And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession—to the praise of His glory.
Ephesians 1:13-14

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Keeping My Focus on What Counts

I wanted to thank you all for the positive encouragement you have offered in response to my efforts.  Tonight as I reflect on all the things I have learned and heard this last week, I want to take a deep breath and remember one very important thing.  Why are we asking these questions?  Why are we urging our SBOE representatives and State Legislatives to look into these math TEKS?  I don't ever want to forget the answer to that question.

For me, the answer is a nine year old little girl who loves to dance, hates being called small, and despite her size, can run the mile like a lightening bolt and a two year old little boy whose broad vocabulary, independent spirit, and witty ability to open and empty things keeps me both laughing and turning grey!

While I want to equip myself with the knowledge and understanding needed to have effective conversations with my representatives, I don't want to get caught up in a broken system.  Yes, there are a lot of things wrong with the public school system.  And yes, those problems will not be fixed anytime soon, and they definitely won't be fixed by an insignificant person like me.  But maybe I can make a little difference in one thing.

Maybe I can ask enough questions and demand enough answers to get our leaders to realize that they need to reconsider testing our children on new Math TEKS that they have not reasonably prepared them for.

Or maybe in several years, when the time is right, I will share this experience with that nine year old, who by then will be much older.  And she will know what I meant when I said, "I will always be here for you."  Maybe she will even look to my example and stand up for something she believes in.  If this year she fails every math class, but someday she learns that lesson then I would say it was a victory.

So tonight here are some things I hope you remember…

Stand up for your kids today and you might make a difference in their tomorrow.  But don't talk about your concerns in front of your children.  They already think math is hard; they don't need to know you think it's too hard for them too.  Instead encourage them and help them, especially with their math homework :)  And encourage their teachers.  Be willing to be a team with their teachers and rally your support around your child.

If you do that, you might make a difference in their math grades this year, or better yet you might make a difference that will last a lifetime.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Clarity Leads to More Concerns

Today I met with some local school administrators who invited me to visit with them and helped me answer some of the questions that have arisen as a result of my recent research.  They are just as concerned as I am!

In my meeting, I discovered that in the past, the first year that changes to the TEKS were implemented, the standardized test only covered the TEKS that were common to both the newly revised and previous TEKS.  This year because the changes in Math TEKS in grades 3-8 were so drastic, there is not sufficient common standards to build a math test on; therefore, our children will be tested solely on the newly revised TEKS.

So my question this evening is why the huge and sudden revisions to the math TEKS?

The SBOE says that the TEKS were written based on College and Career Readiness Standards (CCRS).  Those standards have been in effect since 2008.  The previous TEKS were revised in 2009 to meet CCRS guidelines.  Nothing has changed in the CCRS guidelines so why the drastic changes in the TEKS?

Is the answer found in the Common Core State Standards?

Renaissance Learning produces educational products nationwide.  They created charts that bridge the TEKS to Common Core State Standards so that educators in Texas can utilize their products.  The chart shows the staggering relationship between the 2012 revised Math TEKS and the Common Core State Standards.  Take the 3rd Grade chart for example.  Of the 192 math TEK subparts, Renaissance Learning found 172 have direct correlation to Common Core State Standards.

Robert Kaplinsky of Glenrock Consulting also noticed the correlation between math TEKS and Common Core.  He works primarily as a specialist helping teachers implement the Common Core State Standards.  After being invited to present in Texas, he set out to create an "objective comparison between the two sets of standards."  In this article , Mr. Kaplinsky reports his findings.  He says, "I was surprised to see such a strong correlation between the two sets of standards.  The CCSS and TEKS have much in common as to how students should demonstrate their mathematical understanding. "

Whether you are a supporter of Common Core or not, these findings are problematic based on House Bill 462, which explicitly "prohibits the State Board of Education (SBOE) from adopting Common Core State Standards." (Read HB 462 at )

So is a rose by any other name still a rose?

And did the SBOE make this drastic change to the TEKS because they were trying to align them more closely to Common Core State Standards?  And if that was the case, then why?

These are questions I am hoping to find answers to.  Maybe it will lead me to an answer to my main question.  One that I have asked before…

Did anyone consider what the gap in these new TEKS would do to children like mine who are being tested in the classroom and on the STAAR test using standards that the SBOE is fully aware they haven't prepared them for?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Homework Help

This question was on my daughter's math paper today

The elevator in Mr. Schilling's office has a Maximum Capacity of 700 pounds.  Mr. Schilling weighs 205 pounds, his boss weighs 225 pounds, and the custodian weighs 145 pounds.  The custodian wants to move a filing cabinet with a weight of 185 pounds.  Mr. Schilling rounds each weight to the nearest 100 pounds to estimate the total.  Is it safe for the three people and the filing cabinet to ride in the elevator together?

A. Yes, because the total rounded weight is exactly 700 pounds.
B. No, because the total rounded weight is greater than 700 pounds.
C. No, because some weights were rounded down, so the estimate is lower than the actual weight.
D. Yes, because some weights were rounded up, so the estimate is higher than the actual weight.

I sent the question to Mr. Bradley because I want our leaders to get a real example of what our children are facing.  I don't know the answer.  I wonder if he does?

*I should add my husband who is a Mechanical Engineer and my dad who is a Safety Expert said no answer is right because you should never round with safety issues!  It's a ridiculous question that would never be allowed in the real world!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Meeting with David Bradley

Mr. Bradley invited me to meet with him in person the week of November 10th to propose a solution that might provide relief to our precious children and hardworking teachers prior to the next SBOE meeting on November 19th.

I am very grateful that he has recognized there is a problem and is willing to work with parents toward a possible solution.    Nevertheless, I recognize the problem isn't fixed yet.  Please continue to e-mail him and let him know the impact these difficult math TEKS are having on your children.  You don't have to have researched ideas; he just needs to know how you feel.  The more of you that voice your concern to him, the more he will understand the problem and be willing to represent a solution to the SBOE.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Fighting for My Children

I have talked to several of you this year who are very upset about the math standards that the state is expecting of our kids.  Below is my correspondence with State Board of Education  (SBOE) representative, David Bradley and an administrator who served on the TEKS review committee.  Please take the time to read it.  And please join me in voicing your concern to your state representatives. (I will list contact information for pertinent state representatives in the comments section of this post).  It's a fight worth fighting for!
From: Alison [] 
Sent: Thursday, October 23, 2014 11:22 PM
TEKS Review Committee,
I am contacting you because I am very concerned about the new math TEKS being implemented in our state this school year.  Tonight in my research, I discovered that you served as a reviewer in the creation of the TEKS.  Earlier this week, I sent the following e-mail to David Bradley, my SBOE representative.  Every teacher I have spoken with thinks these TEKS are developmentally inappropriate.  I was wondering what information you had available to you that made you think otherwise?  Thank you.
Mr. Bradley,
I am the mother of a third grader at Langham Elementary in Nederland, Texas.  I am writing you because I am very concerned about the new math TEKS being implemented in our state this school year.  My daughter loves to learn, she is a bright honor-roll student, and she enjoys school.  Is the state trying to change that?  Given the new mathematic TEKS, I feel certain that will be their result.
I reviewed the October 2011 revisions to the curriculum, and I believe we are expecting too much of our children.  I understand increasing rigor and encouraging college readiness, but as the mother of two small children I also know what breaking a child's spirit is.  That, Mr. Bradley, is what I am sure these TEKS will do.
I know that the SBOE had experts review the Final Recommendation for the TEKS.  I reviewed the experts.  Here is what I found; collectively I found NO experience in the elementary classroom.  Take for example the electronic resume of the distinguished Dr. Richard A Askey.
University of Wisconsin-Madison, Professor Emeritus 2003-present
University of Wisconsin-Madison, John Bascom Professor of Mathematics 1995-2003
University of Wisconsin-Madison, Gabor Szegö Professor of Mathematics, 1986-1995
University of Wisconsin-Madison, Professor of Mathematics, 1968-1986
University of Wisconsin-Madison, Associate Professor of Mathematics, 1965-1968
University of Wisconsin-Madison, Assistant Professor of Mathematics, 1963-1965
University of Chicago, Instructor, 1961-1963
Washington University, Instructor, 1958-1961
Is this what the SBOE considers an expert in understanding what my third grader can accomplish in math?  Where was the input from the elementary teachers?  You know, the ones who have dedicated their lives at the expense of a higher paying job to invest sweat and tears into our children?  The ones who spend hours finding ways to talk to their students because they know their names, their learning styles, and their potential?  
Last month when asked about new math standards the Dallas News cited Oswaldo Alvarenga, Dallas Exeuctive Director for STEM Instruction as saying, "“The students will be exposed to what they need to know. Will the timelines be met? Yes.  How deep an understanding will students have? That is a great question."
This image created by curriculum experts from Richardson ISD shows the drastic changes in math curriculum this year that the state expects our students to know.  No wonder educators across the state have questions.

Its the third week of the six weeks grading period, Mr. Bradley, and I hate to be the bearer of bad news.  But I think I know the answer to Mr. Alvarenga's question.  The answer is students will understand that math is hard, maybe too hard for them.  Some will develop a fear and decide not trying is better than trying and failing.  Some will be punished at home for grades that really did reflect their best because their parents don't understand how difficult these new expectations really are.  Some will be pulled out of extra-curricular activities that would have helped them develop physically, creatively and socially.  
This is Mackenzie Howell, my daughter.  

This year her wonderful teacher and I will fight to keep her from being one of those children whose spirits are broken because politicians cared more about their pocketbook than their children.  Please encourage the SBOE to listen to teachers and stop letting money do the talking.  The price is too high.
Alison Howell

On Oct 24, 2014, at 8:48 AM, a TEKS review member replied thanking me for reaching out, acknowledging the difficulty of gap in knowledge students are facing and explaining that the standards were based on research in math education and standards in other states.

David Bradley e-mailed the Review Committee member and copied me.  He thanked the Review Committee member for responding to me and said he agreed with the committee member's statements.

I responded to the Committee Member and Mr. Bradley with the following, which includes a quote from the Committee Member's previous e-mail to me...

Thank you for your time and response.  One additional question, that I would very much appreciate your input on.

As you acknowledged "Most of the issues we are experiencing now are happening because students have gaps in their knowledge. Meaning, a student like your daughter wasn’t taught the prerequisite skills she needs now when she was a second grader. So, as a third grader, she “skipped” some content." 

As I become more enlightened as to the issues, I think your above comment perhaps even more accurately describes the problem.  Did anyone consider what that will do to our children?  As I am sure you are aware, our children's education revolves around and leads up to the STAAR, which tests them on these new TEKS.  Their curriculum, which includes Motivation Math, Measuring Up, Lone Star worksheets, Think Through Math, and Pearson textbooks are all designed to prepare them.  Since you are aware of the gap in knowledge, I bet you don't have to wonder how my daughter is doing in math right now.  She has a 95 or above in every subject, except math.  That she is failing.  Would you like to know what she did this morning before school?  She threw up because she has a math test today.  It's a test we spent hours preparing for.  I am also paying a private tutor.  While fitting a tutor in the budget is difficult, what is even worse is seeing her broken.  Her teacher's heart is breaking for her students too, many many of which are having trouble.  But she has been told what to teach so there is nothing she can do about it.

And unfortunately the stress doesn't end with the grade book.  Since the school administrators know student scores will be a reflection on them, they create an environment at school that keeps success on STAAR at the forefront of everyone's mind.  STAAR pep rallies, allSTAAR awards, and I could go on.  But this year, my daughter has been set up for failure.  She hasn't received the foundation she needs to succeed.

Sure, it may "even out" sometime as you say.  Or maybe your research will be proven wrong, and the psychologists that say children cannot think abstractly until at least age 12 will be proven right.  Even worse, I worry my daughter and other students in her grade level will never even out.  We all know math knowledge has to be built upon.  In her paper Success at Math Dr. Jean Marie Linhart says it simply but accurately, "You can't skip one part and still be able to do the rest. Later material depends on earlier material."

Either way, since there was no transition to the new TEKS, this year my daughter and thousands of children like her will struggle.  Yes we can overlook poor grades or low STAAR results and say it will even out, but beyond those numbers are children.  Children like mine who want to please, who want to succeed.

So I told you I had one question.  Here it is, "Did anyone consider what this gap would do to children like mine who are being tested in the classroom and on the STAAR test using standards that you all know you haven't prepared them for?"

I look forward to your input.

The committee member responded with specific ways I could encourage my child and help her.  Her teacher and principal have already provided me with that.  I am looking for systematic change.  As a result, I -emailed the following to David Bradley...

On Oct 24, 2014, at 10:20 AM, Alison <> wrote:

Thank you so much for your time Mr. Yoes.  I know you are busy, and I appreciate you taking the time to respond to me.

Mr. Bradley, I respect Mr. Yoes and his position as an educator.  However, as my SBOE representative systematic changes are up to you.  What is your plan to address my concerns and what I believe will be the expressed concern of many others as I make efforts to educate them on what our children are facing this year?  I would welcome e-mail correspondence or the opportunity to meet with you in person.

Mr. Bradley responded to me to tell me that I have been effective, but he doesn't know when the TEKS will be considered again.  He thanked me for sharing my concerns, and I believe he hoped I would let the matter rest.

Subject: RE: Math TEKS
Date: Fri, 24 Oct 2014 11:06:51 -0500

I think you are mistaken.  It's never too late to take a stand, and I care too much about my children to give up that easily

In this letter dated May 1, 2014, Commissioner Williams states, "Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff are currently working on a plan for assessing grades 3–8 mathematics in spring 2015."

Please advise me about this process.  Who will be involved and how can I ensure the voices of parents like me are heard?