Monday, December 5, 2016

The True Costs of Assessment

Dear Texas Education Agency,

I am a mom. I am also a 24-year servant of public education, but first and foremost, I. AM. A. MOM.

And it is as a mom that I write to you today.

This week was created by you, and yet, no matter how many times I have seen you mess up and hurt the schoolchildren of Texas the last 3 decades, you've really outdone yourself this time.

Do we need assessment of the progress of schoolchildren in Texas? 

Do we need some kind of quality control to ensure that the curriculum and instruction in Texas is at the level it needs to be to produce the kind of graduates our world needs? 

But do we need to do it at the expense of every shred of hope and dignity that our children (and staff) have? Absolutely not.

This week is EOC Retest week, so what that means is that every high school student who has not already passed one of your MANDATED end-of-course- assessments will test this week. And if those students have not passed more than one, then yes, they will test in multiple areas this week.

It does not matter that these students passed the course. It does not matter that the teacher to whom we entrusted them for 9 months deemed their work worthy of a passing grade. What matters (in your eyes) is that on one random day in May, they did not meet YOUR passing standard of a 50-something question exam (intended to assess a 9-month course).

So now, during the week of Dec. 5, they retest.

Oh and did I mention that they retest in subjects that they have not had since LAST YEAR?
Yeah, that's fair.
Yeah, that's right.
That's totally in the best interest of kids. (Yes, Sheldon, that is sarcasm.)

I am the mom of 2 such kids.

However, one of my kids "only" has to face 1 test this week while my other faces THREE.
THREE END-OF-COURSE TESTS in subjects he had LAST YEAR, and did I mention that he will face those three tests in the midst of all of his other schoolwork that is happening right now? You know...from the classes in which he is currently enrolled.

Can you imagine would it must have been like to be in my kids' heads this past weekend?!

Do you know what it feels like to have some 3rd party (yes, you, TEA), continually tell you that you are not good enough, even though your parents and your teachers keep telling you that you are??

                 Oh, to have the same kind of quality control over you....

But while I have your attention, let me tell you what else I think you've completely missed the mark on. 504. You've heard of it? It has been around for quite some time.....

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 Section 504 prohibits discrimination that is based upon a disability. Section 504 requires that a child who has a legal diagnosis and is attending either an elementary or secondary school is entitled to accommodations that will ensure their success academically.

Do you know the definition of the word ENSURE? Somehow, I doubt it.

Did you know that under our state assessment system, a dyslexic kiddo, who gets oral administration on his assessments, can ONLY HAVE his questions and answer choices read to him? NOT the reading passages... Yes, because his dyslexia only rears its head when he's faced with questions, not with 2-page long reading passages. WHAT?!

Look up illogical in the dictionary and I am sure that the above graphic from the TEA Assessment Guidelines will be there as an illustrated example.

We, as parents, and we, as educators, faithfully fight the apathy and frustration that our students feel on a daily basis. But the apathy and frustration was not created by us. It was created by you.

My sons know that I believe in them and their abilities, but my heart BROKE this morning when my dyslexic son said, "I promise I will do my best on reading and science this week, but you may as well get ready because I will not be able to pass algebra. I just want you to be ready when those scores come."

You caused him to quit before he even began.

Luckily he has me and an army of teachers and educators who love him and are committed to his success. He is in a fabulous school in a caring & committed school district that is determined that he will not fail. We will do our best to undo the damage you have done to him for so many years of his precious life.

But he's not the only one. Lord, no, he's not the only one.

Look at your state averages for measures of how successful your plans are. Look at what subgroups keep failing your assessments again and again. And instead of looking at our kids and our teachers and our schools to determine fault, I encourage you to stop by your local furniture store on the way home and purchase a mirror. That is where you will find the appropriate spot to place your blame.

a Mom, who will never stop advocating for her kids

Friday, November 25, 2016

Definition of Family

As the Thanksgiving season arrived and quickly ushered in the Christmas season right alongside it, I stopped for a moment to reflect on how many times I heard the word "family" used this week.

Why is it that the arrival of a holiday like Thanksgiving seems to always conjure up emotions and sentiments related to the concept of FAMILY in human beings?

You think that in the animal kingdom packs and herds and flocks all wait to talk to each other (or God forbid, care for each other) until a magical day in November arrives? Of course they don't, so what on earth is wrong with the human race?

Family is not a novelty that we pull out with our harvest-themed tchotchke or that we don along with our stockings and the lights that hang from our rooftops.

Family is a 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year commitment.
Family is not holiday-themed.
It not something you can renew with the purchase of a Hallmark greeting card. It is not something you can reclaim with your contribution of a crystal bowl of cranberry sauce. And it is not something you can even begin to understand if you truly think it's merely something associated with a day that the banks and post offices are closed.

So what is family?
Well, to start, it is laced with love and compassion.
It is frothed with worry and burden.
It is shrouded in unwavering commitment to be there no matter what.
It is a conscious choice that you make every single day to SHOW UP.
It is a crazy kind of love that allows you to love those that at times are incredibly unlovable.
It is what allows you to persevere through heartbreak and pain and really, really bad days.

It is not something you remember as that holiday favorite plays on the radio.
It is not something you rekindle as you walk into a house to see people that you have not communicated with in months.
And it is not something you get the privilege of celebrating just because Macy's flies a few balloons and the Cowboys put on their helmets to face the Redskins.
Family is not something you DO.

Rather, it is something you ARE.

Maybe I am naive or perhaps, a little bit cynical (or maybe a combination of both), but I refuse to stand by and let others claim the notion of "family" because they remembered to call someone on November 24th. What about the calls or connections that needed to be made on November 3rd or even back in the summer?

What about the kid or the parent or the sibling that needed you on a day that Hallmark does not officially commemorate?

I know all about physical separation; I know what it's like to live THOUSANDS of miles from your daughter, your sister, your mom...

I know all about not letting those miles become anything more than a physical separation between you and the people you love. Because family does not have anything with the place where you get your mail.

My family has evolved a lot over the last three years.

We've lost an irreplaceable mom.
We've added a very unique 😛son-in-law.
We've been blessed with a precious granddaughter.
And most recently, we've added two incredible sons.
And while I LOVE, hear me.... ABSOLUTELY LOVE... gathering around our Thanksgiving table, passing the turkey, dressing, and gravy with these 11 people, I love even more the fact that each and every one of them knows that on all the "days that are not Thanksgiving", I will be there for them.
For whatever they need.

Because I understand the meaning of family.

I claim it every morning when I awaken and place that first foot on the floor.
I live it every second of the day, to the point that sometimes they like me and sometimes, they just shake their heads at me.

But as they place those same heads on their pillows at night, they know.
In a world where most everything else is tenuous at best, they know I will always show up for them... on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the other 353 days that don't get them a day off from work and school.

Because that, my friends, is what families do.

PS: And they don't require anything related to DNA.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

12 seats at my table

Today is my most favorite day of the year. I love Christmas Eve, I love Christmas day, and I love the first day of spring, but none of these comes close to how I feel about Thanksgiving. 

I think it's because this day has nothing to do with buying gifts or paying money to go and see something. No, this day is 100% about family. It is about the honor of preparing all of our family's most favorite traditional foods and then watching the smiles on the faces of the people I love as they begin to taste each bite. 


I love planning a menu (that does not change much from year to year) and then shopping to make sure I have each and every ingredient to make each item just how they like it. I love the night before Thanksgiving, getting to check things off my Prep List and filling my fridge with things in the order of when they need to be pulled out the next morning.

I love making my oven schedule about when each thing goes in and when each thing is ready to come out, cooked to perfection. 

I love getting up when the house is dark and quiet to put that lovely bird in the oven and then opening that oven up every 45 minutes to baste that guy with a little Cajun love. 

And I absolutely love setting the table. I set the table for dinner every single day...just ask the boys... but today is different. Today we use ALL the dishes.  And today, for the first time, I get to serve "Kevin" (yes, that is what Corrie named our bird) on the FAMILY TURKEY PLATTER. It's been at my parents' house for years and years, but when we moved Dad to College Station this summer, the platter got to come home with me. I cannot wait to put "Kevin" on it. 

And today, I love the fact that in our family we have TWELVE people and today, at at my Thanksgiving table, I will have TWELVE seats. Everyone is here. No one is missing. 

Yes, our hearts ache for the physical absence of my mom, but man, she is here. 

She is here in my kitchen and at our table. She is here in my "Thanksgiving instruction sheet" she sent me 16 years ago as I prepared to make my first real Turkey dinner. And even though I know by heart how to make all the parts to this amazing meal, I still pull this page out and refer to it every single year. She was here last night as J, Campbell, Jess, Corrie, and I gathered in the kitchen to boil the giblets, chop the veggies, and bake the cornbread (and drink the wine!). She. is. here.  

So today, when I think about what I am most thankful for.... well, I am thankful for 12 seats.... 12 FILLED seats and the fact that today, on this one day out of our crazy busy lives, life is just as it should be

Happy Thanksgiving from the Crazy 12.
I hope you are as blessed today as I am.