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Superintendent
Dr. Teresa Thayer Snyder

Jim's Mission

Dr. Teresa Thayer Snyder

March 11, 2014

I want to thank everyone in the community for their patience and for their support during these past few months as my husband endured a brutal, but mercifully brief battle with cancer.  In his final illness, I have been frequently distracted, and I thank my administrative team and the faculty and staff for pulling together to keep this ship moving forward.  I thank the Board for understanding that my mind was frequently elsewhere. 

All that said, I wanted to talk to you a little bit about what I learned from forty years of being with my best friend.  My husband, Jim, was a kind, gentle soul—a simple man who loved simple things—our family, his dogs, our neighbors and friends—and thousands of children and young adults whom he met while running first, Big Brothers and Big Sisters and later the Siena Mentoring program, which matched Siena students to urban youngsters from Albany.  He was involved for close to fifty years, beginning back in the Civil Rights era, working with Fr. Peter Young and Bishop Howard Hubbard—who was then known as the street priest in Albany.  During this close to half century, literally thousands of youngsters grew up in the program, which included a summer camp at Siena, staffed by the “Bigs” from the Siena community.

He was a quiet unassuming man, with a ready smile—and a passion for justice and opportunity.  Because of his relentless pursuit of opportunity, dozens and dozens of children matured through the program, obtained college degrees and careers, and made lives better for themselves and their own families.  The response to his life’s work was so obvious in the difficult days of his wake and funeral—indeed, the amazing outpouring of gratitude and affection made those painful days bearable.

The essential message of my husband’s life reverberates in our many discussions about education over the years.  Children are saved one at a time.  It is the relationships between caring adults and individual children which make all the difference.  As educators grapple with the Common Core and as political pundits excoriate public schools and their teachers, it is vital that we in the field do not lose sight of what really matters—we make a difference in children’s lives, not by judging and by critiquing, but by being there for them, encouraging them to reach new heights and building their resilience when they fall down.  I have lived my life stating that a child can never be reduced to a test score and that we must never put ceilings on a child’s potential.  Jim’s “kids” reminded me of that so much during the past few weeks—messages from young adults stating things like “I don’t know why you put up with me at camp all those years, but because you did, I am in college…” or, from  a young man who dropped out of college several years ago who wanted Jim to know that he had returned and is getting his degree in the spring…or from a mom who stated that her son who is an honors student with a triple science major became a serious student because of being surrounded by the love that permeated the mentoring program .  When we speak of college and career ready, we must not let the political verbiage puncture the mission—it is one child at a time—it is about the quality of the relationships with caring adults-- it is about affirmation and challenge—it is about building resilience.  I learned this from forty years of watching children grow and thrive, in the face of social obstacles and inordinate pressures.  I learned this from countless conversations with children who were deemed at risk, but in whom my husband saw only hope.  It changed my life—thank you, Jim.

I Am Your Prefrontal Cortex!

Dr. Teresa Thayer Snyder

January 28, 2014

Recently while cleaning out files, my secretary discovered a district newsletter from February 1994.  It is always fun to review issues from previous decades, but this one was particularly enlightening as it could have been written today.  It addressed concerns about substance abuse.  “When you hear statistics about drug use in America, you may feel these don’t reflect schools like Voorheesville.  They do!  A suburban or rural high school is not immune to drug dealers, kids who want to experiment with drugs, and kids who use them often enough to become addicted.”  The article identifies reasons why kids use drugs:  peer pressure; feelings of insecurity; rebellion; experimentation; lack of judgment; having drug or alcohol abusing role models.  When my own kids were younger I used to tell them “I am your prefrontal cortex!”  That is the portion of the brain where judgment skills develop.  Interestingly, it is the last part of the brain that matures and commonly isn’t fully developed until a person is in the mid-twenties.  That is one of the reasons youngsters engage in many types of risk behaviors—they simply do not have fully developed judgment centers.  I am sure all of us can recall something we did in our youth that was risky, that makes us wince now and ask “What was I thinking??”—But that is the point, youngsters do not think about risks because of that immature prefrontal cortex.  One of the consequences of drug and alcohol engagement is it delays the development of the judgment center even more.

While we do not see massive drug involvement during the school day, we do encounter youngsters who are under the influence.  These students are dealt with according to the Code of Conduct.  If it is a matter of catching a student distributing, it becomes a police matter and we cooperate fully with the authorities.  Parents are encouraged to have a drug evaluation to determine the extent of student involvement with substances.  Outside-of-school usage is a concern.  We frequently hear about parties held in people’s houses, in the parks, in remote areas.  That is a community concern and requires community action.  

As we approach February 2014—20 years after the district newsletter urged  vigilance in addressing youthful involvement with drugs and alcohol—I urge parents—many of whom were the adolescents of twenty years ago—to recognize that risk behaviors are as much of a concern today and that it requires cooperation and commitment between families, the community, and the school—it is a slightly different take on that saying “It takes a village…”  In this case let’s commit to being their prefrontal cortexes.  

The Sky is NOT Falling!

Dr. Teresa Thayer Snyder

December 13, 2013

Recently, the latest Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) results were announced midst much lamenting on the performance of American students compared to the performance of students in other developed countries.  According to one report, US student performance is “stagnant.”  Over and over the media repeat the dire outcomes, the warnings, the assertions that our students are widely poor performers.   I think that I would find such reports to be amusing, if they were not so toxic.  They remind me of that little story about Chicken Little who got smacked on the head by an acorn falling from a tree and pronounced loudly and repeatedly that the sky was falling.  In short order, she had a following of other creatures who joined her frenzied march to the King.  The sky is not falling—in Chicken Little’s little tale or in our fifteen-year-olds' performances on this international test.  One of the issues I have with this type of reporting is with the grossly illogical generalizations that are delivered.  In reviewing the relative number of students who actually participated in the 2012 PISA, there were 6,111 fifteen-year-old US students from 161 schools across the country.  While this is a nice sample and it may be that they represented a statistically accurate sample of our population, it is not a large sample of US students or US schools.  The most that could accurately be reported is that this sample of US fifteen-year-olds performed about the same as the previous sample of fifteen-year-olds did three years ago.

In 2012, 510,000 fifteen-year-olds from across the globe participated in the assessment.  There are about 28,000,000 fifteen-year-olds in the world (according to the PISA website).  This means that the sample for all surveyed students represents less than 2 per cent of the actual population of eligible students.  Of the surveyed students, the US had 1 per cent of the sample.  To go about making global generalizations about how US students fared compared to students in other countries is about as logical as Chicken Little’s reactionary response to the acorn and gravity!

I have been involved with education for a long time and I am always puzzled when these international (or even national) measures are castigating US performance because, in all my years, I have never met a single student who was tested through PISA.  Only once in my life have I ever been involved with the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and that was for one grade level in one school in a large district.   I wonder where the students are coming from for each sample.  However, wherever they are from, and no matter how carefully they are drawn to represent the population, it is extremely easy and extremely dangerous to generalize from a small sample to a whole population.

There are many things that can be learned from PISA results, but not the sweeping condemnatory generalizations that are running rampant.  We can learn something from the countries which outperform the US.  For example, Singapore which scored second in Math, dedicates 20% of its national budget to education (as opposed to two percent of the national budget in the US).   We can learn from Finland, which routinely scores near the top, that time spent in classrooms is more effective than time spent on testing—they do not subject their young students to hours and hours of standardized testing.  We can learn from Shanghai that students from wealthier regions of any country outperform students living in poorer regions of any country.  The sky is not falling!

Common Core State Standards

Dr. Teresa Thayer Snyder

November 19, 2013

Recently a parent asked me to explain how we are rolling out the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), especially since I appear to be opposed to them.  I want to clarify that I am not necessarily opposed to the Common Core State Standards.  In fact, I am optimistic that over time they may prove worthwhile in their mission to raise the level of critical inquiry.  We just do not know of their impact because they are so new and questionably researched.   What I object to is the roll-out of the standards, which was hurried and incomplete.   What I strongly object to is the assessments that were delivered to little children which were based so much on the incomplete and hurriedly rushed roll-out of the standards, giving teachers and students little time to grapple with the complex nature of these assessments.  What I most strongly object to was the blatant statistical manipulation of the data sets to achieve a political objective of proving how weak students are—the same students who were strong a year before.

So now that I have clarified that I am not anti-Common Core (I am not necessarily pro-Common Core, either, but I am optimistic), let me share with you some of the realities I have observed in classroom instruction rising to the challenges of the CCSS.  Last week I enjoyed a high school geometry lesson where students were participating in a “pasta lab”  investigating properties of triangles.  Pairs of students were given a single die, several strands of spaghetti, a ruler and Pasta Worksheet Chart.   Students rolled the die and then broke the spaghetti into pieces the length in inches of the number they had rolled.  They were asked to note on their worksheet which groups of three pieces of spaghetti could form a triangle.  Students discovered that 3 pieces of spaghetti with lengths of 1, 3, 6 inches 2, 4, 6 inches did not make triangles-- several different combinations were drawn up as not making triangles.  Several were also drawn up as making triangles (e.g., 3, 3, 4 inches; and 4, 5, 5 inches were among the sets that did make triangles).  The students were asked to note patterns and draw conclusions.  Several students noted after manipulating the pieces that “In triangles, the sum of the two shorter sides of a triangle was always longer than the length of the third side.”  While playing with pasta, the students had uncovered the inequality theorem of triangles—one very critical concept in geometry.  To the extent that Common Core looks for student engagement with high level concepts, and to the extent that student engagement with these concepts will cause the students to grasp abstract idea, this lesson was a remarkable demonstration of what Common Core Standards state as a desired outcome.  On the other hand, this is a lesson that is not prescribed by the Common Core—it is simply excellent instruction.

I recall a time when I was the second grade teacher at a school associated with an elite private school.  The ninth grade math teacher was a friend of mine and she wandered into my classroom while my class was studying geometry using a manipulative called a geoboard, which is a board with pegs upon which students could make shapes with rubber bands.  My friend complained to me about how her students were really struggling with the concept of alternate interior angles and she had already spent a week on it.  I suggested she borrow our geoboards and rubber bands and let her students “play” with the creation of angles.  For example, you have students create two parallel lines and then have them intersect the parallel lines with a transverse rubber band.  Her response was she would not insult her high school students by having them “play” with children’s toys.  My response was you would rather complain that after a week they had not mastered what could be mastered in a matter of minutes using the manipulatives.  I called up one of my second graders and I made the two parallel lines on her board and had her intersect the parallel bands with a transverse.  I asked the second grader to listen carefully to the vocabulary.  I asked her if she could find alternate angles.  She studied the board and in a matter of minutes, talking it through, she figured out what alternative angles meant.  I then asked her what interior angles she could find and, again, in a matter of minutes she figured out which were the interior angles.   Finally, I asked her to put it together and point out alternate interior angles. Without a blink this child pointed out two sets of alternate interior angles represented on her geoboard.  My colleague was astonished and collected my spare boards and a sack of rubber bands.  The next day she came back to tell me that it was only a matter of minutes in her classes that day where the light bulbs went on for her students. They spent the rest of the period making elaborate designs with the “toys” and continued complex and engaging discussions about critical geometric concepts.   Sometimes we forget that “play” is many times more complex than direct instruction by itself and results in potentially profound learning.  I hope the Common Core emphasis on rigor does not turn deadly for students, because there is a difference between high expectations and rigidity.

Thanks to Dick and Jane!

Dr. Teresa Thayer Snyder

October 23, 2013

The other day I was listening to my six year old granddaughter read.  It was a story about Merida from the movie Brave.  As a grandmother, I can promise you that there is nothing sweeter than sharing a book with a grandchild.  As she cuddled next to me, I had a flashback to reading aloud to my mother when I was in first grade.  Our teacher told us to practice reading to our parents.  I remember my mom ironing while I sat on the chair reading “Look, look.  See Spot run.  Look, look, Dick, Oh look.  See Spot run.”  My mother patiently waited and when I finished she removed the book from my hands and handed me a book of fairy tales stating “Now let’s read a real book.”  I had been reading for quite some time as my family visited the library on a weekly basis and reading was highly prized in my home where I was the much younger sibling with two older brothers.  Ironically, The Fun with Dick and Jane series was the state of the art way to teach reading in the 1950’s.  Those were the good old days when schools really prepared you.  The methods were “Scientifically researched” and implemented across the country in the interests in preparing young readers for their subsequent education.  I suppose it worked, as I have never spelled the words ‘look’ or ‘see’ wrong in my entire life!  I apparently wound up college and career ready!

I write this tongue in cheek reflection because of the intense focus on raising standards to make us globally competitive.  I have written previously about how my education changed in 1957 when the Soviets launched Sputnik.  The golden years of my primary education slipped away when it was declared that schools were not preparing us rigorously enough because the Soviets beat us into space.  The word rigor appears so frequently in the current discussion of learning standards for even the youngest learners.  I decided to investigate the meaning of the word and discovered, thanks to our trusty old Webster’s, that the word may actually be an authentic representation of  the intention of the current movements within our field: “1) Harshness or severity; 2) strictness or inflexibility; 3) extreme hardship or difficulty; 4) severe, harsh or oppressive.”

Expecting young children to understand complex concepts before they are developmentally ready to engage in conceptual understanding is like building a castle in the air—or like flying a plane while it is being built (a metaphor that has been delivered to us in the field from the powers that be –as though that were a good or sensible approach).  Young children need to build their understanding and they do so through experience and interaction with their environment and in the company of more experienced people—parents, teachers, friends.

There is a reason why infants progress through development-- sitting before crawling, crawling before walking –there is a parallel in cognitive growth as well.  You can declare that the bar has been raised and children will now all walk at 8 months old and you might have one child in a hundred achieve that, but for the most part, children need time and space.  They do not grow evenly-- physically, emotionally, socially, or cognitively.   There is no such thing as a standardized child and there is little reason to hope for such a model.  Goodness, Dick and Jane did not impair my options or the options of any of my peers despite the fact that in our current endeavors in education we are expecting first graders to grapple with concepts such as economic motives for westward expansion.

Here is a partial list of what is expected of first graders when they complete a domain on the western frontier according to EngageNY ELA modules for first grade:

That old Webster’s dictionary definition seems pretty apt—harsh, inflexible, extreme difficulty.  

So once again I entreat all of us to remember that children need growing time.  They need balance. They need us to support their efforts to make sense of the world.  That is my message for my colleagues and for our families.  Thanks to Dick and Jane!

 

World Teacher's Day

Dr. Teresa Thayer Snyder

October 8, 2013

This past Saturday, October 5, 2013 was World Teacher’s Day.  While I did not see many Hallmark cards out there commemorating the day, I do see the impact of teachers on students every day.  I have called teaching “our beloved profession”—it is my theme for this year.  There are days lately where it feels as though teachers have become political pawns in some oddly constructed game.  Last spring, we were ordered to give tests to children on materials the students had not learned, because teachers were inadequately informed by the State Education Department of what material they would cover.  Coincidentally, on World Teacher Day, our students received their test scores in the mail.  I have already entertained numerous phone calls and emails from parents whose children received scores that were totally out of sync with their academic histories.  Children who received high scores in previous years and who carry high academic averages, this year fell below the benchmark contrived to indicate proficiency.  These are children who are bright, enthusiastic, diligent students who are now deemed lacking proficiency.  Their parents are surprised, but the children are distraught.  I have received messages indicating that some children burst into tears and declared themselves dumb.  I have heard from parents who are expressing disdain of a system that would inflict such nonsensical messages on school children.  This year, teachers across the state are learning that their own credibility as educators is attached to the outcomes on those bizarre tests.

In trying to allay the concerns of parents over the impact of the tests on their children, we have received memos telling us to stay the course because, after all, these tests were only baselines and the scores will go up (not a hard promise to make when you control the cut score!) However, teachers across the state are not being treated as though these scores are only a baseline with growth promised in future years.  Teachers are being scored and their scores are reportable to their students’ parents with written parental request after October 18.  These scores represent nothing about the transactions that occur on a daily basis in the classrooms.  They say nothing about the quality of instruction, the quality of the content, the quality of the very assessments from which the scores were derived.  It is a little like a dart board. 

Our district will, of course, comply with the mandate that the scores of teachers be delivered to interested parents of the children in their classrooms.  The process for obtaining the scores will be posted on our website.  However, I offer a cautionary comment.  Just as I have said that the scores of our children do not reflect their capacity, their creativity, their passions, I also say that the teacher scores are silent on those same factors in their classrooms.

Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by Taliban extremists because she persuasively argued for education for girls, addressed the United Nations on her 16th birthday.  She noted:  One child.  One teacher and one book and one pen can change the world.”  It is time to let teachers teach and to celebrate the good things that are accomplished on a daily basis in our classrooms. 

 

Our Beloved Profession

Dr. Teresa Thayer Snyder

Opening day message to faculty and staff
(September 3, 2013)


Good morning and welcome back to another year.  This year is filled with promise and I want us to grasp that first and foremost.  There are challenges—there always are—but what we have before us is an opportunity to rethink what we stand for.

I had a couple of experiences over this summer which forced me to re-think what I value about our beloved profession.  On July 15, just before the board meeting for which I had stayed through, I made a trip to the Book House in Stuyvesant Plaza to indulge my addiction to audiobooks.  As I was checking out, I noticed a poster advertising a book signing by Stephen P. Kiernan and his new novel The Curiosity Stephen P. Kiernan—it couldn’t be.  You see, years ago when I was in college, I was the governess for the Peter D. Kiernan family—Rose and Kiernan Insurance.  There were seven children in the family.  The youngest boy was named Stephen P.  Still, it just did not seem possible.  So when I came back to my office I googled him and sure enough the author was the little boy I cared for years ago.  On a whim, I emailed  him, fully aware that it would be impossible for him to remember me from more than forty years ago but congratulating him on his book.  This is what he emailed me back “ Teresa Thayer.  That is a voice from the past, I remember you –you had black hair, a thick Boston accent, you were studying at Siena and you read a ton...but what I remember most was  that every morning when you woke me and Michael (his older brother) to get ready for school you said “Wake up, boys, it is a gorgeous day out there –a great day to be alive” and you said that regardless of the weather.  It was a very optimistic way to start your day when I was in fifth grade.”

His message took by breath away!  To learn more than 40 years later that the impact of a single statement affects a child forever made me realize the extraordinary opportunity we have as teachers.

Then I read his book.  It was very compelling and a pleasant read, but what moved me most is that the main character in the book abandons her important work as a researcher in climatology and becomes a teacher, which was always her passion—a teacher who chose to awaken curiosity among her students.

I wrote to Stephen again to thank him as his book had inspired me.

That is the first message for us this year –Inspire!

Let us remind every child every day that it is a gorgeous day and a great day to be alive.  Let us recognize that regardless of distractions of the alphabet soup of mandates, ultimately it is those children who matter to us—they are our reason for coming here every day.

The second event that affected me occurred after I wrote a piece for my superintendent’s column on our website about the dire outcomes on the 3-8 testing.  I now finally understand what going viral means.  Within a few minutes of the posting I began getting emails from all over the country—no, hemisphere as I heard from readers in Canada and Mexico.  Dozens and dozens of emails from teachers, parents, administrators—even a member of the Board of Regents thanking me for my message.  For several days I pretty much wrote to people in every state, thanking them for their messages of support and urging them not to give up their efforts to turn the tide.  I never worked so hard and I was on vacation!  That is the second message for us this year—Perspire.

Let us determine that our hard work every day changes children’s lives.  They become smarter because of their interactions with us and the rich experiences they can have in our classrooms.  I challenge each of us today to develop many rich lessons or units and choose one to share in March on superintendent’s conference day.  Let us drive our professional development!  I challenge us to write our own book together-- on best practices—practices we incorporate in our classrooms.

The third event that affected me was my son’s vacation with his daughter, my little Olivia, who just turned six and who starts first grade today.   She is a curious, adventurous little soul—a reader, a writer, an animal lover, a civil war buff--and she is new to the common core.  They went to the ocean and took many  pictures but this one was especially impactful for me:


 

The metaphor is so rich—we can turn the tide!  Her enthusiasm for life and her sheer joy in her capacity remind me of why I became a teacher.  The time is at hand for us to reclaim our beloved profession.  Our beloved profession which we have been called to incarnate, regardless of the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”—our beloved profession which brings us together every day with our students who need us to retain our passion and keep our heads when all about us are losing theirs and blaming that on us.  Our beloved profession where we bring to life what Stephen P. Kiernan did for me and which are best described by the late Teacher/astronaut, Christa McAuliffe, “I touch the future, I teach.”

That is the third message I take for the year—Aspire!

As we go forth this year, I want to share a short piece of a poem by my favorite poet, ee cummings, because I think the meaning of the poem encompasses the essence of teaching.

One winter afternoon
(at the magical hour
when is becomes if)
a bespangled clown
standing on eighth street
handed me a flower.
Nobody, it’s safe
to say, observed him but
myself; and why? because
without any doubt he was
whatever(first and last)
mostpeople fear most:
a mystery for which i’ve
no word except  alive
—that is, completely alert
and miraculously whole;
with not merely a mind and a heart
but unquestionably a soul-
a fine not a coarse clown
(no mob, but a person)
and while never saying a word
who was anything but dumb;
since the silence of him
self sang like a bird.
Most people have been heard
screaming for international
measures that render hell rational
—i thank heaven somebody’s crazy
enough to give me a daisy

 

I challenge all of us to be the clowns who while others are screaming for international measures that render hell rationale, pass out daisies to our students all year long. Teaching, our beloved profession.—I suggest that as the title of our book of best practices.

More Reflections on Assessments

Dr. Teresa Thayer Snyder

August 21, 2013

I was again thinking about what matters in school, especially as it pertains to our upcoming school year and the outcomes of last year’s State assessments.  As it is summer and I have at least a little time to research and reflect, I uncovered an article by Dr. Howard Gardner, Professor of Education at Harvard Graduate School of Education.  Dr. Gardner has posited a profound educational theory that there are multiple kinds of intelligence; in other words, people are smart in many different ways.  In his article he is commenting on a sweeping educational reform which would be scrutinized through standardized testing.  He wrote:

“Soon most states, including New York, will be mandating so called high-stakes tests in many subjects at several grade levels.  We must proceed cautiously before we place students’ minds and hearts at risk with tests of dubious quality whose meaning can be over interpreted and whose consequences can be devastating.  Yes we need more rigorous academic standards, but we must also give youngsters models when it comes to developing the most crucial skills:  love of learning, respect for peers, and good citizenship.  That is what they will need most to pass the test of life.”

These words resonate with me as they speak so clearly about our current mission and the ragged implementation of the Common Core Standards and the recent Assessments.  Gardner points out that it is the characteristic of new tests to have lower outcomes, with a broad distribution in scores which remediate over time.  This occurs for a number of reasons:  students grow accustomed to the testing format; teachers become familiar with the target curriculum; and the psychometrics of the test are controlled by a third party.   In norm referenced tests like the Stanfords or the SATs, companies usually have to re-norm them every ten years or so to maintain the spread we identify as the bell curve.  I find Gardner’s perspective so informative and relevant—except that this piece was written in the year 2000 in the New York Times.  Thirteen years later we are in the same boat.  Remember, the tests he was referring to were the soon to be enacted tests designed for the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.  

At that time all of us in schools worked hard to adapt to the new rigor, to deliver instruction in a way to foster children’s growth on the tests.  Remember, the State sent us the tests.  We, in good faith, administered them and until 2010, we saw steady improvement, although still a range of scores that discriminated—they still discriminated against the poor, the disabled, and the English language learner. 

In 2010, the current chancellor of the Board of Regents and the former Commissioner tore the test results apart and ordered a re-scaling of the scores, because they vehemently argued that it was too easy to achieve proficiency.  I remind the reader again that the schools did not have anything to do with the formation of the tests—they were delivered to us under strict security and we administered what the State told us to administer.  At that time, I did an analysis of the re-scaling and wrote the following in a post called “What Is Behind The Scaled  Scores” (August, 2010):

“Now we have a new dilemma.  In order to prove that New York State tests have been soft, this year’s versions were bumped up and moved to the end of the year.  We educators were told that these assessments would be testing a good deal more than previous ones.  Once they were completed and sent off to the State, an announcement was made that indicated a new cut point was implemented for determining levels of performance. I am sure you have read the local press regarding the shock that school people and parents will be feeling when they see that a child’s performance level on the State exams has been seriously affected by the new cut point.  But again, that old skepticism of mine inched forward.  One of my administrators pointed out an irregularity.  On a third grade math test, a child who answered 37 out of 39 questions correctly (that is 95% correct) was deemed performing at level 3.  A child who answered 85% of the answers correctly was deemed performing at level 2.  Some children, who were performing at level 1, actually had scaled scores that would have put them at level 3 last year.  I scratched my head over this and wondered if this was an aberration on the grade 3 math assessment.  As I began to dig through the data, I found that it was not an aberration, but was true across all tests, in both ELA and math.”

The focus on these narrow bands of what happens in schools in any given year is so flawed and rife with manipulated misinformation.  It seems like we are gerbils on a wheel, going around and around but getting nowhere.  Thirteen years after Gardner wrote his piece for the New York Times, we are still saying we want high standards (and who could argue with that??), but our measures are so limiting that they stunt the values we purport—a love of learning, respect for peers, and good citizenship.

Let’s make it a great year and put this impure science in perspective.

 

Commentary on Math & ELA Results

Dr. Teresa Thayer Snyder

August 8, 2013

Over the past several months school leaders have been receiving countless messages from the State Education Department preparing us for the dire outcomes associated with the most recent spate of State testing in grades 3-8 in Math and English Language Arts.  As the date for the releases of the test scores approached, we received many notices of “talking points” to inform our communities about the outcomes, with explanations of new baselines and how these tests do not reflect the efforts of students and teachers this year.  I have rejected these missives because they reek of the self-serving mentality the ‘powers that be’ have thrust upon our students and parents.

Our community is sophisticated enough to recognize a canard when it experiences one.  These tests were intentionally designed to obtain precisely the outcomes that were rendered.  The rationale behind this is to demonstrate that our most successful students are not so much and our least successful students are dreadful.  If you look at the distribution of scores, you see exactly the same distances as any other test.  The only difference is that the distribution has been manipulated to be 30 to 40 percent lower for everybody.  This serves an enormously powerful purpose.  If you establish a baseline this low, the subsequent growth over the next few years will indicate that your plans for elevating the outcomes were necessary.  However, it must be recognized that the test developers control the scaled scores—indeed they have developed a draconian statistical formula that is elaborate, if indecipherable, to determine scaled scores.  I would bet my house on the fact that over the next few years, scores will “improve”—not necessarily student learning, but scores.  They must, because the State accepted millions and millions of dollars to increase student scores and increase graduation rates.  If scores do not improve from this baseline, then those ‘powers that be’ will have a lot of explaining to do to justify having accepted those millions.

If you examine the distribution of the scores, the one thing that leaps off the page is the distance between children in high poverty and children in relative wealth.  While all have been relegated to a point 30 to 40 percent lower than previously, the exact curve is absolutely connected to socioeconomic status—which has been historically true in such testing for more than a century.

The tragic part of this story is the collateral damage—the little children who worked so hard this year, who endured so many distressing hours of testing, who failed to reach proficiency, all because of the manipulation of the scaling.  We will be talking with parents whose children scored level four last year, who now may have scored a level two.  It does not mean much; it only means they are the unwitting part of a massive scheme to prove how these “high standards” are improving outcomes over time.  It is time to pay attention to the man behind the curtain—he is no wizard, but he is wily! 

By the way, if you want to know what curriculum experiences are being promoted for even our youngest learners by the ‘powers that be’, check out curriculum modules on www.engageny.org .  How many of us truly believe that expecting first graders to understand and explain why Mesopotamia is the cradle of civilization is reasonable?  How many of us truly even imagine that six year olds should be able to identify cuneiform and hieroglyphics or understand the importance of the code of Hammurabi?  Check it out—then I suggest you let your legislators, and the Department of Education know what matters to you.

As we digest the information and prepare for the upcoming year, please rest assured that Voorheesville remains committed to challenging and cherishing our students.

 

Painting with a Broad Brush

Dr. Teresa Thayer Snyder

As we sit half way between closing last year and opening next, I feel I must comment on the recently adopted implementation of the Common Core State Standards and the new testing patterns which were rolled out this past year.  I feel compelled to do so precisely because I am fortunate enough to be Superintendent of this high performing district.  Our most recently posted graduation rate is 97%--the highest in the region.  Contrary to recent commentary by the Chancellor of the Board of Regents and the Commissioner of Education, our students do not arrive on college campuses under-prepared for their coursework.  Indeed, our feedback is that a great many of our students moving to college—some of the finest colleges in the country—are more than adequately prepared, academically and socially for the challenges they confront. Because of our standing, I believe that it is incumbent upon me to bear the standard for my colleagues in challenging the broad brush strokes tarnishing the field I cherish so mightily.

The Spring rounds of tests to which our 9 to 14 year olds were subjected were tedious, frustrating, poorly paced examples of assessment. It is almost impossible for me to believe that the designers of these examinations knew very much about test design or child development.  I wish I could comment on the contents of the exams specifically—but I can’t because they are secret.  If I knew specifics and revealed them here, I would be risking my credentials.  When the results come back, I won’t be able to tell parents that their child had assets in inferential thinking, needs a little more help on crafting written responses; or that conceptually, their child might evidence assets in computation, but needs more work with rational numbers.  The teachers, administrators, and I cannot do so because we won’t have that information—because it is secret.  If a professional test designer knew anything about child development, he or she would certainly not expect nine year olds to manage two distinct test booklets on one day, with directions for each read at the beginning of the test—managing that much information, and pacing oneself through complex tasks are gargantuan feats for a child--No wonder many did not finish.  Oddly, a professional test designer who understood pacing would see that the test items were spread out—on the sixth day of testing, many students taking the last math exam were  finished hours early—the very same children who did not have enough time to finished day two of the ELA.  Finishing hours early is almost as painful as not finishing in time as the students, weary and restless from the gauntlet of testing, had to sit through the requisite minimum amount of time arranged for testing—finished or not.

These tests were attached to Common Core standards, which have been incompletely rolled out in New York.  The material covered large quantities of information that have not been taught, with texts well past grade level and concepts that require cognitive processing that is more typical of older students (Piaget would call it “Formal operational thinking”—the ability to think abstractly). From my point of view, after many years of studying  teaching and learning-- and multiple years spent working in schools--these assessments are impure science.

I cannot justify impure science as a means of determining student learning or teacher effectiveness.

The Common Core Standards are being widely heralded as the best thing to happen in education—a message initiated by the author of the same standards.  Truthfully, we don’t know if they are better than what we have had, we won’t know for several years.  I would take considerably more comfort in this optimistic view if it were not rooted in the verbiage of their architect!  What has been accomplished here is a phenomenal marketing job—so much spin about so little substantive work, with no research base to support the claims. 

There comes a time when we need to stand up and point out that there are too many holes here—this is not about educational reform, it is about degrading the work that we do in schools.  I find it significant that the graduation percentage rate across the nation—and State-- seems much more closely tied to the percentage rate of children living in poverty than to what we do in classrooms.

I write this still awaiting the results of this Spring’s “testathon”.   I am sure I will have more  to say once these scores arrive. 

Entering the Testing Marathon

Dr. Teresa Thayer Snyder

April 8, 2013

As we enter the final quarter of the school year, we are also entering the testing marathon.  Over the next ten weeks students will be taking NYS exams in ELA, Math, and Science, in grades three through eight.  Older students will be taking AP exams and Regents exams.  In addition to these high stakes tests, students at all levels will be taking post-tests in every subject area to fulfill the Student Learning Objectives required to demonstrate growth for the purposes of teacher evaluation.  I am posting this in order to articulate as clearly as I can that this is not sound practice for school children—it is politically driven, not educationally driven.  It is an inordinate time commitment when classroom time is so precious.  A much wiser thinker than I once said, “Children do not get heavier because you weigh them.”  I think that sage comment applies in this era of test mania.  Children do not become smarter because you test them.  Children become smarter by their daily interactions with content, curriculum, and caring educators.  We know that there are so many factors that affect our students’ performance at any given moment.  If you do an internet search on how to improve standardized test scores, you will note that there are thousands of tips—rarely any of them related to teaching and learning.  Everything from eating bananas, to taking a nap, to listening to classical music, to cooler room temperatures, to petting your puppy seems to be included in tips to improve scores.  Those of us who have been around the block a few times will tell you that a youngster’s outcomes on any test can be affected by whether the sun is shining, or whether a child had a decent breakfast, or an argument on the bus.  I read a letter from a teacher in another district last June who lamented that her students who were sitting for the 9:00 a.m. Regents English exam had been out at a rock concert the night before and some had not slept more than a couple of hours.  Sleep is associated with better outcomes!  Again, these deviations in outcomes are related to factors extrinsic to the interactions in the classroom. We will, of course, be administering all of these required exams because we are good soldiers, but I feel compelled to also take on the role of the “Loyal Opposition.” I have worked in this field for so long and with so many children (each as unique as their thumbprints) that I simply cannot pretend that compliance with the requirements is good educational practice for the youngsters in my care.  I have spoken my piece in every forum available to me.  I ask parents and teachers to put these long Spring days of testing in perspective.  Not one bubble sheet will define the capacity of our children to become what they choose for themselves in the future.

All this being said, please know that teachers assess all the time.  We deal with a dynamic population.  Whether I assess a child’s grasp of one to one correspondence by observing them counting out manipulatives in the primary grades, or whether I assess an older student’s comprehension of complex text by interacting with them verbally or in writing, it is my job as an educator to assess and address understanding and deficits.  Assessment is rigorous and complex—it is too important to simply be reduced to a bubble sheet.  Let’s confirm to the students that teaching and learning are about time and space.  We will work hard on our end to support the students in their diligent work of compliance with this quarter’s expectations—and take some time to watch Spring unfold.

 

An Effort to Put Testing in Perspective

Dr. Teresa Thayer Snyder

March 15, 2013

Once again, an effort to put testing in perspective:  I was recently home on an off day when I received a text message from one of my daughters.  She was ecstatic because an article she had written had been selected for publication in a professional journal.  Amy is a social worker by training and is a policy analyst for the New York State Department of the Aging.  She is also a doctoral student at the University.  The reason why this event is an effort to put testing in perspective is because when my daughter was a child, one of New York State's interests was in testing fifth grade writing.  I bet many of you remember that test.  In those days, unlike today, there was a particular interest in creative writing. Today, of course, the focus is largely on informational, non-fiction writing.  Amy barely passed the writing test--really, by a single point.  It was not a surprise to me as Amy is a linear thinker, and although highly creative in many ways, she approaches text like a laser--fits in well with her work as a policy analyst.  The writing prompt that caused her such difficulty when she was ten went something like this:  "I was walking through the woods and I found a box.  When I opened it I found....."  Amy wrote something very powerful, something like, "nothing, it was empty."  I believe she filled the page describing aspects of the rest of her walk, but did not score any points for her written response to that prompt.  As it happens, when she grew up she discovered that her writing ability is prized in her field because she doesn't fill her writing with fluff.  She is succinct and efficient in a field where those traits are highly desirable.

As we prepare to enter the testing marathon, I hope to reassure all of you parents and students--and teachers--that a child's performance on a given day is not predictive of who they will become or how their personal gifts will be viewed when they mature.  These children are not finished yet.  No test will define who they are or what they will become.  When a child scores well on a test, I say good for them; but when a child scores less well, I remember Amy, and say perhaps the test did not measure what you are good at.

As I write this, I also wanted to acknowledge a couple of other indicators that we need to celebrate at least as much as we celebrate those bubble sheets thousands of children will be filling out in the next couple of months.  Right before vacation, I watched our high school physics students competing in the pool with the cardboard vessels teams of classmates collaborated in designing and building.  The object is to build a cardboard boat that will carry two students twice the length of the pool.  Everything, including the paddles, is constructed of cardboard and duct tape.  It was amazing, it was fun, it was physics!  The record keeping included rubrics for the construction of the vessel, a dry sponge weighed and recorded prior to launch and post launch (to see how much water was taken on), and speed.  It was quite a feat to keep the soggy boats afloat, but the students persisted and learned a great deal about sinking and floating!  The kids worked so hard and, even as they wound up in the drink, there was a sense of celebration.  I guarantee they will remember that day a lifetime from now, whereas their memories of scantron sheets will be short-lived.

Similarly, we sent six teams of students to the Odyssey of the Mind competition.  This is an intense competition which is student driven and brings together teams from schools all over the region.  In some schools, Odyssey is a function of a gifted and talented program.  In some schools, Odyssey is pretty elite.  I am proud to say at Voorheesville, the teams are inclusive and any child who wants to commit can participate.  Volunteer adults serve as coaches, but the work is the students’.  Two of our teams were primary aged students--they don't compete, they participate.  However, of the four other teams we sent to regionals, all four placed, with three teams getting first place and qualifying for the State finals!  One group of sixth grade boys was also awarded a special commendation for creativity in the form of an award that is rarely given.  To attain this, all three competition judges have to be wowed.  These are authentic assessments--strict rubrics, high expectations, arduous work over many weeks.  These youngsters will retain the memory of their efforts eons longer than they will remember multiple choices about Tolstoy.

Back to the Future:

How 2013 Resembles 1957

Dr. Teresa Thayer Snyder

February 25, 2013

I have been quiet for a few months.  Between adjusting the school lunch program and beginning our difficult budgeting season, I have taken a break from commenting on the area of schooling that actually matters most to me—teaching and learning.  Perhaps it is because I am a Sputnik kid that I find the current focus on education to be strangely retro.  All this hoopla about races and global comparisons and about how poorly our children achieve compared to the rest of  the world is all so familiar—and incredibly painful to recall.  I was seven years old when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, thus putting our role as leaders in the world in jeopardy because they had gotten a rocket ship into outer space before us.  It changed my educational experience drastically as there was a race to outperform those Communists—our education needed to be more rigorous and we needed to identify students who were the next generation of scientists and engineers.  Over the subsequent years of my schooling, we were tested routinely.  As it happens it was, for me, both a blessing and a curse.  I happened to be one of the kids who tested strongly.  I, by the way, attribute that more to my family life than my schooling or any innate ability.  I was the much younger sister to two brothers—one who went to MIT and one who went to Harvard.  They taught me to read and write.  They played math games with me and they told me bedtime stories which years later I identified as synopses of Shakespearean plays.  They never gave me an edge in any game and if I complained about that to my parents I was told to simply not play with the big guys any more.  My mother was one of my biggest supporters.  I recall a story about  my fifth grade teacher who was convinced I was underperforming—he urged her to send me to a specialty school for math and science prodigies.  My mother’s response was, “for goodness sake, John, she is nine years old.”  I am grateful for her intervention.  I was not a math or science prodigy, I was a curious little girl.  I did love math and science—my dad helped me build a science lab in my basement.   I spent a lot of my time making up experiments and working on math puzzles—on my own time.  The events that changed my passions for science and math occurred in seventh and eighth grades.  I was identified for a special math group—one of two girls who, along with six boys, made up a little class of our own.  We were actually separated in the classroom, sitting in a group away from the other students.  We were accelerated, which meant in that day, you just worked really hard on really advanced stuff without much interaction with the teacher.   I was one of those kids who had a really good memory so I could plug in formulas, but I had absolutely no idea why the formulas worked.   As soon as I got to high school I dropped math and science once I had reached the minimum required for graduation.  I threw myself into the humanities and wound up majoring in philosophy in college—I think because I was still stuck on the why.  These days, which seem so frenzied, so much of a race, take me back and it worries me that the urgent focus on global competitiveness is misleading.  I fear that there are little girls and little boys, who may very well have a penchant for math and science, who will have all of that curiosity hammered out of them.  On the other hand, maybe our new world would benefit from a few more philosophers! 

The reason I say that the urgent focus on global competitiveness may be misleading is based, quite frankly, on research which clearly indicates that when you correct for poverty, U.S. students already are competitive with the highest performing countries.  Indeed, our issues have less to do with education than with pervasive, multi-generational poverty.   We have known for dozens of years that three of the top factors associated with results on standardized tests are socio-economic status, levels of maternal education, and mobility—(interesting that the second two factors are actually subsets of the first).   That said, the amount of time and the amount of misuse of the data sets we are about to begin collecting on the backs of school children is profoundly disconcerting.   A child is as unique as his or her thumbprint.  The compelling force to squeeze every child into a standardized measure is, from my point of view, antithetical to what a good education is supposed to accomplish.  I keep hearing arguments about rigor—even for children as young as three years old—but what I see is not rigor—it is rigidity—and with that rigid implementation I worry that these children will respond as a little girl did more than fifty years ago by withdrawing from the very areas that were her primary interest, her passion—and curiously the very areas that the powers that were (and are) identifying as a national need.

The reason companies outsource or “off-shore” their work is not because our educational system has failed in providing workers, but because in the “global economy” the companies can reap larger profits by paying lower wages elsewhere.  This is not an issue of education, but of economics.  Indeed, William Mathis, Director of the National Education Policy Center indicates that we have approximately 9 million workers with credentials that would qualify them as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), however, only about a third of them work in those fields.  There are no jobs here, because they have gone elsewhere, where industry can hire low and reap high profits.

Should education improve?  It most certainly can and must, but not by reverting to tactics that are not revolutionary, but retro—dating back to the middle of the last century.

"Toys & Games"

Happy Holidays!

Dr. Teresa Thayer Snyder

December 12, 2012

Lately, my columns have been challenging the perspectives of the current crop of educational reformers—strangely, I recall when reform was cutting edge stuff, not throw backs to a post Sputnik era of trying to surpass the Russians and testing, testing, testing—but that is another story.  I decided that I wanted to focus on some of the funny things that have happened to me in my long career as an educator in the private, parochial, and public sectors.  Any educator who has been around long enough has a bushel full, but I wanted to share a couple that are quite memorable, and in the spirit of the holiday season, let’s take a break from the serious side of my work.

Many of you may not know that I entered the convent straight out of high school in 1967.  It was my intent to change the world!  Needless to say, it did not work out quite as planned.  My mother always told me that I would never make it as a nun because I have terrible handwriting—I never quite made the connection on that one, but I am sure that the many wonderful secretaries I have had in my career would agree with my mom. Anyhow, as very young nun, I was sent out to teach whenever there was a shortage or a need for a substitute.  It mattered not that I was only 17. One of my classes was a kindergarten and there was a little boy in the class who was extremely active.  On about the second day I was there, Matthew shoved his legs in the desk. Now in those days in older school buildings the desks were bolted to the floor.  Much to my horror, Matthew was stuck up to his pelvis in the desk!  I tried to remain calm as these little five-year-olds circled Matthew and me, chanting “Matty’s stuck in the desk!”  It was a loud enough ruckus to attract the principal’s attention—in those days classrooms were pretty quiet.  Soon enough Sister Mary Principal (not her real name) was by my side trying to restore order, while sending a child to the custodian’s room to retrieve Mr. Helpful (not his real name).  Mr. Helpful spent the next half hour dismantling the desk to extract Matthew, while Sister Mary Principal lectured me on why I should not have let him do it.  To be honest, it took all of my self-control to keep from saying:  “It never occurred to me to establish a rule about not shoving your legs in the desk.”  Shall I say it was a learning experience? You bet!  But I confess that many times over the course of the weeks I was there, as I tried to keep track of Matthew, (did I mention that he was extremely active?), I realized that the only time I actually knew Matthew was not getting into mischief was that fifteen minutes he was stuck in the desk!

I think the reason I get nostalgic about all my experiences in the classroom around this time of year is because in my last classroom this was a period of time when I developed one of my favorite units of study.  I observed that in the span of time between Thanksgiving and the holidays, my delightful second graders turned into penultimate would-be consumers!  “I’m getting this for Christmas, I am getting that for Hanukah” was reiterated as often as the holiday songs.  I decided to build a mini-unit on “Toys and Games” so the students could understand that they had within them the capacity to entertain themselves.  I integrated the subject areas and developed lessons that had kids building toys and making games, comparing prices from toy advertisements, looking at gender stereotyping in the toys—why are Barbies dolls and GI Joes action figures?  My culminating project was creating board games—so they would never be bored again.  I remember one little boy announcing that board games are a lot like chapter books.  When I asked how so he declared:  “Well there is a beginning and an end and in the middle there are pitfalls.”  Don’t you just love little people’s insights?  Well, anyhow, a couple of years later I was named principal of that school, but the new second grade teacher kept that mini-unit and every year she would invite me back to do the Board Game project.  We spent a week creating everything from the pitfalls to the rules for play, from the tokens to the spinner.  Making the spinner was a formative geometry assessment.  I gave each child a four-inch square of card stock and I asked them how would we find the exact center of the square because if the spinning arrow was not placed exactly in the center, the spinner would be unbalanced.  The children volunteered ideas:  “If you fold the spinner in half and in half again the middle will be where the creases meet.” That works—another might say, “If you measure down each side with a ruler and make a cross half way down, that will be the center”—that works—but what I always waited for was the one that came up every year.  “If you draw a line from one corner to the opposite and make an X, the center will be where the lines cross.”  At that I would jump up and down and say excitedly: “Boys and Girls, congratulations you just did high school geometry because if you bisect opposing angles of a regular quadrilateral, point of intersection is true center.  Repeat after me:  If you bisect opposing angles of a regular quadrilateral, point of intersection is true center.”  I had them repeat that several times while I made wild gestures to show where the terms applied on one of the squares.  I would tell them to go home and tell Mom and Dad that you could do High School geometry because “If you bisect opposing angles…”  It was always very gratifying until one year I got a call from a parent the day after the lesson.  She started by saying, “It’s a good thing I know you.”  That made me take notice—why?  She laughed and said that at the dinner table last night, when we asked what he learned in school, he said that “Mrs. Snyder came to class and taught them all about bisexual angels.”  Bisecting angles…bisexual angels…it is amazing the vocabulary they can master!!

Teaching is such a rewarding profession, filled with ups and downs, but I can think of no way I would rather spend my professional life than in the schoolhouse.  I would like to take this time to wish you all a wonderful holiday season, a respite from the ordinary days of our lives.

Let's Do The Math

Dr. Teresa Thayer Snyder

November 27, 2012

Last time I wrote, I addressed the challenges of the sample ELA questions that are posted as examples of the types of expectations our students in grades 3 through 8 will be confronting when they sit for their exams.  This week, I want to address the sample math questions that are currently posted as samples for us to utilize to demonstrate the rigor and complexity that those students will be facing when they sit for the math exams.   I ran some of the problems through that same readability formula and found that many of the word problems were likely several years past grade level.  I admit, because the word problems are shorter passages, that the formulas may be slightly less accurate for comparisons to be condemnatory, but if a math test is a reading test many students will be disadvantaged.   Readability aside, the level of expectation for students as young as 8 or 9 years old is quite daunting.  They include multi-step problems:

Grade 3 Sample: Part A: Fill in the blanks below with the whole numbers greater than 1 that will make the number sentences true.

1.     63 ÷____ = 7

2.     63 = 21 × _____

3.     21 = _____ ×  7

4.     7 × (____ × ____) = 21 × 7

5.     (21 × 3) ÷ ____ = 7

Part B: If the product of two whole numbers greater than 1 is 63, what could the two whole numbers be? ______ , ______

There is a lot of information in this problem and it could be fun to study the properties of the number 63 and its factors, but I would suggest that for beginning mathematicians, this is level of complexity in a high stakes examination is way more than a stretch.  If you spend time in the company of third graders you will understand that we are still reminding them to watch the signs!  If you spend time in the company of third graders you will recognize that this problem relies on a bank of knowledge that is well past what most eight year olds have mastered and it requires a level of cognitive stamina that will have many students, even ones who can perform, diverting their attention from the problem, especially when they realize this is just one problem in their booklet!

Here is one from the fifth grade sample:

1(10,000) + 2(1,000) + 4(100) + 3 (10) + 2(1) + 5(1/10 + 3(1/100).

          Which number below is one-tenth of the expanded form above?

                   A  12422.53

                   B  1243.253

                   C  12432.53

                   D  12432.43

I grew up in the post Sputnik generation where there was a huge push in math and science and I did not learn expanded notation until eighth grade!  Many fifth graders will truly struggle with the decimals.  Although it may seem rudimentary to us that finding a number one tenth of the expanded form simply requires us to move that decimal to the left one place, I can pretty much guarantee that the average ten year old will not grasp that concept, simply because they have not had that much experience with manipulating decimals.  Indeed, they frequently have trouble lining up decimals for simple addition and subtraction—once again, a developmental issue, not a deficit in mathematical education.

How about grade eight—are we feeling brave?  Truthfully, I cannot actually write many of the grade eight problems because I don’t know how to create the graphs and diagrams on the computer and I cannot cut and paste their pdf document, so for this example I will pick an easy one.

2/3(2x – 1) + 2 1/3 = 7 + 1/2(x)

Which step would not be a possible first step for solving this equation algebraically?

a.     Multiplying every term in the equation by six.

b.     Subtracting 2 ½ from 7

c.      Subtracting ½ x from 2 x

d.     Multiplying -1 by 2/3

If you are interested in reviewing other samples, they are posted by grade level on EngageNY, http://www.p12.nysed.gov/apda/common-core-sample-questions/

One of my favorite developmental psychologists is Lev Vygotsky.  He was a Russian researcher who was investigating child growth and development around the same time as Piaget.  However, given the political chill between Russia and the US, he was not really studied much here until the late twentieth century.  His work centered on how children learn and he posited a theory that learning is innately social.   Much of what was identified as affecting learning before Vygotsky was the student’s ability to process information.  However, Vygotsky argued that a child learns most effectively in the company of an adult or a more experienced peer.  He identified a “zone of proximal development” which is a reachable zone a bit past where they are cognitively and experientially right now but where they can achieve mastery of new material.  The coaching from a more experienced other person can bring the student to new understanding, but only if they are already grounded.  Vygotsky gave the example of a teacher who works an arithmetic problem in front of the child, repeating it as necessary until the child can master the skill.  But Vygotsky noted that if, instead, the teacher had worked a problem in higher mathematics--outside the zone of proximal development--the child would never learn it no matter how often it was repeated. http://lib.ncsu.edu/index.php/PSY_376_Zone_of_proximal_development

Many of the math examples posted may well be outside the zone of proximal development for many New York school children.  It is a bit like building a house without a foundation.  If we want children to engage mathematically at ever increasingly complex levels, it is imperative that the learning be attached to their prior knowledge.   They will master content in the company of teachers who are able to help the students negotiate the expectations.  However, they will not master content if they cannot make heads or tails out of it. 

Assessment and Reachability

Dr. Teresa Thayer Snyder

October 22, 2012

Another challenge has been placed on the agenda for schools preparing students for the State examinations.  The posted sample texts for preparing students for the new exams in ELA are hardly reachable by most students.

The New York State Education Department has posted the sample common core questions as prototypes of the upcoming New York State Testing Program for grades 3 through 8.  For ELA, they are public domain pieces of literature and informational text with specific practice questions attached.  In perusing the samples, I was struck by what seemed to be a fairly high degree of readability required for students in various grades.  I decided to run some readability calculations on the provided pieces and I am posting them here.  The calculations were run through a website called "Readability Score" which includes five different tests and an average of the results of all five tests.
(http://www.readability-score.com/)

Click here to view the ELA Readability Calculations

I realize these are not the actual test samples and are only prototypes, and one can only hope that when the exams are constructed, that the texts selected are considerably more reachable for the students being subjected to them.  The above passages would be more than a stretch for the average reader in the named grades.

Mind you, I am a big believer in rigor.  At this time of year, when I taught second grade, I shared the witches' chant from Macbeth:  "Double, double, toil and trouble; fire burn and caldron bubble."  It was a great literary transition into the Halloween season.  However, I read it with them, I did not expect them to extend their early reading reach so far without my coaching.  As we approach these new renditions of the New York State exams, using the common core learning standards, let's be mindful that expecting students to grapple with rich and rigorous text is appropriate, but the texts must be reachable.  In these samples, only a handful of selections are remotely close to grade level expectations.  I fully expect that some students will be able to handle the readings, just as I fully expect that many students will be totally frustrated.  For those students who are truly able to grapple with these texts and deduce meaning in response to the questions attached, what this test will truly measure is background knowledge.  We, not surprisingly, discovered this in our pre-assessment marathon the first week of school.  Students who took music lessons outside of school fared better on the music pre-assessment.  They had already been exposed to some of the concepts.  

Do we really think that the majority of New York's sixth graders have been exposed to Demosthenes?  I wonder if many sixth grade readers will take one look at that proper name and shy away from exerting any effort in trying to master the text.  Should we have an expectation that an average eighth grader in New York ought to be able to engage with text written at the senior in high school level?  Tolstoy's little story about the gray hare is an excellent piece, but hardly for independent reading by third graders.  The vocabulary is challenging.  Words like hoarfrost; threshing-floor; peasants; caftans are all words that are pretty much outside the reading expectations for most third graders.  Even if they can pronounce them, their understanding of them is likely to be rather primitive at best.  The passage from "Heidi" in fifth grade has a sentence that reads:  "I shan't want them anymore," was her prompt answer.'  Shan't?  My goodness, there's a word I hear commonly among our ten year olds!

Some students will be able to read these passages, but New York State is not Lake Woebegone, where every kid is above average!  I understand that these are just samples, and the actual exams may have vastly different passages - as I said, one can certainly hope so.  Rigor is so much more than baffling text which is well past grade level.  If you want students to be able to grapple with higher level thinking skills like comparing and analyzing and evaluating, you must give them texts which are reachable for them.  If the texts are not reachable, then the test is not about critical thinking.  It does not indicate the effectiveness of teachers, or the capacity of students.  Accountability is a two-way street.  Expecting students and teachers to engage with text requires that the text be reachable.

One Size Does NOT Fit All

Dr. Teresa Thayer Snyder

October 3, 2012

In late August, I watched a bit of the Little League World Series.  I am a fan of baseball and I particularly like watching little kids play this game.  What struck me, though, was more closely related to what I have been ruminating about for the past year or so:  the differences between individuals who can still reach high standards.  If you look at all of the little boys in the series, there is a vast range of players.  The smallest boy was 4 foot 8 inches, while the tallest was 6 foot 2 inches.  They ranged in weight from 80 pounds to 205 pounds.  These boys are all around 12 years old.  Each boy was playing to a very high standard.  They would not have made it to Williamsport if they were not.  However, there was nothing standardized about them - except perhaps for a common liking of pizza!  Establishing standards is not the same thing as standardized measurement.  It is quite possible to have extremely high standards and not measure success on those standards by a one-size-fits-all approach.  Imagine how silly it would have been to outfit all of those boys in a uniform that was designed for the average 12-year-old boy.  According to the CDC, the average 12-year-old-boy is just under five feet and about 90 pounds.  Many of the boys would have been flopping around in super baggy clothes and many would be squished like sausages if they could even squeeze in at all.  But of course we know there are so many factors that affect a boy's size - genetics, environment, nutrition, physical health and well-being.  If we all can accept that these little boys were all different sizes and playing a high level game, why is it so difficult to accept that children's cognitive maturation is as non-standardized as their physical growth.

One of the cautions that I believe we must be aware of when we implement standardized assessments is that results are based on a statistically contrived model.  Tests are designed to discriminate.  What we must be careful of is not to project too much from those discriminations.  Back to the not alternating feet on the stairs - is it a skill limitation or an exposure limitation?  When we give ELA exams to students who have varied exposures to English, we must be mindful of whether their outcomes represent flaws in their learning or reduced exposure to vocabulary, language experiences, text and non-text communication.  An exam might indicate to us that a child needs more exposure to these cognitive experiences, but that is pretty much all you can deduce.  These students will distribute across the statistical representation, but all the results tell us is where a student stands in relation to the distribution, not whether they are deficient in capacity or understanding.  The results certainly do not tell us whether the teacher was effective or not.  This is why the results are consistently skewed by sociological factors like socio-economic status or high mobility.  As an urban educator whom I know well has said, "The tests simply do not measure what my students know."

Child growth and development is not a race, it is a journey.  There are hills and valleys, straight roads, and unexpected curves.  Certainly, we can benchmark certain elements of growth - physical, social, and cognitive - in the same way we map a journey.  We just have to remember that the map is not the journey and the benchmark is not the goal.  The children in our care every day are not finished - there is nothing summative about them.

Analysis of the Instructional Process

Dr. Teresa Thayer Snyder

September 13, 2012

Several years ago I taught a graduate course in education at a local college.  The course was called 'Analysis of the Instructional Process'.  During my first class, I decided I wanted to pre-set my students with the sorts of messages we give to students all the time, which may be unintentionally counterproductive to learning.  I told my students that we would begin with a quiz, but they should not worry about the results as it would be for my purposes, for grouping students, or for understanding their prior knowledge.  I selected ten questions from recent Regents exams in different content areas.  I reminded my students that they should not worry as this quiz would not count against them in their grade and it shouldn’t be too hard as they had all seen items like these before.  Within ten minutes I had three graduate level students crying.  I stopped the quiz and asked them all how it was going.  It turns out that only one student could answer one of the questions correctly and he confessed that it was because he was a math teacher and had only taught the concept that day.  We had a lengthy and productive discussion on what they had experienced.  I pointed out to them that every one of them had achieved a Regents diploma, which meant that they had passed all those Regents within the past eight to ten years and yet they had not retained any of the content or skills.  I asked the students who cried why they were upset when I told them it would not count against them and they confessed that they were afraid I would think they were stupid.  I asked them if they imagined school children ever had those same feelings.  That was the beginning of a lesson on the difference between performance and learning.  These bright and capable students, who had already achieved a degree and were working on obtaining their Masters, were flummoxed to think that their success on those Regents exams was more a measure of short‑term memory—what they retained for their performance on a particular exam at a particular point in time, rather than truly learned.  They began to explain it to me and to themselves that taking those exams was like jumping through hoops to get to the next hoop.  Several described that as pretty much their experience throughout their education, they merely performed in order to move on to the next task.  I then discussed with them what learning meant—not learning to perform, but learning for mastery.  I asked them to think about experiences they had where they worked at something in order to master it.  One student talked about learning to drive and how much effort she put into parallel parking.  Another talked about shooting a hundred foul shots a day.  Another talked about building model boats.  I asked that young man if the first boat he built was the same as the one he most recently built.  He laughed and cringed a bit when he described his first model.  I told him it was rather like being Picasso who once stated that he spent his whole childhood trying to learn to draw like an adult and his entire adulthood trying to remember how to draw like a child.

I am reminded of this experience with my graduate students this week as we immerse our students in rigorous pre-assessments on content they have not yet studied in order to generate a target for their summative performance at the end of the course.  While it is easier to explain to older students, I worry so about the little ones.  I have had one report from a veteran teacher who was assessing first graders.  A child said he did not know what fact families were and she told him not to worry because by the end of the year he would be an expert.  His response was “Can’t you help me?”  It flies in the face of why we became educators in the first place.  I remembered how unsettled my adult learners were, so I imagine this is very perplexing to many of our students.

This is one of my major objections to the standardized testing movement.  True learning is so much more than a performance on an exam at a given point in time.  Learning is messy, not neatly packaged in 42-minute segments.  Learning is expansive, not reduced to bubble sheets.  There is a great deal of research which is being ignored by the policy makers which describes the difference between people who have performance goals and people who have learning goals.  One of my favorite researchers, Carol Dweck, has written extensively about the difference.

“Performance goals are about “winning positive judgments of your competence and avoiding negative ones.  In other words, when students pursue performance goals they’re concerned with their level of intelligence:  They want to look smart (to themselves or others) and avoid looking dumb.”  A person usually does this by playing it safe.

Learning goals are ones that are about increasing your competence.   “It reflects a desire to learn new skills, master new tasks, or understand new things…”

In order to develop new competencies students often go through a phase of confusion, failure, and discomfort.  Think about what it feels like to learn a new video game, learn to juggle, or speak another language.  Being a beginner requires us to quiet our egos and a willingness to look like a beginner, often in front of others.”

The heavy focus on standardized tests is driving us towards performance goals and away from learning goals, despite the fact that learning goals result in sustained and continuously evolving understanding and performance goals result in those hoops that my grad students described.  This leads to short-term learning, lack of generalizing from one lesson to the next.  I am reminded of a conversation I had with a colleague regarding math instruction.  He teaches mathematics in high school and was commenting to me on how so many students still struggled with fractions.  We discussed how many units of study from kindergarten through high school focused on fractions, yet the students had successfully performed on the grade level assessments all through school, without ever truly understanding fractions.

At this point in my career, I can only hope that reason will prevail and that teaching for mastery will trump teaching for the bubble sheets.   Education is about becoming smarter, not jumping through hoops.  

Welcome back message from the Superintendent

Dr. Teresa Thayer Snyder

August 22, 2012

Ordinarily at this time of year I am welcoming back our teachers and students for the exciting beginning for the next academic year.  I want to do so again, but I also want to explain that the beginning of this year is going to feel a bit different to everyone.  This year we are being challenged by the State to demonstrate how much each student grows over the course of the year.  To measure growth, we will be having most students take a pre-test in September in each of their courses.  The pre-test will be rigorous because it is supposed to assess prior knowledge, not what has been taught.  We will be explaining to the students that they should not be surprised if they can't answer all the questions because this will be a measure of how much they will be learning over the course of the school year.  These assessments will not be used to grade the students, but will be used to demonstrate growth. 

When I was a second grade teacher, I wanted to know how much my students changed over the year and I set up a number of challenges asking them questions about themselves, posing some math examples, requiring a few sentences about their favorite books.  I collected all the work and put it in a treasure chest and then took the class outside to plant tulip bulbs.  I explained to them that when the tulips blossomed the following spring, we would open the treasure chest and they could see for themselves how much they had changed in one school year.  One Day in May we opened the treasure chest and the children were astonished at how much they had changed.  "My letters were backwards and I could not even spell!"  I can't believe I couldn't multiply!"  "Look, now my favorite books are chapter books!"  Over and over I heard my students exclaiming about how much they had learned and how much they had changed.  It was also gratifying to me, their teacher, as together we explored the many ways we had grown and how many skills were mastered.  In a way, this process of pre- and post-assessment that the State is mandating could have the same affect, as long as we teachers and parents support the students during these pre-assessment periods.  It is important that the students clearly understand that there will be many questions asked that they will not yet know.  So many of our children are such driven youngsters, we want to make sure they do not begin the year believing they have not done well on a "test."  It is more important that they learn how much growing they will be doing.  After all, that is what the school year portends - in the next ten months every child here will be growing cognitively, physically, and socially.  The sky is the limit for them all.

Welcome back, and welcome to our new students and families who are just beginning their Voorheesville journey.  Enjoy these last few, fleeting days of summer and prepare for the next adventure!

The absurdity of pineapples
and standardized testing

Dr. Teresa Thayer Snyder

June 25, 2012

In a recently administered New York State Test in English Language Arts for grade eight, there was a great hue and cry over a short piece of writing and the subsequent questions that were designed to measure student achievement and teacher effectiveness. The passage in question was a parody of the popular Aesop’s fable that many of our children learn in elementary school, in which a tortoise races a hare. In the state test passage, the tortoise is replaced by a talking pineapple, and the moral of the story is that pineapples don’t have sleeves.

The passage illustrates perfectly the problem with relying on standardized tests to measure achievement and effectiveness.

The writing piece about the pineapple was absurd, and the questions had no clear answers. Definitely a flaw in any multiple choice standardized test, where great attention is paid to making certain that the distractors are clearly not correct. Where this leads to an even deeper level of absurdity is that the author of the original piece stated in an interview that he had sold some writing to the testing company, along with editing rights. In his original story there was no pineapple. He admits the story was supposed to be silly, but the company had edited his story in which the race was between an eggplant and a hare with the moral of the story being “Never bet on an eggplant.”

I am thinking that the test writers from Pearson realized that writing about an eggplant could be construed as racially charged, as in some communities “eggplant” is a disparaging word synonymous with the most denigrating racial slur we know. I once tried to become a test writer for a large company to make some extra money in my early days as an educator. I am afraid I had to walk out of the training session because we were being taught to sanitize every item so that it had no racial, ethnic, religious, sexist, sexual, cultural connotations at all. Results should not be skewed by connotations. In some respects this made sense, until we were asked to comment on one item in particular—one which every up-and-coming test item writer identified as acceptable. It went something like this:

Which of the following is a principle export of Indonesia?

a) Cotton
b) Coffee
c) Rubber
d) Rice

We trainees all selected the correct answer c, and we were told that, while we were correct, it was a test item that would have to be thrown out because of its connotation. I was embarrassed by my naiveté, and I decided on the spot that I did not need extra money that badly and excused myself from what might have been a lucrative career as a test writer!

Perhaps it would be different in math as it is so much more precise, with less room for personal interpretation. However, on an elementary NYS math test this spring students were marked off if they did not identify a rectangle as having two sets of parallel sides with four 90 degree angles. One child wrote that a rectangle is a quadrilateral with two sets of parallel sides and the angles are equal. He lost points because he did not put 90 degree angles. Since the day of the test correction period, I have been trying to figure out how you could have a quadrilateral that had two sets of parallel sides with equal angles and have those angles be anything other than 90 degrees!

I have been skeptical of these testing mandates for many years—in fact, I wrote a piece for the Spotlight in 1999 about the then-fourth grade tests. Please understand, I am an avid believer in assessment, but I don’t have confidence that these very expensive tests are anywhere near as accurate in measuring achievement as a teacher who works with students every day. At least in class, assessment can take on color and texture. The passage illustrates the problem with relying on standardized tests to measure achievement and effectiveness.

Back in the day of my early first principalship, I had a third grade teacher who begged me to buy her class world maps that you see in classrooms—the ones that roll down. I purchased her state-of-the-art maps and she was very happy. Then in 1991, about 24 hours after they were installed, the Soviet Union collapsed. In September, when her class returned, her first assignment involved those maps. “Ms. Snyder just bought us these amazing maps! Using the resources in the classroom, identify why they are no longer accurate.” I was astonished at how invested these young children were in this worthy search for information.

That same year, I attended my own sixth grader’s open house and, as I sat in a brand new classroom, I heard the following: “We use a standardized assessment for social studies and it won’t be corrected in time for the June final (this was September) so we are going to teach the Soviet Union like it still exists, although we will touch upon the collapse during current events.” I was astonished and I simply asked: “Why don’t you just ask the students to write an essay on why the questions are no longer relevant?” Well, that would not be standardized—I agreed, but who cares??

I happened to visit kindergarten screening where we use a very tried and true assessment tool, but my ears hurt when I listened to one of the questions posed to a preschooler: “What are shoes made of?” When I was a child (probably around the time this assessment was first developed!) there would probably have been one correct answer: leather. But I glanced at the tiny feet in the gymnasium and saw the widest selection of materials covering them—vinyl, cotton, leather, canvas—in bright colors—and some of them even had several materials on one shoe (with lights!!). That is what is flawed about the overreliance on tests to measure achievement and effectiveness. It removes the vitality of the instructional interactions.

There is nothing standardized about a child—which brings me to another testing challenge. When my youngest went to his preschool screening—using that same exact screening tool—he was asked to write his name. He wrote ZAK. I was pretty impressed because Z and K sometimes came out twisted and turned. When I mentioned that to the screener, I was told: “Yes but it’s too bad he spelled it wrong—it should be Zach.” I was astounded as I responded that his name was Zak and the reason why was because he was born prematurely and his tiny shirt that matched his siblings’ with their names on the back was only big enough to hold three letters!

I once read an advertisement for a testing company that said they could make measuring your child’s achievement as standardized as McDonalds makes French Fries. That led me to write an essay entitled, “Your Child is Not a French Fry.” Those of us who know and love children know that they are as unique as their thumbprints, and no matter what test you give under any conditions, it will never be a full measure of who they are and what they can accomplish.

The sixth grader to whom I alluded in the social studies experience came home on the last day of sixth grade. My older daughter told me her sister was upstairs very upset. When I got to my child who had just completed elementary school, she was sobbing on my bed. This was not because of her sadness at leaving her school, but resulted from her perusal of her standardized tests scores, which the school sent home with the children. I asked her what the problem was and she told me the reports said she was below average. “I am only in the third stanine,” she cried. I burst out laughing, which sounds quite cruel, and on one subset of a multi-set test she had, indeed, scored in the third stanine. She looked at me horrified, as I chuckled, and I explained that any 11-year-old who could interpret stanines was anything but below average! She is now an accomplished professional with a master’s degree.

I did not enter this field so that I could place ceilings on what children could accomplish. I believe it is the job of an educator to open doors, not to box students in. My sons are both teachers. My oldest had a sixth grade student a few years back who came to him reading at a first grade level. At the end of the year he was on grade level. People asked what my son did, and his response was that the boy had heard for so long that he could not read, he believed it. That is one of the problems with some assessments: They can become self-fulfilling.

Our challenge as educators and as parents is to understand that no child is finished just because of a summative assessment. In fact, every summative assessment is nothing more than a set of data to inform instruction. Going to school is about becoming smarter—a fact that I am afraid is losing ground in the race to the top!

Much ado about nothing

Dr. Teresa Thayer Snyder

March 1, 2012

Recently Governor Cuomo graciously took credit for bringing to fruition a joint resolution to the issue of teacher evaluation in the State of New York. Times Union Columnist Fred LeBrun took him to task for having created the problem in the first place by imposing his view that 40 percent of a teacher's evaluation be based on student scores on New York state examinations. Most recently, Larry Schwartz, Governor Cuomo's secretary, took issue with LeBrun's perspectives in a Time Union editorial. While the sparring will undoubtedly continue, the entire conversation is based on a major flawed assumption. I have been a school administrator for 22 years in private, parochial, and four different public school systems in New York. In every setting, we had teacher evaluation systems in place. Not only were they in place, they were based on the very rich and rigorous rubrics now being touted as essential to quality education. I, along with a multitude of colleagues, received training on using the Charlotte Danielson model of teacher evaluation 10 years before the current Governor took office.

As a school administrator I have observed in hundreds of classrooms. I have written countless evaluations and have counseled young educators on areas to improve their instruction. I know this is not unique to me. I know for a fact, because I actually work in schools, that administrators and teachers spend countless hours in the evaluation cycle. There is a pre-observation conference, an observation that typically covers a class period, a written evaluation of the observed class period, a list of recommendations and commendations for areas observed, and a post-observation conference. For non-tenured teachers, this process occurs several times a year. It takes hours of administrative time and is, without doubt, among the most important tasks instructional leaders perform in the academic year. Tenured teachers frequently have different methods of demonstrating their expertise, ranging from portfolios, to goal setting and reflection, to formal observation by an administrator.

The new political football will not improve student performance on state tests, because it already exists and it has not improved student performance on state tests. The reason why this is a red herring is because state tests and other standardized tests are notoriously instructionally insensitive. In the words of W. J. Popham, a professor emeritus from Stanford who taught psychometrics, "...an instructionally insensitive test would not allow us to distinguish accurately between strong and weak instruction. Currently, for example, students’ performances on most accountability tests are more heavily influenced by students’ socioeconomic status (SES) than by the quality of teachers’ instructional efforts. Such instructionally insensitive accountability tests tend to measure the SES composition of a school’s student body rather than the effectiveness with which the school’s students have been taught."

Another facet of the state tests being poor measures is the very fact that they are unreliable. This was noted by the current chancellor of the Board of Regents in her first days in office. We school folks had been faithfully administering the assessments that were sent to us by the state, only to have then Commissioner Steiner and Chancellor Tisch make the declaration that the scores we had been receiving, and seeing published in local media, were flawed, as the scaled scores allowed too many children to score proficiently. The next set of tests would be more rigorous, meaning longer. Schools complied, using the tools, only to be told that the standards we had been using in New York would be changing to the Common Core Standards next year. This means that the new state assessments would not only be longer (90 minutes at a time for an eight year old??), but they would be based on a brand new curriculum. These massive changes make it very difficult to do any trend analysis and therefore, it is very difficult to determine the reliability of any of the assessments we have been using or will use in the future. We do not have any data base that demonstrates the connection between instruction and these assessments. How, therefore, can these tools be used to evaluate a teacher's success in teaching children when the tests are not related to the instruction?

As mentioned, I’ve been in school administration for 22 years and in that time I have worked with teachers in many settings. I have met some extraordinary educators. I have observed some amazing lessons, where children were engaged and excited. I have also met many, many dedicated professionals who are eager to improve the craft of teaching, who are attentive to the needs of the children around them. These children are as unique as their thumb prints, nothing standardized about them. I have seen teachers purchase school supplies or pay field trip funds. I have been privileged to see teachers in many settings celebrate the success of their students, and work to assure all of them that they are works in progress, that going to school is about becoming smarter, that no single measure should put a ceiling on a child's opportunities. Over my career, I have also met some teachers whom I have counseled out of the profession. Of this number, virtually none would have been tagged by student test scores. Indeed, I can think of several who would have been deemed 'effective' or even 'highly effective' using student outcomes, but who were simply not teachers. Teaching is not a reductionist activity; it is a vital, relational interaction with students. It is about inspiring and inviting students on a lifelong journey of getting smarter—and that is not measured on a set of examinations that are given in May.

An update on the exploration of IB programming

Dr. Teresa Thayer Snyder

February 2012

As we continue our exploration of International Baccalaureate (IB) programming, I wanted to give the community an update.

At this juncture, we have filed a letter of interest with IB, which is required before a school can proceed with more in-depth examination. We have sent several small groups to visit IB schools in New York, including an elementary school in Monticello, Albany High School and two schools in the Rochester area. Mr. Reardon and I also attended an orientation in Rochester. We have connected with a district in New Hampshire that is in the process of converting the whole district to IB over the next three to four years. We expect to build a relationship with that district as we continue to explore.

We are exploring the IB program to begin with the elementary program, which would be eligible for IB’s Primary Years Program. The transition, should we decide to continue, would not be a very heavy lift at the elementary school, as so many of our current units of study are exploratory and already focus on higher-level thinking skills. They would be easy to adapt to the IB frameworks.

What is required before we can continue, is professional development provided by IB. Of course, with tight budgets, it is going to be a squeeze to get that training and we are in conversations with IB providers about the best way to effect training, given scant resources. Since IB deals with systems worldwide—many in third world countries with even bigger challenges than we face, they do have some credible expertise on how to obtain the professional development within the economic limitations schools face. We will continue to explore and I will continue to try to win the lottery to ease the burden!

International Baccalaureate is a globally recognized educational delivery focused on challenging learners at all levels to think deeply. For those who are interested in reviewing the construct of IB, their website is www.ibo.org.


Full-Day Kindergarten

Dr. Teresa Thayer Snyder

(Jan. 26, 2012) At the January 23, 2012 meeting of the Board of Education, a vote to approve conversion to full day kindergarten was approved by the Board of Education. The district is projecting 70 kindergarten students for the fall, and the state has earmarked $188,000 in aid for conversion to a full-day program. If there are more or fewer students, the conversion aid is adjusted accordingly. I recommended that we access this aid and move forward. Subsequent to my recommendation, the Board requested and helped author a survey of the community on this issue. The survey results included 541 responses, with more than 77 percent supporting the move to full-day kindergarten.

Today, I want to address one issue that was brought up by some parents who expressed concern that if they had known that we might change to full day they would have made different plans for their pre-school children this year to ease the transition. I found that reason very compelling, so I thought I would address it from a personal and historical point of view.

Many of you may know I have four children. I was able to take time off from my career to stay home with them, a time in my life I will always cherish. In the case of my three older children, they went to three-day pre-kindergarten and then to half-day kindergarten, as was more typical in that era. My youngest son, however, stayed home with me until he was five. I returned to work, teaching at a private school where he was enrolled in full-day kindergarten. Although I was concerned about the transition as he had never gone to pre-school at all, my guy thrived. I hope by sharing this, it helps some parents. Of my four children, he is the only one who recalls what a wonderful time he had in kindergarten, remembers all of his teachers’ names, remembers the playground, the lunch room, the books and stories. He still communicates with many of the kids and some of the teachers he went to school with 24 years ago. School was a challenge for him from the academic point of view as he is dyslexic, but he cherished his classroom experience. When he was recently completing his master’s degree in education, he frequently alluded to his kindergarten experience as enriching, encouraging, nurturing and fun. He once wrote of his love for writing which, though difficult for him, was a passion lit up by his teacher. I still have a piece of his writing which by many standards would be so primitive—it is laden with strings of letters with some approximate spelling, but which contains the dictation his teacher took when she asked him to read it: “This is the story of a king and a queen and a girl named Felicia who lived in a haunted castle by the edge of the creepy forest ( ‘cweepy foris’!)…” I remember his teacher telling me he was lacking conventions, but he surely had voice.

I am a big believer in time and space—so many children are living in such a rushed world, with so many transitions. I earnestly believe that full-day kindergarten will afford children time and space to develop the skills they need and to discover their own voice, in the company of teachers dedicated to the best tenets of early childhood education. That said, for those parents who feel strongly that their kindergarten child does not need or cannot handle a full-day program, parents can exercise their parental rights to pick their child up at noon. Kindergarten, unlike upper grades, is not mandatory and a parent who chooses to pick a child up will be accorded the same accommodations that parents currently experience when they pick up a child for an appointment.


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