Observations During Parent Teacher Conference

Parents Across RI received the following summary of a parent/teacher conference from a tutor of a third grade student.  We were asked to publish this piece to help share the personal experience of this tutor, parent and student and agreed because we hear stories like this all the time – where the impact of current education policy is missing the boat.

I’m reminded of that Chinese Proverb: “the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago.  The second best time to plant a tree is today.” Parents must speak up and be willing to share their stories.

If you have a similar or other experience to share, you can email us at info@parentsacrossri.org and we will review and publish you story as well.

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I am tutoring a third grade student who goes to a Providence elementary school. His mother had arranged a conference with his teacher, and she requested and received permission from his teacher for me to attend.

These are my observations from the conference on December 11, 2015.

First let me say that the teacher seemed professional and caring. She knows the material and knows her students. She gives praise where it is deserved, but lets the students know when they come up short. She had been at the school until 8:00 the night before inputting data. She apparently has completely bought into the Common Core/using data to drive instruction agenda. And the data comes from canned programs/testing.

On the whiteboard and explained by the teacher—They are doing “closed reading.” (I assume she meant the Common Core ELA prescription for “close reading.”) According to the teacher, this isn’t just reading and being done with it, but digging deep. They read each passage three times: the first time to circle unknown words and then they discuss them; the second time to put question marks where something is unclear to them, and then discuss; the third time to find the main idea and details.

They do STAR testing 3 times a year to see if the students are on grade level, below, or above, and to monitor progress.

The Lexia work is geared toward each student’s particular weaknesses that interfere with reading comprehension (e.g. irregular plurals and figuring out a word in context). They work on the computer, and do about 30 minutes total per week. They work through 18 modules. Some students are ahead of others. (The amount of minutes per week is prescribed by the program.) Lexia does not have a test associated with it; however, it does provide a Lexile level for each student.

The students had just finished a team project for science on The River. The student was rightly proud of his group’s work, which included a presentation (with a simple rubric).

The report cards are new this year and all done online. Students are graded 1 to 4 (which is not new).

For math they are following Common Core math, but do a lot of manipulatives and math games to support learning. The goal now is to master the multiplication facts. They will be starting division soon. They are doing geometry also and have homework to find the area of shapes composed of several rectangles of different sizes stuck together (real world applications).

The teachers at the school have been using Reading Street (a Pearson Product) for several years and are comfortable with it. This year there is another product (can’t remember the name) that they can switch to if they want. This teacher has been using the new product. It provides short passages (on Xeroxed paper), with the obligatory multiple choice and short answer questions (as I remember). The teachers have to follow the (Common Core) standards, but then they have flexibility in which program to use.

The ELA work focuses on a different skill each week, e.g. sequencing, or using graphics to supplement the text. The reading passages emphasize the particular skill. Then they are tested at the end of the week, again the obligatory multiple choice and short answer questions.

The children’s seating is changed due to how well they do or don’t get along with their neighbors.

The children work with the teacher in small groups according to their level—on level, below, or above.

There are many volunteers who come into the classroom. They are assigned to the students who are almost on level, to bump them up. The students who are very far behind do not get that extra help. (The teacher did not seem to have any problem with this.)

The parent was shown a recent writing assignment. Her child had not done well because he only wrote a small amount and did not add his own examples. (He seems to lack perseverance. He’s not the only one.) The task was to write an opinion piece on Why Junk Foods are Bad. The class had read a piece on this topic. They were supposed to say their “opinion,” back it up with evidence from the text (copying not a problem), and then extend it by providing evidence from their own experience. They were to conclude by restating their opinion in different words. Apparently most of the children had difficulty with this. This doesn’t surprise me because the children are 8 years old.

The teacher characterized this child (who has an IEP for ADD), as easily distracted, not energetic about participating in class work, needing reminders to stay on task, not thinking before he answers, and working quickly and not checking for mistakes.

While we were meeting, he was on a class iPad and seemed very engaged in whatever he was doing.

In the tutoring sessions I see a delightful and imaginative child who is very sociable. His teacher says that he reads fluently, but does not think about the meaning of what he is reading (i.e. dull context-free passages about unfamiliar topics). In my tutoring sessions with him I bring simple books for young children with clever illustrations and story lines. He loves them!

What will become of this child? His mother is not at all pleased with this regimen, and seems to appreciate my take on the Common Core and accompanying curriculum materials and testing. She agrees that it is developmentally not appropriate. She is up against a brick wall.

Do other parents have similar experiences that you would be willing to share?