Monthly Archives: March 2013

Common Core Assessments & Teacher Evaluation Testing – Enough Already!


For the past few weeks, I have spent many hours in meetings with administrators, teachers, and parents discussing the changes that have been integrated into our schools since the adoption of the common core standards. We’ve talked about the “rigors” of the core. We’ve talked about the new focus on language in all subjects. We’ve talked about the new programs that the district has purchased to address the core. One thing we haven’t discussed very much – the assessments and the schedule.

It wasn’t until the other night, that I came across a tweet that linked to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) website. What I read shocked me. The pdf discussed the testing schedule for the 2014/15 school year. To my surprise and disgust, it said that there will actually be TWO PARCC tests scheduled for our children. Beginning in 3rd grade, our children will take TWO high-stakes tests per year –

A performance-based assessment (PBA) component, administered after approximately 75% of the school year, and an end of year assessment (EOY) component, administered after approximately 90% of the school year.1

When did this happen?  Add in test prep, when are these kids learning? When are teachers not prepping, benchmarking, and testing? When is enough enough?

Please don’t take this as an affront against my school or district. I have so much respect and admiration for the professionals teaching and running our school system. They work their hardest to provide the best education for our children every day. Because of the delicate nature of this subject, I asked not my children’s teachers but teacher friends (elementary school) about how public education has changed since the integration of common core standards and APPR (the NY State teacher evaluation system) assessments. The answer was unanimous – Dreadfully.

More than one friend reported teachers crying after school hours, once the children had gone home. They cry for the children and they cry for themselves. These professionals entered the field with a love of children and education. They were given opportunities for creativity, relationship building, and even some fun. Now their time is spent addressing common core mandated assessing and APPR  mandated assessments as well. Their districts are scurrying for the best common core aligned programs. Professional development can’t keep up with the changes. Throw in the economic climate; funds are tight for materials, professional development, and other resources. APPR also requires assessments throughout the year. The assessments are meant to measure the efficiency and skill level of the teacher on the backs of our children. And the worst part I learned – the children are feeling it. They noted visible stress-related behaviors like students crying, having bathroom accidents, and children vocalizing feeling sick.

To paraphrase an analogy from an article written about high stakes testing in Texas:

You can keep weighing the cow, but it’s not going to gain weight until you feed it.

The timing of this post seems perfect. Yesterday two amazing things took place:

1 – The Texas House of Representatives voted 145-2 to reduce high-stakes testing. The legislation reduces end-of-course exams from 15 to 5 needed for graduation from high school. The win is largely attributed to parent activism.


2- I was fortunate to watch a live Google Hangout discussion from Finland, discussing the success of the Finnish Educational System and what America can learn from their practices.  Finland, as well as South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore top the list of best global educations based on international test scores. One amazing difference between Finnish and American education is the absence of high stakes tests and test-based teacher evaluations.

For more information on Finland’s educational system  {} 1


Are There Benefits to Cutting Physical Activity in Schools?

“*** is considering cutting two or three physical education teaching positions and reducing the number of days it offers gym classes to high school students in an effort to manage costs.” A statement I heard on the news today, and many times before (many school names could start this sentence off).

There is the initiative, Let’s Move, by the First Lady, Michelle Obama ( and the mission to provide healthy foods for kids at school, yet I am amazed at how many times I hear schools cutting out recess and gym because of budgets or because they feel the need to increase class time.

I am not an expert – but I know that before I ask my children to sit and focus for any length of time, I need to let them run around a bit. It almost always guarantees me that they will behave and pay attention. On road trips, I stop and let them run every few hours; otherwise I will have endless battles. I cannot imagine a classroom of 20 kids or so is any different. As far as health, no one can argue, a healthy lifestyle is not simply eating right, but also exercising. If we are pushing for health – it is of equal importance that we teach both eating right and exercising.

Now there are plenty of studies (by experts) that prove that exercise is not only healthy for you physically – but also mentally. An article in US News quotes John Ratey, a Harvard Medical School psychiatrist and author “Exercise is the single best thing you can do for your brain in terms of mood, memory, and learning, even 10 minutes of activity changes your brain.”

They also go on to share, “high school students scored better on high-attention tasks after doing 10 minutes of a complicated fitness routine compared to 10 minutes of regular activity. (Those who hadn’t exercised at all scored the worst.)”

So how are we justifying cutting out physical activity in school??

Off-Site Parent Association Meetings = Big Returns

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This month we take our monthly home and school meetings “on the road”. Starting next week, we will hold our meeting at the local mosque, next month at the local boys and girls club, and in May, we will take it to the middle school that most all of our 6th grade students will attend next year.

Why do we do this? To extend a hand; open a door; earn another partner in our family and community engagement efforts. This is one of my highlights of the year. What motivates me to volunteer my time. I think its part of the “practice what you preach”. If we say we want to involve all parties in the partnership, then we need to prove it. We need to be willing to step outside of our 4 walls, listen to and learn about what others envision, and build the dream together. Going to a place of such importance to a portion of our families is amazing. I come away with a greater understanding as to why these families do or don’t participate in various activities that we host. (I say greater because I will learn more with each conversation, one time isn’t enough.) Later we are able to use that knowledge to build a calendar that better includes more of our families and earn us the support from a portion of our community that previously might not have been actively involved or felt they were part of the partnership.

How do we do it? Although it isn’t required, we use technology. By live streaming our meetings, all families can be a part of the meeting no matter where we are OR where they are. All both ends require is a computer with internet access. Are there other things you could include to make the experience better? Yes. You could add video and higher quality microphone. You could put together a PowerPoint presentation for those at home to follow along with you. But ultimately they aren’t required. You can effectively extend a hand and create new relationships by hosting meetings off-site without the technology. All you need is an open mind and genuine interest in getting to know more about others. Without the live stream, you do miss out on including those from home – but you are still creating those relationships…future partners in your home and school efforts.

If done with an open mind, meeting in a location other than the school helps include families that may not feel comfortable walking into the school or the group’s “territory” (or simply don’t have the means of transportation to go outside their neighborhood). Partnerships that might not otherwise be forged. As a PTA/PTO/HSA, shouldn’t creating and building partnerships be one of our primary goals? If you haven’t tried holding one of your meetings in a new location, I encourage you to try it.

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Twitter Chats – Why and How


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When the principal of my children’s school first recommended Twitter to parents, I honestly thought he was crazy. Twitter is for celebrities, students/kids, and people who like to foursquare check-in and Instagram, or so I thought. I remember the day I asked my co-President how she felt about creating a PTA Twitter account; she and I agreed to go for it. That began my Twitter education.

Once online, I quickly learned about Twitter chats. I was hesitant but intrigued by the concept. An online discussion led by moderators where participants from all over the world share ideas. I had to try it. After the first chat, I was hooked. #PTChat, a discussion between Parents, Teachers, Administrators, Student, and guest speakers, has become a weekly ritual I look forward to every Wednesday. Chats are great opportunities to see issues through a different lens. As a parent, this opportunity has been not only helpful but enlightening.

To begin, the easiest way to chat is with a third party app like Tweetchat or Tweetdeck. Both allow you to sign on through your Twitter account. By typing the hashtag (#) of your chat, you will be brought into the discussion.

When you first join a chat, it is a good idea to tweet that you are participating in a chat and that your comments will be pertaining to the questions and comments for the allotted time. Once there, you will be asked to introduce yourself. The moderator will then begin the chat with Q1 – question 1. The appropriate response should begin with A1 – answer 1. This way the discussion is more easily followed by participants. When you see the answers, you can choose to favorite, retweet (quote the post to your account), or respond to the post. Oftentimes conversations will linger throughout the discussion as more thoughts are shared in response to original answers to the questions. The more participants on the chat, the quicker the chat will move. This is one reason I enjoy reading the transcripts or Storify after the chat concludes.

If you feel overwhelmed or unsure of what to say, you can always log on and read the chat as an observer. There is no harm in seeing how things work before jumping in. That being said, I wholeheartedly believe that the more you participate, the more you gain.

Please share your advice and thoughts on Twitter chats here!

Participation Wanted…Reward Offered

wanted reward


I read a story today on PTO Today’s website about providing incentives for fundraisers and how effective they can be, and I have to say that not only do I disagree with the idea, but also with the true effectiveness.

Why is it that we need to be rewarded for doing something? I think constant rewarding creates a self-centered culture where we only do things if it can benefit us…not because it will make it better for everyone. By rewarding our children (and adults) for participating in each and every thing – they lose sight of the why. For parent associations, it’s the why are we fundraising? Why are we hosting a pasta dinner? Even if it isn’t clear – there is always a reason. Are you trying to raise money to give the kids a safer playground or are you hosting a pasta dinner to bring the families together and boost community spirit? Those reasons need to be highlighted. They are what is important…not the prizes. If you spend as much time and energy on building the excitement around the why one should participate as you do in promoting the prizes – you don’t need to cloud the purpose with rewards.

My thinking is, I love to go to things where I think I’m going to have fun (someone has convinced me that it will be worth my time). I also like the feeling of knowing that I have positively impacted someone or something. I don’t think I am alone with those. Attending or participating because I will enjoy myself or make a difference means I will do it with a genuine smile (you won’t need to drag me kicking and screaming). If someone has to offer me a reward, that to me means that whatever it is, it won’t be enjoyable. That one would not want to do this unless there is personal gain. I have formed a negative impression before it even starts. The likelihood of having a genuine smile is now slim to none. That impression, I believe, can single-handedly ruin an event. Rewards are short-term, they get people to join in this time – but if it wasn’t enjoyable, the chances of getting them to come back willingly (and thinking larger, getting them to join in leading future efforts) are slim to none.

This year, we only had 1 event/fundraiser with an incentive to participate (in prior years some incentives were offered). I asked at the beginning of the year for each chair to bring energy and excitement to their events. I can happily say that the events/fundraisers run by someone who was passionate about it, were a booming success. We had raised more money and had larger crowds. The ones that the chairs didn’t share the energy were the ones that drastically suffered. Ones that would make you think we need to offer a reward for joining in.

I say, instead of spending money to bribe people to support your causes…share with them your energy, passion and why. When people step up and contribute their time and money, recognize them with a thank you card, in person, on your school/associations website, blog or social media, or even a recognition board at the school. Let them know how much you and the kids appreciate their efforts and how they have contributed to the greater good. Making the school experience better for not only their own child, but all of the children.

A great video of a TED talk by Daniel Pink (thank you Public Speaking for Kids for sharing). The Puzzle of Motivation supporting this discussion of incentives provided for tasks completed.

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It’s Time to go for a Leadership Position in Your Parent Association


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In many PTA’s throughout the land, it’s that time of year again….time to nominate the next year’s executive board. It’s also time to sign up for committees and leadership roles throughout the organization.

If you have already held a position on your PTA, then you know the value of participating as a leader in your parent association. If you haven’t, here are a few things to think about.

Taking a leadership position provides growth and development opportunities. Organizing events, working with other parents in your community, and collaborating with school staff is a very fulfilling experience. The on-the-job learning is one you can really only get by doing it.

It allows you to see how things work. By stepping up your involvement in PTA, you get a behind the scenes look at how things run. You get to see how everything comes together, all the programs, fundraisers, and events.

It gives you a voice in how things are done. If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “Why don’t they do it this way?”-  this is your chance. Share your expertise and ideas. You also have an opportunity to decide what events and programs will take place in the coming year.

It provides opportunities to get to a new level. In my experience, joining the executive board introduced me to the next level of parent leadership, which is the district level. My eyes were opened to how all the schools in the district function, both independently and collectively. I also became involved in discussions about state mandates, budget, health & safety concerns, and more. These were topics not usually discussed in depth at our general PTA meetings.

Your school needs you! I’m assuming your school is like mine. Generally the PTA is comprised of a specific number of active parents who take on many responsibilities, wearing many hats throughout the year and their experience in the school. New members are always welcome and genuinely wanted! With new faces come fresh ideas.

I hope these reasons have inspired you to take the next step and reach beyond your current level of participation in your PTA. There are so many reasons to do so, and it will benefit your child, your school, and YOU!


A space for thinking, reflecting and sharing about education -- and the odd other thing...

Ingvi Hrannar

Icelandic educator, iPad 1:1 classroom, speaker & entrepreneur.

Penn-Finn Learnings 2013

Sharing our inquiries - March 23-30

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