Monday, February 23, 2015

Break's Over, Come On Spring!

We are humming once more. I hope your February Break was relaxing. I did a bit of car shopping and generally just enjoyed being home. There are about eight weeks before our next week's worth of reprieve and we started today with a docket of projects and goals that will keep us busy and happy here in Room 110 for that big chunk of time.

Our Humanities block is divided into two groups, one working with me on a World War II "crash course" before we hit upon our Civil Rights unit and one working with Mrs. Murray and Mrs. Davey that is diving deeper into the human rights and responsibilities side of both their own every day lives and the lives of those affected by the American Civil Rights movement. Both groups are working toward a final project. My group will begin working on a mini-research project on a World War II topic of interest (to be presented next month) and Mrs. Davey and Mrs. Murray's group members are looking at Civil Rights through the lens of creating a fictional business. These students will understand just what was available to African-Americans in this country before such great strides were made by leaders like Rosa Parks and Doctor King.

The Community Council has decided to present an after school "Fun Fest" and we are hoping that Thursday, March 12th will be the date. We do not have school the next day (another Friday the 13th!) so, the kids are excited at the prospect of having a fun after school event that is followed by the weekend. This week, the Council will submit the final paperwork for approval by the Main Office and hopefully solidify that date. Like last year, we will have a raffle and bake sale. What's different is the after school, as opposed to evening, time and the idea that we will use the Gym/Cafe for a dance and the Library for board and computer games. The Council hopes that the variety of activity choices and the convenience of an event happening while they are still on school grounds will open it up to more fifth and sixth graders. We will need things to sell at the bake sale, so if you might be able to help with that, please let me know. Depending on the availability of MCS staff, we shouldn't need additional chaperones. If we do, I'll holler back at you for assistance on that front.

It is parent-student-teacher conference time again! I have created a Sign Up Genius with a variety of 20-minute time slots to choose from. I have had the occasion to meet and chat with some of you recently, which can very well serve the purpose of the winter conference, but of course everyone is welcomed to come in again. You will notice from the sign-up that I am offering lunch break and afternoon times on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays beginning on Monday, March 2nd and running through Thursday, March 12th. The conferences are intended to be 20 minutes long and precede report cards so that there aren't any big surprises. While most conferences tend to be broader reports of how a child is doing socially, emotionally, and academically, if you have specific concerns or questions, please bring them to the table.

We had a big addition to the community on Thursday before break when Stang and his mom brought us two giant new residents for our aquarium. Thankfully, they also donated a smaller aquarium so that our tinier finned friends could have their own break out space. Right now, the two monster fish live in the big aquarium and the pineapple under the sea has been relocated to the smaller tank. Over break, I purchased a new filter for the smaller tank as well as some aquatic plants to help keep both tanks clean. I also stopped by for daily feeding over the break and will do so again over April Break. I don't think this is sustainable for summer vacation, so we might be looking for some foster fish families for part of June, all of July, and some of August. More on that later!

Regarding our end of the year trip, we have heard from the PTO, which is indeed prepared to make its usual--and very generous--contribution to this endeavor. We are therefore looking at scaling our trip back up to possibly include an overnight at Camp Common Ground. Ms. Pierpont is looking into the details and nothing is final as of right now. The students have been incredibly patient and understanding about the process by which these decisions are made, as well as all of the moving parts. It is such a great life lesson for the kids to get a tiny peek behind the curtain to learn that field trips don't just materialize, they need to be planned, arranged, funded, vetted, organized... I will also say that, during our Morning Meeting today when the topic came up, everyone in the group demonstrated a giant amount of maturity and good cheer as we discussed the literal ups and downs of figuring out how we are going to approach this tradition this year. I thoroughly appreciate the flexibility of this group! Never once did anyone sneer at the possibility of a day trip or a local overnight and I think they are realizing that it's not necessarily where you are, but who you're with. As we said this morning, it's going to be a blast no matter where we end up because:

Upcoming Dates

  • Thursday, March 5th - Music Concert at Mount Abe (6:30pm)
  • Friday, March 6th - Second Trimester Ends
  • Friday, March 13th - No School
  • Monday, April 20th-Friday, April 24th - Spring Break 
  • Monday, June 15th - Last Day of School (provided there are no more blizzards...)

Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC)
An Introduction to the New, National, Standardized Test for ANESU Families
from Catrina DiNapoli, Asst. Superintendent
Julie Conrad, Math Coordinator
ANESU Administrative Team

Context of the new SBAC Test:
In 2010, Vermont and 43 other states adopted the Common Core State Standards in Math and English. The aim of these standards (CCSS) is to provide high-quality academic standards that are consistent across the country and ensure that students are college and career ready. These standards are more rigorous than those before them and accentuate the importance of applying learning to new circumstances and the process of problem solving and explaining one’s thinking. They require shifts in instruction and assessment which complements the ANESU ENDs Policy in many ways, including the importance of student voice and choice and the learner’s ability to apply knowledge in meaningful ways.

How is SBAC different from NECAP?
As you know, a new Common Core aligned national test called SBAC will take the place of the NECAP Math and English tests you are familiar with. SBAC, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium test, will assess students in grades 3-8, and 11, beginning this spring. The new tests are different from  NECAP tests in many ways that include:

     Students at all tested grade levels will use a computer to take the test, which allows them to edit their responses before submitting them.
     The test itself is computer adaptive.* (see below)
     The new CC standards are more rigorous and in depth, which has led to the development of richer, more complex, and lengthier test questions and tasks. Many responses will require multiple steps with specific writing and problem solving supported by evidence from the text or problem.
     Advances in modern test design mean that student responses to SBAC questions will be able to measure the complexities and nuances of a student’s answer.
     To complete SBAC tasks and questions, students must be able to organize, analyze, describe, conclude, argue, articulate, and evaluate information presented in charts, graphs and challenging informational text.
     SBAC will be given in the spring rather than fall.
     Individual student results (with the exception of longer, group performance tasks) will be available more quickly than NECAP results.
     ANESU and state level results will be available in the summer.

Several schools in Vermont and across the country field tested a ‘practice’ version of SBAC  last spring. Feedback gathered informs us that the testing generally went smoothly and most students liked the new test better than the paper/pencil tests. Using input from the field tests, teachers across ANESU have participated in local in-service workshops to become familiar with the computer skills and rigorous test questions that will be expected of students. ANESU teachers are being encouraged to embed computer practice and the Common Core Standards in their instruction. They are developing deeper questioning strategies and asking students to defend their responses in ELA and Math classes. It is important that this transition to new standards and SBAC testing, as well as aligned shifts in our instructional practices, is a coordinated, ANESU-wide initiative in which teachers in all schools are integrating into classroom instruction a common set of sequenced computer-based skills as well as a problem solving approach to reading, writing and mathematics. While ANESU has focused and will continue to focus time on the Common Core Standards and the administration of this computer-based test, a dip in student performance in Vermont and across the country is anticipated in the first two to three years as students and educators adjust to the new test format and level rigor.  We do feel that the assessment itself will help inform us as we continue our professional learning as an SU to ensure learner success toward college and career readiness.

*What is “computer adaptive”?
Test questions are based on student responses, thus tests are individually tailored to the students taking them, within a grade band. A set of complicated algorithms are hinged to the question adjustments made and provides more accurate achievement scores for all students across the full range of the learning continuum while providing a positive testing experience for all learners.

More parent information and resources:

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