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Why Our Child Won’t Take the STAAR Test

Why We Are Refusing the STAAR Test

Note: This was written last year. Everything is still accurate to my knowledge except Pearson lost most of the STARR contract for this school year. However, nothing including the tab has changed much in the way the tests are written and administered.

When my oldest daughter started this year I could have never imagined that we would be going rogue and refusing the STAAR test as an act of civil disobedience. Our child will not be participating in testing this week, and we’d like everyone to know why.

First, we are not refusing because the test is “too hard” or our special snowflake might not do well. We believe in growing strong independent and productive citizens. We value hard work, and goal setting. Letting kids off the hook because they are uncomfortable with something is not part of our parenting agenda. However, teaching them to stand up in the face of injustice is. The definition of civil disobedience is in part refusing to comply with certain policies or laws as an act of peaceful political protest. It is usually done when a group (in this case parents and increasingly teachers) are faced with an injustice yet lack the finances or political authority to affect meaningful change in the system. The current system of high stakes testing is unjust. It is detrimental to children, their teachers and our schools. Today’s third grader is tomorrow’s political leadership and worker base. Thus, everyone has a stake in this…not just those of us with school age children.

The following is a list of reasons the STAAR testing system as it stands now is unjust, and detrimental to public education.

  • Follow the money trail: Standardized testing is BIG business. States pay a private corporation named Pearson to produce and analyze the results of the tests. Texas ALONE has given Pearson 90 MILLION $$$$ for the STAAR test. This does not include the new curriculum most schools had to purchase (also produced by Pearson) so that teaching materials would line up with the concepts on the STAAR. But we are totally not teaching to the test right? Insert eye roll here. Pearson is getting very wealthy, and is protecting their wealth by heavily lobbying and funding legislation that supports high stake standardized testing. Google it… How much money has Pearson paid to lobby for common core and high stake s testing?
  • Designed by politicians not educators: Decisions about education standards, what is age appropriate, and the way testing data is used are being made by politicians and the corporations who fund the public education lobbying machine (Walmart, Dell, Pearson….) Call me crazy, but I think teachers, school administrators and child development specialists should be making these decisions instead of politicians and big businesses whose only interests are  lining their pockets and securing their future minimum wage job force.
  • Has never been validated: Assessments have to be both reliable (meaning you’ll get the same results every time) and valid (meaning it measures what you think it measures). STAAR tests are presumed to measure knowledge of concepts and therefor teacher effectiveness. Does it??? Does a bad grade mean the teacher is not effective?? Does it mean the student didn’t learn the material??? No one knows as it has never been studied and validated as a true assessment of teaching effectiveness or learning. The little anecdotal evidence we have seems to show it is a better measurement of socio-economic status and parental involvement that teaching or learning skills. (Google: The zip code effect in standardized testing). Not to mention that it is likely a lot of the measurement outcome is based on a student’s test taking skills instead of actual knowledge.
  • Not an accurate measurement of gaps in learning or gaps in teaching: Students and teachers get the results far after the end of the school year. Additionally, parents and teachers aren’t informed which concepts the student struggled with. It only shows a final score. Even if the STAAR did accurately measure gaps in learning or teaching (which I don’t think it does) there is no way for the student to review the material they missed. Students who score poorly start the next school year just as behind as they would have without taking the test. Yes, some believe this is the purpose of benchmark testing during the year. However, like the test itself benchmarks really only show abilities to take a test rather than true knowledge. Also, holding a child back an entire school year because he may be unsure on a few concepts leads to behavior problems brought on by boredom.
  • Soooo much wasted time: Things like recess and library time have been all but eliminated in today’s public schools. Teachers say there just isn’t enough time to fit it all in. How much time is spent on learning test taking strategies, and practice tests preparing for the STAAR? How much creative learning time or class projects are pushed aside in favor of worksheets and testing drills? Not to mention that the whole school shuts down on testing days. No one has art or PE those days. The younger kids cannot even play on the playground during those days. No one is getting any instruction time. Teachers are just trying to manage their kids so they don’t distract or disturb another test taker. Does this seem excessive to anyone else?
  • The new STAAR test is based on curriculum that is developmentally inappropriate. In Texas we have a law against using Common Core standards. However, the TEA very quietly issued new standards last year. The difference is most easily seen in the Math curriculum. The Math standards have changed so much that they are 30% different for third grade, and up to 60% different in the sixth grade. This drastic change has set our kids up to fail. Not to mention the curriculum is crazy making. I am a grown adult with an advanced college degree. I feel that if I have to read a THIRD GRADE homework word problem 3-5 times just to figure out what the question is actually asking…there is a problem. This new curriculum requires higher order thinking skills that an average 8-10 year possess. I am not complaining that it is too hard. I am saying the brains of our children (especially third and fourth graders) are not developmentally ready to process the kids of information the new math is asking them to process. This has become such an issue that the TEA is throwing out all the Math STAAR test grades this year. WHAT???
  • It creates a hostile and unfair environment for teachers and students: I am all for some form of teacher accountability, but basing a large percent of teacher pay to their student’s STAAR test performance is not good for teachers. It doesn’t’ accurately measure deficits in teaching, and is more a reflection of the level of poverty in their class room. It basically holds them accountable not for their teaching skills, but for the home lives of their students. Plus, this has the potential to set teachers at odds with kids who don’t test well or otherwise have a learning disability. Let school administrators do their jobs, and create an accountability standard that works for their teachers and their kids. One size does not fit all.
  • It doesn’t’ make our students or schools better: Proponents of STAAR testing tell parents it is helping their child be “competitive in a global economy”, and it helps prepare kids for University Entrance Exams. It is all a lie. We
  • If this is sooooo good for our children and schools why do the people who create it, and lobby for it, send their kids to $$$$$ private schools who DON”T USE STANDARDIZED TESTING? They tell us it is good for our children, and will make them better students, yet don’t want to subject their own children to it…..just say’n.

At the end of the day the system is broken. The STAAR test is bad for young students, teachers, and administrators. Teachers and principals are powerless to stand against the machine because their jobs are on the line. Even so, many brave teachers and administrators are starting to speak out publicly against this system. It is up to parents to clog the machine by saying no to these tests. Get involved, know your rights, and pay attention to what is going on…..The future of our country depends on it. You can find links to all kinds of face book groups and articles on my face book page…..What The Heck Happened To Education.

Dear Christians, Be A Light, Not A Ninja

I am a conservative Christian. I’m even a member of a Baptist church. I believe the Bible is the Word of a God. I believe that Jesus is my savior, and died so that I may be found worthy someday to enter into the presence of the one true God. The last few months my heart has been heavy with of the words and actions of SOME of my fellow Christians.

In Matthew 5, 14-16 Jesus says “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” As Christians we are called to be a light in this dark place. To me that says we need to ooze the same grace, love, and mercy that God bestowed on us through Christ. We need to show others the glory, and peace of the Lord so that they are attracted to Him like a moth to a candle flame. We need to soak up His word so that we can share it with others.

Sadly, Christians have chosen instead to use the Word of God as a sword to cut down those who they don’t like. Most notably as of late has been the gay community. We use the Bible to rally around laws that if implemented against minorities or women would be seen as nothing more than irrational bigotry. (I mean come on even convicted criminals have a constitutional right to marriage.) We stand in large numbers with signs that say “God Hates Fags” and ” God Made Adam and Eve….” We use our status as fine upstanding Christians as an excuse to propose laws making it ok to refuse service to gays at a reseraunt, or let them stay in our hotels. None of which is acceptable in a civil society, or more importantly to God.

Jesus is very clear that the most important commandments are about loving God, and loving others (Matthew 22:36-40, 1 Corinthians 13:13). He is also very clear that we must first examine our own lives before trying to correct others’ behaviors ( Matthew 7:5). Luke 6:36-38 says “Be you therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven: Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.” We need to be very careful who we choose to piously reject on the grounds of sexual immorality. Take the hotel owner as a hypothetical example. He is stomping his feet and yelling at the top of his lungs that allowing gays to stay at his hotel is forcing him to go against his religious beliefs by condoning sexually immoral behaviors. However he says nothing about the pregnant unwed teenager, or the men at the convention that are sleeping with their secretaries while away from their wives, or those who are divorced and remarried, or those who aren’t married at all but who have children together. Can you believe they might want to stay in the same family suite?!?! Oh, and as long as we are banning sexual immorality you better get rid of your TVs, and wifi. People are using those to watch pornography. Even those who look lustfully at the news anchorman are guilty of sexual immorality in God’s eyes. Where are the rallies, and proposed laws against these behaviors? If we as Christians are going to draw a line in the sand it looks like we are ALL going to be on the wrong side of that line. ( Romans 3:23). Anything less is nothing short of hypocrisy, and makes us nothing more than modern day Pharisies.

I could go on and on, but the bottom line is we must stop pointing fingers, and start opening our arms in love. It is very hard to judge others if you truly love them. Every time you chose rejection over love it is one less time that person will see your good works. It is one less opportunity you will have to share what God has done for you, and the message behind the gospel. Most importantly that is one less time that they will have the opportunity to know the love, joy, peace, and redemption that only comes through knowing Christ. Think about that the next time you tell a gay person they aren’t good enough to be your friend, stay at your hotel, eat at your restraunt, or sit next to you in church.

Mommy Fail

Yesterday we went shopping at a department store. While I was browsing my seven year old daughter was dancing in a mirror a few feet away. I hear her excitedly say to a young woman “Do you have a baby growing in your tummy? Are you pregnant?” The woman shyly said “No”. Before I could get to her my very confused and innocent daughter followed up with ” We’ll if there’s no baby in there why is your belly so big?” Before the woman had a chance to answer I grabbed my child, apologized, and quickly walked in the other direction. I leaned down and whispered to her that it was impolite to talk about other people’s bodies, and how they look, because it may hurt their feelings. She was still expecting an answer to her question so I explained that when people eat too much sometimes food, and don’t get enough exercise they build up extra fat under their skin. This answer seemed acceptable to her, and the conversation was dropped.

I walked away feeling pleased with how I handled the situation. After all I was direct, and matter of fact. I had not used derogatory terms or put a judgment on the woman. I always have had body image issues, and I was determined not to pass them down to my children. We talk about being healthy or unhealthy, and the terms fat or skinny are not used in my house. We talk about how God makes each of us differently be it hair color/texture , eyes, skin color or body type. I thought I was doing a bang up job when it came to this issue.

After retelling this story to a friend I came to the realization that my actions had unintentionally taught her more than my words. By whisking her away like I did, and admonishing her against talking to people about their bodies I implied that the woman had something to be ashamed of. I projected my own uncomfortableness with my body onto this stranger. I assumed that she would be embarrassed about her body. It never occurred to me that she may have been a young confident woman who had made her lifestyle choices, and was perfectly happy with the way she looked. I never gave her a chance to answer for herself. Soooo even though I didn’t come right out and say ” we do not talk to fat people about being fat because it is something they should be embarrassed about. Being fat is shameful so you better take care to never get fat.” We all know kids pay more attention to our actions than our words. Huge Mommy Fail!!!

Dear Westboro “Baptist” Church

Dear Westboro Baptist Church,

I saw in the news that you came to protest at the funerals of the brave first responders that perished in the fertilizer plant explosion. I couldn’t figure out why you would be at the services of people who gave their lives helping others. In an effort to understand your motifs I checked out the FAQ page of your website.

I have been a member of a Baptist church my whole life, and do not remember a time that I didn’t know Jesus as my Lord and savior. I believe the Bible is the true word given to us by God, and agree that it cautions us against certain behaviors. I will even agree that He refers to specific behaviors as abhorrent or something He despises. However there are several passages that you have conveniently left out of the justification of your vile behavior. In doing so YOU ARE MISSING THE WHOLE POINT!

First, God absolutely and unquestionably calls us to treat each other with LOVE not HATE.

Matthew 22: 36-40 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

1 John 4:7-8 Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loves is born of God, and knows God. He that loves not knows not God; for God is love.

Second, no sin irritated Jesus more than that of the Pharisees’ self righteous judgment and indignation of others.

Matthew 7:1-5 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Matthew 6:14-15 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
:3-11The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Third, ONLY God has the authority to condemn or redeem others. Furthermore, His judgment is 100% based on grace bestowed through faith in Jesus, and ZERO to do with the level of righteousness or severity of sins of the individual in question.

Romans 5:8-9 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!

Isaiah 64:6 All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. (Isaiah 64:6 NIV)

As for referring to yourselves as a church I am suspiciousness of that designation.

Matthew 7:15-20 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

Let me remind you that the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, and self-controle. (Galatians 5:22-23) Not one of which have I ever seen displayed by your “church” members in either actions or words.

I will leave you with one final passage that I tell my children when they are being hateful or using unkind words towards each other.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:29-32 NIV)

Sincerely,

A Southern Baptist

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Dear Reader,

Although God calls us to treat each other with love and kindness make no mistake there will be a judgment day. There will come a time when you will stand before God who will judge you according to your sins. Through faith I have been adopted as a child of God, and have been wholly forgiven. The debt of my sin has been paid for by the death and resurrection of Jesus! Have yours?

For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:10-13 NIV)

STUCK, Coming To A Theatre Near You!

Almost daily someone asks me about our adoption. The most frequently asked question is “When will you go get him?”. Their jaw almost always drops when I have to say “Not for another six to eight months..” Yes, our home study showing we are fit parents is complete. Yes we have completed our required 12 hours of training, and have read several books to prepare ourselves. Yes, we have gathered all the necessary legal documents. Yes we have completed a finger print back ground check. Yes, we have prepared our home for the addition for another child. We have been declared fit parents, and that we are a safe and loving home for this little boy. So….what’s the hold up? BUREAUCRACY!!!

I shouldn’t complain too loudly. Our adoption should take about 12-15 months. That is much shorter than the average time of three plus years. There is a disconnect between the many families available for adoption here in the USA, and the children waiting for them in orphanages around the world. This has been one of those situations where you just shake your head in sorrowful disbelief, but you don’t really know what you can do to change it. Wellll……..a new nonprofit has popped up to address this issue. The mission of Both Sides Burning is to raise awareness about adoption as a viable option, and to facilitate a change in the current system of international adoption. In an effort to raise awareness of the problems engulfing international adoption they have developed a full length documentary titled “Stuck”.

The film will be available in select theaters across the country! It is comming to my city, and I could not be more thrilled! In fact, I have even volunteered to help get the word out to faith based organizations. You can find the dates and city listings here just scroll to the bottom to find the calendar. All proceeds from the movie go back into the campaign. If you cannot attend a showing here are some other ways you can make a difference.

First, sign the petition to congress.
Second, share this blog post on your Facebook page. Or, add a link to their website to your Facebook or twitter account.
Third, if you do live in a city where Stuck is showing you can be part of their volunteer core. They have jobs for people from involved to very simple. I am sure there is something for everyone.
Last, you can become a “Member” of the organization for a donation of $35 or more. Members get special access to the progress of the organization as well as a wrist band identifying you as a supporter of children and families.

It only takes a minute to sign the petition and hit the share button. I hope that if you agree that all children should be given the basic right to be nurtured and loved by a family that you will take a few minutes to help create a positive change in the international adoption machine.

Should Adopting Parents Consider Themselves “Expecting”?

I read a blog post by Dawn Davenport over at Creating A Family talking about perspective adoptive parents referring to themselves as expecting, and how this is sometimes seen negatively from the perspective of birth moms. The blog post referred to comments made by a birth mother’s blog called Monica’s Musings. I understood the birth mother to say that adoptive mothers calling themselves “expectant” was presumptuous, and puts undue focus on the adoptive parent. She goes on to say this is a problem because we should only be focused on the child, and adoptive parents are making a huge assumption that the birth mother won’t exercise her right change her mind after birth.

Now, I usually stay out of these types of debates. I am not a birth mother, nor have I ever faced infertility. I have been blessed with three biological children, and am now being blessed with the opportunity to become a mother through adoption. For some reason this particular issue didn’t sit we’ll with me. After much thought I think I know why.

First, it is true that adoption outcomes are tenuous by nature, but so is any pregnancy. All pathways to parenting are uncertain. Just ask one of the thousands of heartbroken mothers who have endured delivering a still born baby, or who’s baby died shortly after birth. With each of my three pregnancies I held my breath every time a doctor looked for a heart beat because I knew there was no guaranty of a happy outcome. I am similarly acutely await that there are a number of factors that could tear our hopes of adopting from China in two.

Second, for many parents pregnancy is an exciting time filled with joy and anticipation. Women chatter excitedly about nursery themes, baby names, and showers. Moms, and other family members, begin preparing their hearts and homes for the new arrival. Having had the experience three times, and now “expecting” our fourth child through adoption I can say the two are not that dissimilar. I have proudly showed my future son’s picture to everyone who’ll listen just like I did with my sonogram pictures. I have traded reading baby books for reading about adopting older kids, and blended families. I am preparing his room, and making arraignments for my other children while we are in China. I am no less excited, hopeful, overwhelmed, nervous, or prayerful growing our family through adoption as i was with the births of our biological children. By referring to themselves as “expecting” I think adoptive moms are just trying to share in the feelings of joy and excitement while preparing to become parents. This is especially true if a woman has faced infertility. Not allowing an adoptive mom to say she is ” expecting” diminishes her experience, and implies that adoption is a lesser means of becoming a parent. This seems somewhat disingenuous, and slightly mean spirited.

I get that adoption is fraught with loss, and difficult choices on the part of BOTH parties involved. I think that maybe instead of worrying about the vernacular used by someone else to describe their experience we should focus on resolving the individual issues we face.

I Am Raising Future Adults, Not Just Children

So today I saw one of those cute little cards you frequently see on Facebook. It read something like…”All I want in life is for my child to be happy. Like if you will always love your child.” At first look it seemed sweet, and i almost pushed “Like”. Then it dawned on me that nothing could be further from the truth. Sure I like to have fun with my kids, and I buy them birthday gifts that I know will make them happy. However, my kids’ happiness is not one of my top parental priorities.

Happiness is transitory and situational. I am much more concerned with my children developing the joy and inner peace that comes with a personal relationship with their Lord, and standing on their own two feet. The way I see it God has I entrusted me with three human beings. My priority as a parent is to teach them about Jesus, and to shape them into responsible productive adults. After all I am raising future adults, not just children. The goal of making kids happy may seem like the loving thing to do. However, it shapes selfish, immature, and overindulgent adults. It fails to teach important lessons such as the value of had work, practice, self improvement, delayed gratification, and fiscal responsibility. All of which bring a sense of accomplishment and life satisfaction that cannot be gained through being indulged constantly in the name of happiness..

As unfortunate as it is, most learning and character building opportunities arise from disappointment and failure. We have to allow our children to experience negative emotions. They cannot win all the time. They need to be told when they didn’t do their best. Don’t get me wrong. These moments should be seen as opportunities to instruct and learn, not to berate or punish. But, so many parents suffer from the “My Precious Darling Syndrome”. These parents believe their children are above the rules, and would never make a mistake. If their child does make a bad decision they either blame the other child or caregiver, or offer an excuse instead of a heartfelt apology. Furthermore they will fight their child experiencing any type of correction or loss of privileges. They are so concerned with self esteem that they over praise their child, and give them an over inflated idea of their capabilities. These are the kids that as adults do not know how to budget their money, expect to live the middle class lifestyle of their parents not realizing the hard work it took to get there. These are also the kids who are unemployed because they expect to have a management job because they have a “degree”, and are not willing to work their way up the way their parents did.

I am not the worlds greatest parent, and my kids have too many toys. I’ll be the first to say that it feels good to make my kids happy, and it is difficult to see them sad or disappointed. But, the next time I am tempted to make an excuse for my kid or blame the situation on the teacher/other kid I’m going to ask myself “is this what I am going to say to his or her boss someday?”. If the answer is no I should probably reevaluate my response.

****Disclaimer****
I wrote this with no specific person or family in mind. It is nothing more than a commentary on what I perceive to be a shift in the parenting style here in America, and the adverse consequences it may have on our society as this generation becomes adults. If you don’t agree feel free to ignore. I won’t have my feelings hurt.