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beforekindergarten

What your child REALLY needs before Kindergarten?
Schools out for the summer for the older ones and I bet many parents who are gearing up to send their kids to school for the first time are wondering what can we do to get them ready for Kindergarten. 
Alright, I’ve been doing lots of reading about this topic and every article I seemed to find said the same things. What I was finding was literally breaking my heart. So this is what I believe every child REALLY needs before Kindergarten. Don’t worry, I already know the Kindergarten teachers probably won’t agree with me and well, I don’t really care. ­čśś
1. PLAY 

  

      We are talking about babies still in the grand scheme of things. 3, 4, and 5 year olds are still so little. They need less worksheets, less flashcards, and more PLAY. I’m talking FREE, unstructured play. Let them move, explore, try new things, fail and learn. Play is how they learn. 
2. READ
   And by read, I don’t mean working on getting your little one to read by doing flashcards, memorizing words, or anything that makes your child sit and do worksheets unless of course your child actually likes doing those things. 
   No, what I am talking about is reading to your child. Read every chance you can get. Read lots of different materials like books, blogs, newspapers, magazines, signs, hell you can even read Facebook statuses ( appropriate ones of course ­čśé) or put the tv on mute and read the sub titles of their favorite show. Just read to them.
3. Get them OUTSIDE

  

    Go outside as much as possible. Let them run, scream, climb,and be able to feel the warmth of the sun, the breeze in their hair and the grass on their feet. Time outside will increase their ability to focus and all that fresh air will help them sleep better. 
4. Spend QUALITY time with them 
    Put the phones down, turn off the TV, leave work at work, and truly engage with your kids. Build that connection with them. 
5. Build Social Skills 
    Allow your child opportunities to safely and positively engage with new people of all ages. Get them involved with play groups, workshops at local museums/zoos, volunteer together, visit assisted living/nursing homes, etc. Get them around people of all different walks of life. This can help them to build social skills along with teach them empathy.
These are just a few things your kiddo needs before Kindergarten or school in general. So dear mama… relax. Your child will do amazing. ÔŁĄ´ŞĆ

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mstep-testing-parents-guide

It’s beginning to look a lot like testing season here in Michigan. State-testing begins next month for Michigan’s public school students. This a parent’s guide to M-STEP testing from a teacher’s perspective.

A Parent's Guide to M-Step Testing Title picture
What is the M-STEP?

The M-STEP tests are our yearly state-wide assessment in Michigan that measures how well a child has mastered the common core standards at their grade level. Essentially, the M-STEP is the old MEAP tests you may remember taking if you were in the public system in Michigan.

When does M-STEP testing begin?

Children in grades 3-11 will be given some form of a state assessment. The window for M-STEP testing begins in April and ends in June. The state dictates when each test will be given for each subject and for each grade level. Essentially, tying up a schools technology for the remainder of the school year.

What subjects are covered? 

It truly depends on the child’s grade level. Children are “required” to be tested over English-Language Arts which covers Reading, writing, listening, and research. In grades 5 and 8, there are two parts to the test. There is the computer test and a performance task. Grades 3,4,6, and 7 have just the computer test.

This test is a computer adaptive* test given at grade level. It’s key that you as parents understand this test is NOT given at your child’s individual reading level, but at their grade level. So if your child struggles with reading, this test will be an extra challenge for them. There is ZERO assistance from the teacher. They cannot help the child in anyway. No reading words, very limited help on student questions, and no defining words they don’t understand. Yes, accommodations can be given if they have a 504 Plan OR an IEP, but I will explain more about those later.

*A computer adaptive test will adapt to each individual child’s level. For example, if a child gets so many right, the questions will get harder and the opposite happens if they miss them. The test questions will get easier. Please don’t miss understand this though… the test questions regardless of level will still ONLY remain inside the child’s GRADE level. It will not adapt beyond grade level for children who excel and it will not come down grade levels for children who may be working below their grade level. It still is NOT a true representation of a child’s knowledge.

Children are also tested over math in grades 3-8 and it also is a Computer Adaptive test. It also contains a performance task on the computer which means children are asked to preform a question in order to show what they know. For example: children could be given a number problem and then they need to drag the correct number from a number box and insert it into the problem.

Science tests which are simply online multiple choice questions are given 4th and 7th grades. Social studies are also online multiple choice questions are given in 5th and 8th grades.

Who takes the M-Step?

M-STEP testing is required for students in grades 3-8th grades in public and public charter schools take the tests every spring. Non-public schools can elect to take the M-Step test, so this includes any private schools. Homeschool parents can also elect to take the test, but I’m honestly not sure why you would. I gathered this info from here.

What about High School students?

9th and 10th grade students take the P-Stats and 11th grade students take the MME which includes the SAT and M-STEP math and English Language Arts. To be honest, I don’t have a lot of info on these tests because I have no previous experience at the high school level.

What about Test Results?

First let’s begin by who scores the tests. Well, that seems to be a mystery at least to me. Michigan’s Department of Education’s website offers no links and after a quick google search the only info I seem to be finding is info about how schools preformed on the test. Hmmmm… interesting?

Is it the computer scores the test? If so, who is in charge of double checking the computer is scoring accurately? If not, then who? I know some test companies hire people specifically to score tests because I’ve actually personally have applied for these type of jobs since being home as well as have seen the ad on job search websites. If you have found info on this, drop the link in comments. Personally, as a parent I’d like to do more research on this. As a teacher, we were never actually told, but I do remember having to tell my students to remember they don’t who would be scoring their writing, so be detailed as possible.

When does test scores get released? 

The scores are released much faster now due to the online component. However, they are still released at the END of the year, so how is this really helpful for teachers. In my opinion, it’s not. The teachers won’t be able to adjust their teaching to help each individual student or group them because the year will be over.

What does the test results mean to parents?

Well, let’s look at test scores first. The children are scored on 4 levels. Not Proficient is the lowest score and this means the child is not performing near grade level. Think of this as a D grade. The next level is a Partially Proficient and this would be like a C grade. This means the child is slightly below grade level. The next level is Proficient, so this would be like a A. The child is mastering grade level content.Finally, the last level is advanced and this means the child is excelling past grade level content.

The thing about M-STEP testing results is neither the teachers nor the parents receive the exact questions they missed, so they can help the children with the concepts they missing. This also means we don’t know which ones they preform well on, so we can challenge them more in this area. The only thing both parents and the schools receive are info on the numbers. In fact, if your child takes the test you can be expecting a piece of paper printed with 4 different colors. Yup, in a world where budgets are tight the school will print out one test result paper on color for each parent. This seems like a crazy waste to me… but that’s my opinion.

Test Results for the parent's guide to Mstep testing
How to read test scores from the MDE

What If My Child Has Special Needs?

The M-STEP testing does allow for accommodations such as the computer reading some testing items, multiple day testing, testing in special ed setting, testing in small groups, and many others. This should be outlined in your child’s IEP.

There is also a different version of the test for those who children who are functioning much lower than grade level. This test is called the MI-Access.

However, I would just opt out my child from M-STEP testing altogether.

Can I opt my child out of testing?

YES and YES at least in Michigan! In fact, I highly encourage you to consider opting your child out, but first check with your state and district requirements. We have chosen to opt out our oldest. The process was very simple. Check out our blog on the process here.

The opt-out form for state testing
My best advice to you as a parent is educate yourself about state testing through your own research. Then consider what is best for your child. It’s our job as parents to stay informed and advocate for them.

I would love to hear what other questions you have or what other info I should add to our parent’s guide to M-STEP testing?

Resources:

http://www.michigan.gov/mde/0,4615,7-140-22709_70117—,00.html

A parent's guide to m-step testing title picture

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privatization-betsy-devos

Privatization means something  different to many. It means something different to the superintendent/school board who hire them to replace a service, the company who earns profits from the service, the people who are employed by the company and to the children and staff who interact with the company employees on a daily basis. The people who it should really mean the most to are the parents and tax payers of the school district. 

Privatization in the public schools

Here in Michigan, the privatization movement started to really take shape about 6 years ago. I was beginning my 2nd year of teaching in a new district when I first heard about the concept. The district had made the switch from school employed custodial staff to a privatized staff.

Along with district privitazing custodial staff, the RESD which oversees the entire county had privatized bussing. They weren’t alone, the district where I lived also hired out to a company to handle their bussing needs. It actually was the same company. 

So why do districts use privatization?

It comes down to simple math really. It’s more efficient or in other words it is cheaper. When the school hires employees directly, they pay higher wages, pay insurance benefits and offer a form of retirement most of the time. By replacing all the costs (aka as replacing the employee) with one lump sum to a company, they cut costs from their budget. 

Cutting costs in the public schools is super important. Why? Because funding from the government and student population have drastically decreased over the years. This is forcing school boards and superintendents to find ways to cut costs.

Benefits of Privatization?

Other than saving the district money, I don’t see any other benefits. I’m pretty sure the district could find other ways to help offset the costs starting with superintendent and assistant superintendent salaries. However, that’s a discussion for some other time. 

Privatization hurts morale of the staff and the community. The school system used to be a respected place to work that paid middle class wages, offered insurance and some form of retirement. Now those jobs have been replaced by low (minimum wage/poverty level) wages and may or may not offer insurance or retirement. This creates high turnover and even could lead to possible safety issues which both affect our children. 

Other issues? 

When I was in system, we found that the custodial staff was limited more on what they could do to help us vs. when they were school employees. I saw two amazing people lose their jobs simply for going above and beyond for helping the teaching staff. The company didn’t want them interacting with kids or helping us clean up after our popcorn sales. 

Wait? Did I just say they aren’t allowed to interact with the kids? Yup, I sure did. I would love to see the big wigs at the company be in the cafeteria with our little 5 year old kindergarteners asking them to help open milks or clean up their spills constantly just go on about their cleaning and ignore them.

They are often given unrealistic expectations with unrealistic time frames. This can create issues in the building that affects children. Classrooms might not be cleaned as well as they should be or even sanitized properly. The custodial staff who may want to do a good job feel pressure and stress from their bosses to fit it all in and won’t be allowed overtime to do an adequate job. The overtime which is an added expense for the company will not only ensure cleanliness in the classrooms, but also provide extra money for the low paid workers that truly could benefit their families. 

One last issue I want to address is what happens when the company continues to raise their rates? The district is either forced to pay more or replace the company with a new one. This means people without jobs, new employees around our children, and new expectations around the building. 

Not to mention, some companies provide different services which could create added expenses. For example when the district I mentioned earlier switched over to outsourcing, the district  didn’t realize the company didn’t cover plowing which the previous school employeed staff did. This meant the district had to scramble in December to find a separate plowing company to plow. Another added cost to the district. 

What does this have to do with DeVos?

Well, she and her other supporters of private/charter schools including our very own governor have been working tirelessly for years to defund and increase mandates that will allow our public schools to fail. These very mandates are an enormous reason why I couldn’t stay in public ed and at this point won’t be sending my children to public school.  These funding cuts along with declining populations and ever slow changing school systems have allowed for privatization of many important people to our schools. 

Where are we heading? 

Personally, I see a lot more outsourcing in the education world. Companies such as Edustaff here in Michigan have already taken over custodial staff and substitutes. I foresee more districts to follow the outsourcing path if they haven’t already. 

But what is really scary to me is I am thinking these companies will eventually take over our public school teachers. They will employee teachers at lower pay and maybe offer some form of benefits like 401K and a less than stellar insurance plan. 

Why do I think this? 

1. More profits for the company and it saves districts money. It’s a win/win for both the company and districts. 

2. During the Detroit Public Schools crisis, the government attempted to allow non-certified teachers to be allowed to teach in the schools. Systematically, the government is known for trying things in more poverish areas like Detroit to test their ideas before taking it mainstream. If companies take over teaching staffs, this very well could be part of what happens. After all, the districts already use scripted programs which make lesson planning and “teaching” a lot less complicated.

3. We are currently under a teaching shortage, so this maybe a way for them to combat the shortage. This could be especially true if they ever are allowed to hire non-certified teachers for the positions. 

In conclusion, outsourcing is bad for our schools, our community and even worse for our children. I’m sure districts could find ways to help offset costs by simply starting from the top down and finding ways to be more frugal (i.e. Doing away with all the useless busy worksheets or consumable workbooks that waste paper, energy to copy and money or finding ways to become more eco-friendly to save costs). We need our school leaders to start thinking outside of the box to save the public schools because EVERY child deserves the best education. 

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