Thursday, October 31, 2013

These Questions Need Some Teeth!

Perhaps I'm being too dramatic and reactionary here, but a recent experience has really pissed me off.  While in a training, the presenter passed out what they claimed was a Smarter Balance sample question for writing.  The prompt asked, 3rd graders, to "write two to four paragraphs describing and comparing different tooth traditions.'

What the hell is a 'tooth tradition?!'  These ridiculous tests have the potential to have significant impact on the children to who take them, and the teachers who bust their asses to better them.  Peoples entire careers can be affect by these test results and this is how they assess?!  Tooth traditions?!

Students of affluent backgrounds already generally do fine on these tests.  It's often children of impovershed backgrounds that struggle.  So why are we stacking the deck against them with questions like this?

Several years back we had a boy who was having such severe tooth pain that another teacher and I drove him to a free dental clinic.  He was in 4th grade and had never been to a dentists.  He had teeth that were literally rotting in his head, were infected, and that need to be pulled immediately.  Is that the kind of 'tradition' the test writers are after?

A couple years ago one of the principals in my district delivered a Christmas tree to one of our families.  The children cried and hugged him- refusing to let go.  They'd never had a Christmas tree before.  I find it difficult to believe that families that can't support one of the most common American holiday traditions, have an abundance of background knowledge on traditions of teeth.

I'm obviously aware of the tradition of putting a tooth under your pillow and having the Tooth Fairy leave you some money.  But this simply isn't a traditional for all.  Schools and churches collect canned food, toys, mittens, coats, soap, etc., all holiday season because of the volume of families who need them and can not afford them.  It is fair to conclude that many of our families do not have the means to place money under their young childrens pillows when they lose a tooth (or won't if they work nights, are neglectful, or gone from the child's life altogether).

Sure, a great writer could read a couple passages and depending on what knucklehead is scoring the test, probably 'pass' it (I barely know what means anymore).  However, there is no doubt that having a background in having your mommy sneak in and put money under your pillow each time your lose a tooth gives those students a profound edge in succeeding on this question.  

But it's the teachers and schools who are failing the kids right?

Friday, October 11, 2013

He Knows If You've Been Bad Or Good...

My wife and my 1st grader have recently been banging heads about (among other things...) her completing her writing homework.  The other night, as has become par for the course, my daughter sat at the kitchen counter whining about it being too hard while my wife thundered away at her about how she needed to stop moaning and get her work done.  It was then her three year old sister injected, "You better do your homework or else Santa Claus will see you!"

After pausing for a moment, my wife thought to herself, "Hmm, maybe I can use this."  After nodding in agreement she added, "Yeah, and I have Santa's number.  If you don't get working right now, I'm calling him."  Well our sassy little six year old wasn't biting so my bride grabbed her cell phone, called her dad, and pretended to have a very disappointed conversation with the famous fat man from the North Pole.  After concluding her conversation, my wife threw the kid a look as if to say, "I didn't want to do that, but you made me" only to have the child come back with, "Come on mom, that was grandpa you were talking to."  This was starting to backfire.

Now backed into a corner, my wife needed a strong move to save this routine.  "If you don't believe me, I'll call him back and you can talk to him!"  With that she again whipped out her cell phone and began scrawling through her contacts.  She certainly couldn't call her dad back as grandpa's voice would be obvious.  Desparate, she called my buddy Kurt who I went to high school with and now enjoy frequenting local taverns with.

Kurt (5'9'', 160 lbs) doesn't have a creative bone in his body.  What I wouldn't have given to be a fly on the wall when he answered his phone and listened to my wife say, "Hi Santa Claus, Marie won't do her homework, can you please talk to her?" and handed the phone to my daughter (while praying he'd get it and play along).

After a long pause, and no doubt some supressed laughter, my pub mate hacked through a performance that would get you booed off a community theater performance. "Um, (lowering voice), ho-ho-ho, you better do your homework like your mommy says, or else I may not stop at your house this year!"

Sadly, the kid bought the whole thing and immediately completed her writing work.  The three year old of course went crazy and needed to talk to Santa as well thus necessitating my buddy continuing his performance a little longer.  

Hmm, I wonder if a conversation with Santa might help my tier 3 kids at school....