Winter Break

I’m right in the middle of our winter break, and I must say, it’s nice to not have to get up and go to school.  This year has not been fun, or nearly as fulfilling as teaching has normally been for me.  Generally, I love the kids and my job.  But between the effects of the slow economy and the “reform” that’s being pushed down, the job is changing and I don’t think in a good way.  More kids, less help.  Always more testing, like that will somehow fix everything.  I said that I wanted to keep track this year of just how much time is taken away from actual instruction by all of the testing.  In kindergarten there are few tests that can be given whole group, or even in small groups for that matter.  Most of what I need to evaluate needs to be done one-on-one.  So any test, is going to take away from instruction time.

The main test we have to give is aligned to the Common Core State Standards and is given this year four times in kindergarten, and three times in each of the other grades.  We have to give it at the beginning of the year in kindergarten because they want a base line.  Ultimately this is leading up to individual teacher accountability.  In theory.  Other grades have previous year data to compare to.  Kinder does not.   We have been in school now for about 75 days. Administering the test along with Dibels, and mClass Math, took about five weeks at the beginning and at the end of the first marking period the CCSS test took about two and a half weeks.  So in 15 weeks of instruction, I’ve tested for about half of the time.  In January, we do Dibels again and start progress monitoring.

It wouldn’t be so bad if we had aides, or even some help with substitutes while we tested, but the economy has cut out any funding that might have paid for the help.  I could get so much more done with my class if I didn’t have to spend so much time testing.  They didn’t add the testing time onto our time, they took it away from instruction time.

The first five weeks of testing

Yeah, five weeks.

I hope to be done by Friday.

Dibels, mClass Math, and Common Core State Standard baseline testing.  All of which is done basically one child at a time.  And they are all given multiple times throughout the year, the CCSS test with the same content, will be given 4 times throughout the year to measure growth (and whether or not the teacher is a good teacher…….)

Besides duplicating much of the same stuff in each of the tests, the CCSS test is particularly difficult for them because it basically is meant to show end of year objectives.  So we are basically testing at the very beginning, what they should know at the end.

For the ELA portion, we test letters, upper and lower case, and sounds (78 items).

We test recognizing rhyming words (5 items), producing rhyming words (5 items),  segmenting syllables (5 items), blending onset/rime (5 items), initial sounds (5 items), medial vowel sounds (5 items), and final sounds (5 items)

Then there are 100 sight words

Reading comprehension – read a short passage and then ask 5 questions about major events. Read a short passage and then ask 5 questions about key details.

For the first trimester they have to write an informative passage about their families with the pretest now and the post test on the same topic at the end of the trimester.

There is a 4 part rubric to grade the writing sample on.

To get a 4 on the rubric and be rated as exceeding the standard their passage must

  • Provide a clear topic (name what a student is writing about)
  • Include 4 or more supporting ideas (supply information about the topic)
  • Include a closing

To get a 3 or to meet the standard

  • Provide a clear topic (name what a student is writing about)
  • Includes 2 or 3 supporting details
  • includes a reaction
  • uses a combination of drawing, dictating and writing)

To get a 2 and be approaching the standard

  • Provides a topic (names what the student is writing about)
  • attempts to write words: drawing is easily recognizable

To get a 1 and be rated as Emerging

  • off topic
  • random words or letters
  • unrecognizable drawing

the second trimester writing is for a narrative topic

and the third trimester is for an opinion piece.

Then there’s the math part of the test.

Count to 100 beginning at 0

Count to 100 by 10s beginning at 0

Write numerals 0-20

count 10 different groups of objects and write the number to represent the number of objects (0-20)

compare 5 sets of numbers, identifying the greater, lesser and equal numbers.

5 addition or subtraction to 10 story problems students are to draw the story problem and write the number sentence,students may use manitpulatives.   Credit is given for either the accurate drawing or number sentence.

Name 8 shapes, 4 of them 3 D.

Show understanding of 8 position words by moving an object to the correct location, behind, under, over , on, beside, etc.

Five weeks of testing, and very little direct instruction.

And they are having a hard time transitioning to regular instruction.  Because we haven’t been doing any of that since school started…………..When do we teach?

End of the Year Dibels Scores

For the end of the year we do the Letter Naming Fluency,  the Phoneme Segmentation Fluency, and the Nonsense Word Fluency Assessments in Dibels.  I don’t know what it is about this year, but my kids have performed mediocre at best on the Letter Naming Fluency, while generally knocking the other two out of the ball park.  Almost every kid has performed very well on the Phoneme Segmentation, and Nonsense Word items but they just can’t seem to name letters fast.  I just don’t get why they can’t name the letters with automaticity.  And it’s not just my class, all the kindergarten teachers at my school have noticed the same thing this year.

Dibels, Wireless Generation’s mClass Math, and the Renaissance Learning Star Early Literacy test……..

I thought I was a teacher, but apparently not.  I thought our school was losing the battle with NCLB and that TEACHING would be important, but apparently not.

In one week the window opens for the middle of year benchmark tests in all of the above assessments.  Four Dibels tests, Four mClass Math tests, (ALL administered individually to each of my 32 students, and then the Star Early Literacy test administered on the computer (for which they want me to sign up for a 50 minute block of time in the computer lab).   Funny that, I wonder how long it will take me to login 32 kids in the lab into a program they have never used before, and how many will actually finish it……..

The mandated testing window for ALL of these assessments is two weeks.  The same two weeks. 

And I have pacing calendars that mandate specific lessons for Voyager Learning intervention groups, Trophies Reading Lessons, and Envision math lessons, all of which give specific dates when specific lessons will be taught.  If an observer comes into my room, it is expected that I will be on the specific lesson at the specific time.  Funny how all this testing wasn’t built into that schedule……….

My wife suggested that I get the “two-week flu” since I have enough accumulated sick days……….

It’s tempting.

Something that made me feel really good today….

We had substitutes for half of the day today, while we had grade level planning.  We were looking at incorporating The Daily 5 into the structure of our Language Arts program.  For kindergarten, it’s kind of tough because at the beginning of the year, they really can’t do many of the things that they have to be able to do working independently.

In the meeting,  the literacy specialist mentioned how well the previous two years kids were doing or had done  in First Grade.  They were really positive about what we have been doing in kindergarten.    They said that only about 4 of the whole first grade  class didn’t make green on Dibels and that the kids from the last two years have been doing really well. 

If we are doing so well, why are we messing with the program?


I have finally finished my dibels beginning benchmark assessments.  I have 6 Benchmarked, 11 Strategic, and 15 Intensive.  As much of a struggle as this class has been, they are starting out higher overall than my class last year.  The scary thing is that 20 kids didn’t know a single letter on the letter naming fluency part.

They are making me crazy


Thirty-one kids, no aide, and Dibels, NOT a good mix.  I spent an hour today laying out their work for them to do while I did Dibel assessments.  For half of them it wasn’t enough.  I’ve been muttering under my breath that they are making me crazy too much.  THEY laugh when they hear me say it.

Not good…………

I got six kids done today, at this rate it will take me 4-5 more days and I will have to start ALL OVER on classroom management, routines and procedures.

OH, then I get to do the MATH assessments……….

Dibels and the 7th day of school

Tthe testing window for the beginning of the year dibels benchmarks opens tomorrow.  I have all of the kids uploaded to my Palm so I can begin the testing.  Now, I just have to figure out how to keep the rest of the kids busy and out of trouble while I’m doing it. 

The problem is, that while they make improvements daily, they still don’t have routines and procedures down pat yet, and they really can’t do much, only about a third of my kids can write their first names good enough for me to be able to read them, and they can’t do much else.  Most of them haven’t grasped the idea of phonemic awareness yet,  and they aren’t very good at sorting beginning sound pictures for the letters Bb and Cc (the only ones we have done so far).   So I hate to interrupt the routines and procedures for a week while we do dibels.  About the time that the dibels window closes the mclass math window opens……….

I know it’s the beginning of the year and I say this almost every year but, this group sure seems low this year.  And I know for a fact that I thought that last year and they turned out to be my best ever class at reading by the end of the year.    I’ve got some squirrelly ones this year…….


Have I mentioned here how much I LOVE my SmartBoard?  We use it for Calendar in the morning, for Language arts and for Math in the afternoon.  One of the things that has really helped my kids with their scores on the Nonsense Word Fluency test in DIBELS is a page I made with some random letter “dice”.   Almost every day we do CVC words using three dice, two that generate random consonants with one in the middle generating random vowels.  We practice sounding out what ever comes up.  Only occasionally do I have to quickly change the result when it’s inappropriate.  they are getting too good though and sometimes catch the word……….

 Last time we did the Nonsense Word Fluency we smoked it as a class.

I would have a hard time giving up the board, it’s become such a part of the way I teach.  And the principal told us today that next year we will all have Elmo’s in our rooms.  Between the two, I think it will be great.

Between the highest and the lowest

There is a widening gape between the highest performing kids in my room and the lowest performing kids.  We just finished our middle benchmark dibels testing and generally they did very well. 

At the beginning of the year, I had:

 11 Intensive children

 14 Strategic

4 Benchmark kids.

Now I have:

2 Intensive

10 Strategic

18 Benchmark

8 of my Intensive kids moved up, half of them went from Intensive to Benchmark, and 10 kids went from Strategic to Benchmark.

So for the last couple of days I have been adjusting and differentiating their centers and seatwork along the new data.  Today about killed some of them.  Based on the data from the tests I divided them into groups and gave out assignments that I thought they could do.

Yeah, we’ll have to make some adjustments.  Some of them were totally lost with the new work, some of them could DO it, they just didn’t LIKE it.  And it’s really interesting to see how they react to change and to new challenges.  A couple of them just shut down, and didn’t even try the new stuff, and when I worked them through a couple of examples, it was clear that they had the necessary skills, just didn’t like it.  Thinking is hard work and some of their little thinking machines have never really had to do much.

Hopefully, these changes will allow me to deal with small groups better, small group instruction has been pretty rocky with this class so far this year.