Teaching for The Test … Standardized Testing Fallout

ImageWe live in a state where education is beyond complex and it seems as if each year the State Dept. of Education, to justify its own existence, has to make some sort of sweeping change that has a domino effect across every school district.  Now, we have a superintendent who has added his own system on top of the State’s and I really don’t see where teachers have any time whatsoever to teach, discover or even get to know their own students.  It is like they live in a pressurized bubble.

When I graduated high school some 20+ years ago, I graduated with the highest diploma available at the time and was considered the “college track.”   Just a few weeks ago I sat down with Bella and her guidance counselor to go over a plan of her next four years and to understand the graduation requirements, etc. In one generation the requirements for a college track diploma in this state have gone insane.   Add this to the Standardized Testing, the superintendent’s plan and the State Dept. of Education’s expectations, it is no wonder there is a movement across the country to opt your children out of these insanely expensive standardized tests.

If you simply Google “Opt Out Standardized Testing” you will get an overload of sites out there, some national, some state-wide and other local, that are spreading the word about taking a stand against these expensive tests that in reality tell us very little and generate billions of dollars in revenue to the companies who design the tests.  The pressure that is put on these students and teachers is insane.  My daughters are scheduled to take some big tests next month and already they have after school help sessions, study sheets, packets, etc. all geared toward these tests.

Here is the bottom line, for me anyway, if you teach to the test and focus so much time and effort into students getting the best scores possible, aren’t you defeating the purpose of the testing in the first place?  If we want a true,, honest measure of what they know then there should be no exam prep or specific information about what the test covers except in very board and general descriptions.  Only then can we really measure what a child knows vs. what has been shoved down their throats and is being temporarily stored in their short term memory until three minutes after they walk out of the testing room.  My real fear is that these types of situations are only going to become more frequent.

Far too often people want to treat kids as just young adults.  They’re NOT!  Not cognitively not physically and certainly not emotionally.   Furthermore, these tests do not have any kind of impact on students’ grades; they are solely for the purpose of the schools at the local and state levels to gauge their performance.  Since schools and districts are regularly caught red-handed fudging numbers to the State and Federal Departments of Education, our kids have now become the sacrificial lambs of adults who have no moral compass.  For fear of losing their job or those around them, they provided misinformation and now our kids are paying the price.  Instead of punishing districts who provide false information, because, ya know that would be embarrassing, we now spend billions on standardized testing.

Taking into consideration all of the formal class time taken away from the regular curriculum to prepare, study and practice for these tests, the only one really losing out is the student. We keep pushing irrational expectations on our students and once we have them indoctrinated into these State tests some detached administrator at the State Department of Education is going to say, “Hey!  Look how well they did with this.  They are capable of much more!”  Then it becomes a new challenge to change the state curriculum, change the graduation requirements, change the testing expectations and generate new standardized tests … all so the people at the State Department of Education can justify their existence.

And what do you think the kick backs are for these administrators from the testing companies? All at the expense of our kids.

Mine will be opted out and will refuse to take the exams.  That is just the way it is going to be.

Advertisements

Wow! Finally – Down Shifting!

ImageWe have had a whirlwind weekend at Chez-Oz!  Friday evening consisted of a very important hockey game which, due to a totally awesome victory, lead to a road trip the following day for a championship game.  Not to mention the excitement for Mia’s karate belt graduation on Saturday.  And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the resurrection of Mia’s iPod thanks to some savvy techs at the local repair shop.  The poor thing had been without it for close to three months and is now the definition of a happy camper.

Once her graduation was over she and I hopped in the car for an overnight “roady”, as the hockey lingo goes, to a beautifully placid place for the hockey championships.  Bella was away for the weekend with a friend and her family so she missed out on all the craziness but had, in her words, “a total blast!”

As if that weren’t enough, after the devastating loss in hockey we were up bright and early to get back home for a family birthday party.  Am I done?  Ohhh no!  Once we made it to the party we came home to pick up Bella and finish a school project that Mia was supposed to have worked on with a classmate.  (Why oh WHY do teachers insist on group projects?)  After multiple attempts at trying to get her classmate to finish the project, we just decided to ditch the classmate and finish it ourselves.

After running to the crafts shop to grab a few last minute things for the project, we come home Sunday around 6 pm to a phone message from said classmate’s mom begging us to meet up at her office to finish the project.  I stood my ground but not wanting to ruin things for Mia, I caved and we went and spent over two hours finishing up that blasted project which, of course, the mom, Mia and I worked on while the classmate “played.”

I so just wanted to take a nap this morning but the busy weekend left the house looking like a Kansas tornado blew through so here I sit wanting nothing but a nap as I clean, pick up and reminisce over a totally awesome weekend!

On a side note, last week I sent an email to Bella’s PE teacher to thank him for going the extra mile in a unit they are doing because he made sure he tracked down equipment that would fit Bella’s size.  Here is his response;

” It is my pleasure, I admire Bella for her effort to always do her best
without excuses. She remains positive when many students would give up. I
will always do whatever I can to support her efforts. Thank you for the
kind words …”

After reading that, I suddenly don’t feel so tired …

I’m Probably Going to Hell for This …

Image…but I had to laugh this morning.  There is a teen in our community who has a horrible illness that could have been life-threatening yet it was caught early and the doctors are confident that this teen has a 100% survival rate on kicking this disease’s ass.  The treatment sucks and the child is on various meds, missing a lot of school, etc. but in about four to six months, will be completely fine.

I know the mom must be going through hell and all the running to doctors and the hospital for treatment has to be a royal pain (been there!) but … you’re child is going to be fine!  The mom is part of the same group of people that I deal with on a regular basis who I have to treat almost like children to get them to understand that when it comes to Bella you need to remember certain things; 1)  You can’t pull on her limbs 2) Her arms aren’t long enough or strong enough to absorb the impact of a fall – it will be her skull that will take the brunt of it.  3) The closest hospital with the staff that knows how to operate on the head of a child with dwarfism is over five hours away.  I could go on and on but you get the idea.  If you are a parent of a child with dwarfism, you know the drill.

Yet, I can’t help but want to wave the “HELLLLLLLLO!” flag at this mom over her recent comments about being concerned about her suffering from PTSD once all of the trauma of this medical event with her child is over.  She said, “Everyday it’s something,” Really?  No shit? Welcome to my world!  (Yes, I said, “shit” it won’t happen again).

Not that I am screaming for attention here but other parents with kids with special needs don’t have the luxury of knowing that they just have to hold it together for a few more months and life will go back to some semblance of normalcy.   There will be emotional scars, sure, but for the most part, it will be all over.  Moms like me will never even grasp what that light at the end of the tunnel is even like, it just simply isn’t an option for us.

I know I am being irreverent here but I am just dumbfounded at how myopic people can be.  I really have to wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that we have always kept Bella’s situation within our family and close circle of friends.  If she has something going on medically, or potentially going on, we don’t go posting it all over Facebook to make people feel sorry for us or to tisk, “Oh! That poor family!”  It is our cross to bear and I am doing what needs to be done for Bella and no one else needs to know about it because it is just water cooler fodder for them.   If you need to be in-the-know, I will let you know!

I know that this mom is most likely just having a weak moment where she felt sorry for herself and made those feelings public.  I know that she is right in the middle of the storm with the medical side of her situation with her child and can only see how things affect her and not vice versa – please – don’t think that I am heartless.  I can totally understand where she is coming from but to be worrying about having PTSD when this is all over?  Come on!

I just wish people could take the time to realize that all of those kids with special needs that they pass in the store, at the mall or even at the hospital, have parents that live with whatever the condition may be, everyday …. forever.

(Thank you for letting me vent today!)

My Mia: My Gift from God

ImageAfter realizing that many of my posts deal with Bella as of late, I thought I would dedicate this post to Mia.  While Bella is at the beginning of a very volatile time in her life, Mia is at a very solid, comfortable place in hers.  Yet, that wasn’t always the case.  From the time she was very young, Mia preferred to play alone and be by herself.  She seemed more content that way.   As she grew older and started school, some social issues began to pop up and academic ones as well.  Everything really came to a head when her 4th Grade teacher came to me and told me that she was very concerned about Mia.   I won’t bore you with the details but once she was tested and her diagnosis of Central Auditory Processing Disorder was confirmed.  It seemed to truly help her and us to be able to put a framework to her uniqueness.

Mia was named after my grandmother and let me just tell you that my grandmother was one of my best friends.  I loved and adored that woman so much and losing her in the early 90’s was the most devastating event of my life.  When Mia was a toddler, she would look up sometimes and it was as if my grandmother was in her eyes.  Her physical features and some of her facial expressions are exactly like her great-grandmother’s.  In fact, a cousin was visiting once and I had told him about Mia’s expressions that were just like our grandmother’s.  He was on the floor playing with her and out of the corner of my eye I saw him almost jump out of his skin, startled by something.  I looked at him and he just shook his head.  Later he told me that he saw the expressions I had told him about and it was as if our grandmother was right there looking at him.

Now, I am not saying that Mia is the reincarnation of her great-grandmother, I don’t believe in reincarnation.  What I do believe is that God knew how much I missed my grandmother and he gave me a little piece of her in Mia.  He allowed the physical characteristics that were in our gene pool to be prominent in Mia to remind me everyday of my grandmother.

About a year and a half ago, Mia began to grow academically, socially and personally.  She and I were always very close because I seemed to understand her when those around her didn’t.  When Bella would be “kidnapped” by my mom for a few days at a time over the summer, Mia and I considered those days as “Mommy and Mia Days.”  We would do fun things that she wanted to do, go places and spend time together.  This was a wonderful time and it built an amazing foundation for us and that trust and comfort that we established then has allowed her to confide in me and flourish over the past year or so.

We understand her learning issues and know how to combat them now, we understand her social quirks and are well on our way to ironing them out and she has made amazing strides academically in the past year.  Yet, while I may take credit for some of these strides, I need to give credit to that one piece of the puzzle that, when it was finally put in place, made Mia one of the most incredible pre-teens I know.  That piece was karate.

Mia hated anything that was competitive; board games, card games, video games – if it was an activity that had a winner and a loser she wanted no part of it.  We tried exposing her to extra-curricular activities and while she would participate in them initially, once they began to get competitive she wanted nothing to do with it.  I cannot tell you how many flyers came home form school and each time I asked, she would say she wasn’t interested.  The day the flyer came home for karate though, I almost didn’t ask her but that little voice, which I am sure was God, told me to ask anyway.  I will never forget the smile on her face as she stood in the dining room with her arms raised in the air, “YES!”

This coming weekend she will be graduating to her 5th belt level and she has become one of the leaders of her class.  We are at the dojo at least five nights a week and I cherish every moment because she is so happy there; she is in her element.  She loves everything about it because they emphasize personal growth and getting better on an individual level and the competitive nature of the sport is gradually built into what they do.  The instructors are fun, well-trained and create an environment of positive motivation for the students and the kids have such respect for them – when one of them compliments Mia on how well she did something the smile on her face makes me tear up almost every time.  All that runs through my mind is, “Thank you, God!”

Karate spills over into all aspects of her life because they also teach her life skills as part of the program.  She works hard everyday at school and knows that because of her CAPD she has to work a little harder, yet through karate she has learned that hard work pays off once you put in the time and efforts necessary.  She is well ahead of those of her generation who expect things from life without putting in the work ethic required to earn those rewards.

Two years ago you would have regularly found me in tears, worried about Mia’s future and how she would survive in this world.  Today I cry as well, but for the opposite reason!

And People Wonder …

Diana hard at work apparently …

As is quite clear of late, my give-a-damn is busted.  Often times when you have special needs kids the loop with medical care, specialists and medical opinions can seem never ending.   We try our best to stay on top of things, to make sure medical offices have all the paperwork, that insurance companies have prior approval of appointments, etc.  We make follow up calls, emails and send letters making sure everyone is on the same page so that appointments go as planned.

Well, back in August of last year, I started to get paperwork moving for an appointment that is next month for an out-of-state specialist for Bella.  I was given a contact person and told to exclusively work with her.  Well, after FOUR separate emails that all received out of office automated replies back and no action whatsoever from her I had to go over her head twice to get her to do her damn job. Then this morning after another email to the powers that be, I find out that last week information was sent to the wrong doctor (and the doctor’s office not even questioning why they were getting the paperwork), and now new people are joining in after I go over the head of my initial contact and now am having to dig through my files to find paperwork that has been misplaced.

Yeah, as one friend on Facebook wrote this morning, “We should all be thankful that you have hockey as an outlet, otherwise there would be a trail of bodies behind you!”  Couple this medical nightmare with the BS from the last few weeks with my extended family, it really is a miracle that I haven’t killed anyone yet.  I just got off the phone with my mom and told her this whole sorted story and she laughed like crazy when I told her that our old pediatrician (the one who got sent files erroneously) should thank his lucky stars that I hadn’t showered before taking the girls to school because I would have been in his waiting area talking loud and letting every parent in the room know what a hack they have as a pediatrician for their child.

Now, just a few moments ago, I get a call from the specialists office, asking for some info to set up the appointment that I have been trying to get set up since AUGUST!  The nice girl Courtney said that Diana had called her this morning and asked her to call me to set things up.  I will give you all one guess who Diana is – ding ding ding – you guessed it, the one who was my point of contact whose email apparently only send out of office replies.

I sat for a moment and wondered why Diana was suddenly doing her job … then it hit me!

I guess that veiled threat of printing out the email thread and sending it to the Board of Directors of the hospital with a chronology of events did the trick!

Oh!  What a surprise, the present pediatrician’s office just called, they got the paperwork they needed and have forwarded everything to the insurance company – the decision should be in by early next week – shocker!

Does Your Family Think Less of You?

While the world around us is ripe with outcries against social injustices, people crying racism, ageism, bigotry, sexism, hate, etc.  I have been regularly taking a good hard look at how my family treats me, compartmentalizes me and sees me.  It is hard to even type but for a multitude of reasons, the most significant one being that both of my children have special needs, based on their actions and words, I have been made to feel less in the eyes of my immediate and extended family.

I honestly would have never thought it would come to this but I really do think it has.  It has everything to do with the fact that everyone wants their life to appear as a Christmas card – everyone handsome, well-dressed, smiling and uniformly looking like the perfect all American Family.  That is the opinion and perspective that most people want to emanate to those on the outside looking in.

We as a culture have an insatiable appetite for Hollywood stars and their glamorous lifestyles and seemingly perfect lives.  If only we looked like them, had their money, our lives would be perfect – or at the very least, much better than the lives we have now.  I don’t know about you but my Facebook timeline is constantly jammed with comments about reality shows and completely unrealistic TV shows about people who have everything and still want more.  While some may crack up at all of the dysfunctional family TV shows on these days, they only want to see it on TV, not in their own family tree.

Well, I live in reality and refuse to live my life by these terms and because of it, I often feel that I am being marginalized, often by my own family because we aren’t that Christmas card family.  We live our lives around the needs of our children, drive older cars and don’t dress like we walked out of a fashion magazine every time we walk out of our house and don’t live via credit cards.  Good Lord!  We actually live within our means and don’t try to appear to be anything more than what we are – a middle class family with two special needs kids trying to do the best we can with what we have.

Yes, I wear jeans and T-shirts most days because that is what is most comfortable for me.  Let me say this for the 5,000th time – I have no one to impress.  I can’t even remember the last time I went on a specific clothes shopping spree for me because we simply can’t afford it.  If I need something, I get it when I need it and that’s it  This lifestyle works for us but it seems to make my family think less of me – even at times my parents.

I see the look in their eyes all the time, they see the smart, intelligent and highly educated daughter they raised who had the world as her oyster when she was 28 years old and now they see a tired, often worn down woman whose choices they respect but really can’t brag about with their friends.   I have often been hurt by things that my mom says to me about her friends kids and how successful they are, their nice homes, new jobs, exotic vacations and then my mom will turn around and tell me, “What do I have to brag about?”

You see, while she respects my decision to stay at home to do what is best for our daughters, she cares about what others think and in our day and age it’s all about what you can brag about.  No one gets excited over the fact that her daughter has two special needs kids and stays at home – they only give her the “oh that’s too bad” look and that stings her.

She keeps telling me that she can’t wait for me to get my life together and make something of my life.  Caring for her granddaughters apparently isn’t good enough.  And I see these same looks in the eyes of other family members when we show up for family events.  While they are genuinely happy to see us, and don’t get me wrong, my family loves us, I just feel that we make them uncomfortable at times because we aren’t the picture-perfect Christmas card family.

Because they think less of me, they do treat me differently, that there is no doubt about.  I am the first one many of them come to when they need a favor or someone to go the extra mile for them because they know that my mindset as a special needs mom is one of self-sacrifice and that I am a pro at putting everyone else before myself.  If they need something researched online, writing done, errands ran during the day while everyone else is at work, etc.

Yet, here I sit today with a family funeral on the horizon and I almost don’t even want to go because I don’t want to be an embarrassment to them because what other people think is more important than how I feel.  They want to show the perfect happy family to everyone on the outside looking in … and my family isn’t aesthetically pleasing, I see it all the time when their eyes dip down for a moment or when I run into them in public and they just introduce us by our names to their friends, not mentioning the fact that we are related.  It hurts but at least they are being real.

Be Good Anyway

Image

It is often times hard to raise kids because every family has a different value system and when there are conflicts between your child and another one of their peers there are a litany of issues that come into play.  Unfortunately, when you are a parent who sees things as black and white, right and wrong, other parents are looking at the big picture and how their handling of an issue with their child will affect their position or social standing.

For the past year or so we have had an issue with the daughter of someone who holds a visible position in our church.  This girl had been bullying Bella and several other girls in their age group. It has been a rocky road and the things that this girl’s parents have done and said would get the entire church in an uproar or should I say, it should.  Like it or not there are cliques within a church and when you have kids with special needs, you aren’t going to be part of that perfect Christmas card family that everyone wants to portray every Sunday morning.  

We brought our issue to a select panel of church leaders and while I was told I did nothing wrong with bringing my concerns to these parents, after meeting with us both, it was decided that each family should deal with the issue separately using it as a teaching moment for each of the girls, etc.  We were also asked to not discuss it with anyone outside of the panel and our individual families.

I have watched Bella be marginalized and often ostracized because of what this girl and her parents have tried to do to us.  It has been very hard for me because it has affected me as well. It seems that our family is the only one who respected the panel’s wishes that we not discuss it beyond those already involved. This past Christmas the mother, without mentioning my name, told a room full of women from the church about how someone “went after her daughter” and that she “fought back hard and was filled with hate towards this other mother.”  A close friend of mine, another mom, was in the room during this Christmas event and was floored that this mom was ignoring the panel’s request to not discuss the issue further and basically using a public forum with a captive audience to slam me without my knowledge.  

I have struggled finding a way to explain and justify all of this to Bella.  We have talked about it over and over again and I have watched her so-called friends transition from being Bella’s friends to being the bully’s friends because of who her parents are.  The bully’s mom has told other moms to keep their daughters away from Bella and I have watched my daughter and the rest of our family shunned for the most part by people in the church.   Yes, I know it is time to find a new church but in the mean time, Bella has decided that she wants to stand her ground and stay to make a point.

She made this decision because of this poem that I shared with her that Mother Teresa apparently had on her wall in her room in Calcutta …

Mother Teresa’s Anyway Poem

People are often unreasonable, illogical and self centered;
Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.

What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
Build anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.

You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God;
It was never between you and them anyway.

So, Bella has decided that no matter what others say or do, she is going to “be good anyway.”  Every morning when I drop her off at school with the sharks, I yell out the window, “Remember, Be good anyway!”  She always smiles back at me.  Her strength is a marvel.