is the time to try things in different areas so you can determine what you like and dislike as well as where your real talents lie.

Culinary arts or a second year of chemistry? No contest, you’re going to have to feed yourself in a few years and you can’t make palatable foods with a Bunsen burner.

Child development or another foreign language class? You may never travel to Paris and speak French with the locals; however, you will have to understand toddler-speak when you become a parent.

Mechanics or marketing? You’ll never be broke or stranded if you understand how things work and how you can fix them. Marketing folks are often broke and stranded along highways.

8. Be a teenager.

You’re not an adult yet, so don’t feel like you have to live like one. Frankly, adulthood is over-rated. None of us really likes working full-time, paying bills and being legally responsible for everything we do.

Don’t rush to try drugs or alcohol. Your developing brain isn’t physically able to handle their effects, and intoxication via booze or drugs really isn’t as cool as you think it is. It’s also dangerous, and just for the record, illegal.

And sex? Please wait. Even though you may be physically ready, you may not be emotionally ready. There are physical risks like STDs and unplanned pregnancies. However, the most devastating consequences of early sexual involvement don’t involve your body, they involve your heart and mind.

There is a powerful emotional component involved in sexual intimacy, especially for women. It hurts when your sexual partner breaks up with you, spreads rumors, talks about your relationship with others, or worse yet, pretends you no longer exist. Doesn’t high school give you enough drama to deal with?

Even though it seems like EVERYONE is doing it, a recent survey of American high school students revealed that only 47 percent of students have reported having sex. That means that 53 percent have not and a good 20 percent of the non-virgins were lying just to look cool.

To my daughter and the rest of the class of 2018 – You have my permission to live for today and not freak out about what may or may not happen down the road.

Go to football games AND the girls’ basketball games. Be in the audience on the school play’s opening night. Don’t run away from the yearbook photographers. Get to know your teachers.  Do your best.

Oh yeah, and hug your parents every once in a while. That will help us get through the next four years, too.

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