Friday, September 19, 2014

Enough is enough!

Hey everyone!  Not sure if you have been watching the news lately, but there are some pretty amazing things happening that have to do with teaching... more specifically testing!  Sadly, the word "testing" is something we hear all too often in the world of education.  There always seems to be some new test, some better way to assess student growth, some new technology that will provide us with more accurate data... blah blah blah blah!  Don't get me wrong, I do believe there needs to be some form of accountabilty in education and some accurate way to monitor growth and academic progress.  The piece that's missing is "CONSISTENT".  This will be my seventh year of teaching and I feel as though there has been some new/different way of "testing" introduced every other year!  How can we accurately track growth if the tool we're using to measure with is constantly changing?  When I first started (back in the day haha) DIBELS was the primary form of assessment used in elementary schools in this county.  Then there was the FAIR test which all of us jokingly referred to as the "UNFAIR" test which supposedly indicated a given child's "probability of reading success".  Now our county administers the AIMSweb assessment.  Each of these tests were given three times a year and needed to be administered in a one-on-one setting.  Not to mention that on top of these state mandated assessments, we had our county mandated assessments (FCAs), weekly assessments, unit assessments, benchmark tests and ongoing progress monitoring.  In short, the time needed to test seems to be greater than the amount of time we have to teach! 

Well, my frugal friends, someone finally took a stand.  Someone finally spoke up.  Enough is enough!  It happened in Gainesville.  A kindergarten teacher at Lawton Chiles Elementary made headlines for refusing to give her little ones the computer based FAIR assessment.  You can read about it  HERE !  The teacher's name is Susan Bowles and ironically she was my mentor teacher while I was attending UF.  I knew then that she was an amazing teacher, and this just proves it!  She had the courage to stand up and say what we've all been thinking... enough is enough!  At the risk of loosing her job, she took a stand!  Because she worded it way better than I ever could have, this was the exact letter she shared on a social media site:
To the parents of the boys and girls in my class,

I wrote you a letter over the weekend to let you know that I am refusing to administer the FAIR test to your precious little ones. I had hoped to send you an email or letter, but it would not be professional of me or allowed by the district for a letter to go out letting you know that I am doing something that is a breach of contract and therefore...
against the law. I want you to know that for the 26 years I have been a classroom teacher, I have been a good employee, and have always complied with my superiors. I also want you to know that this is not in any way being done because our principal or superintendent are mandating these tests. This is a government issue. So this decision does not involve anyone I work for. It is an act of civil disobedience.

I am hoping for government change in policy regarding testing.
Here is the letter I comprised:

September 7, 2014

Dear Parents,

I need to inform you of a professional decision I have made which may impact your child this year. I have decided to refuse to administer the FAIR test to my students. As you might be aware, there is a lot of testing that goes on these days. Some information of which you may not be aware is how much instructional time is lost because of all the testing. You also might not have knowledge of how many assessments are required.

These are the assessments given in Kindergarten:
• Beginning of the year assessments given by classroom teachers to determine their knowledge of letters, sounds, phonemic awareness, sight words, number recognition and number sense. These are tests that all good Kindergarten teachers give. It is useful information for us to use in planning for instruction and in pulling small groups for instruction. Usually at this time of year at Chiles, we would have children in their reading groups. This year we have assessments mandated by the state which are so time consuming, it will be weeks before we can instruct.
• Baseline reading test from the Reading Street series (the county adopted reading program for elementary schools).
• FLKRS assessment – In the past this has been a checklist for determining how effective VPK (Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten education program) is. This year we were told to take anecdotal records by observing 45 performance indicators across five developmental areas. This is to be completed within the first 30 days of school. The demographics portion of this assessment is available online for teachers. The WSS (Work Sampling System) part where we enter data on the 45 performance indicators is not yet available. Monday will be the 15th day of school. Presumably they will have it up and running before day 30.
• FAIR testing – We have given the FAIR assessment in the past but this year it was revamped. It does provide useful information, but nothing significantly superior to what a typical Kindergarten teacher would observe in her students. This year, it is more time consuming and more difficult. Kindergartners are required to take it on the computer using a mouse. (While testing a child last week, she double-clicked which skipped a screen. This little girl double-clicked three times and triple-clicked once. There is no way for the teacher to go back. Neither is there a way for the school administrator to go back and make a correction.) While we were told it takes about 35 minutes to administer, we are finding that in actuality, it is taking between 35-60 minutes per child. This assessment is given one on one. It is recommended that both teacher and child wear headphones during this test. There is no provision from the state for money for additional staff to help with the other children in the classroom while this testing is going on. If you estimate that it takes approximately 45 minutes per child to give this test and we have 18 students, the time it takes to give this test is 13 ½ instructional hours. If you look at the schedule, a rough estimate would be that it requires about one full week of instructional time to test all of the children. Our Kindergarten teachers have been brainstorming ways to test and still instruct. The best option we have come up with is for teachers to pair up, with one teacher instructing two classes while the other teacher tests one-on-one. So now we are looking at approximately two weeks of true instructional time lost, because we cannot teach our curriculum, pulling small groups and targeting each child’s educational needs. FAIR testing is done three times a year.


• Discovery Education tests. These are given four times a year.
• Chapter assessments in math, which give us information regarding how well the children have mastered the material.
• Math benchmark tests – There are three of these.
• Reading unit tests
• Beginning this year, end of course tests are required of all students K-12. These subjects will be tested on in Kindergarten: reading, math, social studies, science, music, art and physical education.

I think you can see this is not only a lot to ask of five year olds, it is also taking away hours and hours of instructional time. I am not opposed to assessments, and am for accountability in schools. But enough is enough. I keep asking, when will the insanity stop? When will someone speak up? God has put it on my heart that I am to take a stand. This means I may be giving up my beloved profession. I may lose the chance to delight in seeing the excitement and joy that comes from meaningful learning. I will no longer be able to say, when speaking of salary, “I’m rich in hugs”.

I especially want to apologize to each and every one of you, for the disruption this may cause your dear children if I am replaced by a teacher willing to submit to giving these tests. Even though I have only been their teacher for a short time, they have captured my heart. When asked about my job, I have always told people I have the best job in the world. Words cannot express the depth of sadness I feel in possibly giving it up.

Thank you for reading such a lengthy letter.

In gratitude,

All I have to say after reading that is Amen!!!  Speaking from my own experience, I can recall many times I sat with my collegues during collaboration meetings or after school and we all complained about the testing, the amount of testing, and the frequency of testing.  But complaining to each other, although at the time was a good way to release some stress, did absolutely nothing.  Our complaints weren't heard by anyone but each other!  I am so proud and envious that someone (someone I actually know haha) spoke loud enough to make a difference!  Mrs. Bowles gained the immediate attention of the local news and then word quickly spread and she was featured in a column in the Tampa Bay Times . Then on to Fox News where her voice could be heard by the masses. 

Through it all Susan made it known that this is not an issue with the principals or even the superintendent... this is bigger... it is a government issue.  She has gained an abundant amount of support from fellow teachers and school administration as well as parents.  She encourages us to write to state legislators and voice our own experience with testing.  Hopefully in the end of all of this the voices of teachers and parents will speak louder than the voices of test vendors! 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Weekend fun!

Hey there!  We hope all of our frugal followers are enjoying their weekend!  It's overcast here in Florida but it hasn't started raining... YET!  Hopefully we don't have a repeat of last weekend when the clouds decided to burst open right as the Florida Gator game was about to start... which after a several hour delay ultimately led to the game being canceled!  BOOOOO!  We were all sporting our orange and blue with delicious appetizers and drinks in hand, eagerly anticipating the first game of the season but ended up around the coffee table playing board games! Of course, we still enjoyed our amazing apps and bevs!  Here's a little glimpse of our food spread... dee-lish-us!  We made a layered taco dip, bacon wrapped jalepeno poppers, mozzarella caprese, buffalo chicken dip, and a fruit platter (you know, to keep it healthy haha)!  Best part of football season is the food!!! 

The boys are actually in Gainesville this weekend to watch the Gators beat Eastern Michigan live at The Swamp (the Gator's stadium).  Tyler's still to little for his first tailgating experience so him and I will be watching from the couch in our living room.  He's all smiles in his Gator onesie!  Kick off is at 4:00 and we'll be playing our own game of where's waldo looking for daddy in the crowd! 

In other news... yesterday marked the end of Melissa's third week of school.  I'm thankful to still be at home enjoying every second with my little one who officially turned 1 month old yesterday as well!  I can't believe he's already one month old... where has the time gone!  Melissa got him these adorable monthly stickers so I can have my own mini photo sesh at home!  Love them!  I'm excited to get back into the swing of things at school but not so much looking forward to leaving him!  I seriously have watched so much TV this summer, it's a little ridic!  I think I've watched every episode of Criminal Minds... twice! haha I also started a new Netflix series called The Killing!  If you like suspenseful, crime solving, mystery type shows, you'll love it!  I'm almost all the way through Orange is the New Black as well!  I wasn't kidding when I said that I've watched way too much TV this summer! haha  But in my defense, it has been an extremely rainy and incredibly hot summer, not to mention I was preggo for half of it and being a mommy the other half!  Many of our pool days got rained out and I wasn't big on the idea of sportin' the baby bump at the beach so this has been a low key kind of summer for me! That is, until this little guy made his debut!   

Its been so hectic with the start of a brand new school year and a newborn at home that Melissa and I haven't gotten to chat as much as usual and I know she's really missing me!  haha And of course, I'm missing her too!  We finally got to meet up for dinner and drinks and some much needed girl talk with some of our favs!  It's was so nice to get out and catch up with these lovely ladies and just relax after a long stressful week!  We talked school, life, love, babies and just had a grand ol' time!  So thankful for amazing friends!
I'll be heading back to school at the end of this month and will need a jumpstart to get back into my morning routine... COFFEE!  Old habits never die! haha Speaking of coffee... I spotted this little advertisement floating around on Facebook the other day.  I'm not sure if every Dunkin' Donuts is honoring this special but I'm definitely going to check it out next time I roll through the drive thru! It was sooo incredible hard to kick my coffee habit back when I found out I was pregnant, but I've been doing okay without it!  Life DOES go on without coffee... who knew!  I am looking forward to my first ice coffee on my first day back... a definite must have!  ANDDDD... pumpkin's back!!! Woohoo!

Well people, it's just about 4 o'clock!  Do you know what that means?  You guessed it!  It's football time!  I'm off to watch the Gators!  Enjoy your weekend everybody!!!


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