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Waffles & Testing – A Dad’s Recipe


The EdFly Blog

  • Standards and Accountability

    Standards and Accountability

    Students and schools must be held to high academic standards, with their progress measured and results reported in simple, transparent formats. The Foundation supports standardized measurement of student learning, including annual comprehensive end-of-course assessments in elementary, middle and high school, as well as grading schools on an A-F scale – just like students.

My daughter started writing books in first grade, was a better writer than me by third grade, and now here she is in fifth grade, afraid of a standardized writing test.

This is like Einstein being afraid of Algebra 1.

Adult angst over testing has filtered down to the kids. So over our traditional pre-test breakfast of Reese’s Waffles, which has produced stellar test scores in our house for years (recipe below), I dial back the pressure.

“Do your best,’’ I tell her. “Don’t rush through it. And no matter how you do, I’ll continue feeding and housing you until the age of 18.’’

She smiles, leaves her dirty dishes on the table despite all training to the contrary, packs her backpack, grabs her Razor scooter and heads off on her commute to school. That evening, I ask about the test.

“It was,’’ she says and then pauses, “kind of fun.’’

Fun? How could this be?

She then tells me the writing assignment, which I am not allowed to divulge. To be as unspecific as possible, it involved reading an essay on a particular piece of folklore and then determining whether there was any historical basis for it based on the evidence presented.

My daughter, a natural litigator on issues ranging from doing homework to practicing the piano, enjoyed arguing her case.

This test is something new, reflecting the transition of Florida schools to the more rigorous Florida Standards. In the past, the test simply had a prompt along the lines of: We all enjoy summer vacation. Describe your best vacation and what made it so special.

With the new test, students have to digest information, compare countering arguments, pick a side and explain the logic behind their choice using material from the essay.

I talked to a language arts teacher, who likes the new format. She said what concerned her about the old prompts was that not all kids shared the same life experiences. One child may have gone to Disney World for summer vacation, a second to Walley World and a third may not have left the neighborhood.  That obviously could affect their responses.

The new test creates a level playing field because all kids start with the same knowledge. Instead of regurgitating information or relying on memories, students must analyze information. And then they have to explain that analysis. This turns a test that was based largely on formulaic writing into a test that is largely based on critical thinking skills.

And those are the skills teachers now are learning how to teach. There certainly is a learning curve for all involved, and the transition will not come without hiccoughs. But it is a transition that must be made, particularly for kids not blessed with the advantage of being raised in Lake Wobegon. For them, the classroom is the only enrichment in their lives.

These kids must develop the same ability to think critically and solve problems as my daughter. Those are the skills necessary for success in college or any skills-based job.

The upcoming reading and math tests likewise will involve more critical thinking. We are moving kids beyond just giving answers to explaining answers. That certainly won’t be an easy transition, but it most assuredly is a necessary one.

My advice to parents is this. Don’t impart any testing anxiety you may have on your kids. Encourage them to try their best, with no pressure on outcome. And try the Reese’s Waffles.

(Recipe: Mix one cup each of pastry whole wheat flour and white whole wheat flour with a half-teaspoon of baking soda and whatever salt and sugar you want to add to your kids’ diet. Then whip together two cups of buttermilk, two eggs and a quarter cup of canola oil. Gently mix wet and dry ingredients and add to one hot waffle iron. Open the iron when done and insert a chocolate chip in each pocket. Remove waffle when chips soften. Cover with natural peanut butter that has been warmed in microwave.)


About the author


Mike Thomas @MikeThomasTweet

Mike@excelined.org

Mike Thomas serves in the communications department, writing editorials and speeches. Prior to joining the Foundation, Mike worked for more than 30 years as a journalist with Florida Today and the Orlando Sentinel. He has written investigative projects, magazine feature stories, humor pieces, editorials and local columns. He won several state and national awards, and was named a finalist in the American Society of New Editors’ Distinguished Writing Award for Commentary/Column Writing in 2010. As a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel, he wrote extensively about education reform, becoming one of its chief advocates in the Florida media. Mike graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in political science and journalism. His wife is a teacher and he has two children in public schools. Contact Mike at Mike@excelined.org



12 responses to “Waffles & Testing – A Dad’s Recipe”

  1. THIS is the manifestation of Pay for Performance and School Grades and parents should be outraged. This is happening because legislators are writing education laws with the primary input of corporate interests and not REAL educators.

    It is from a highly qualified and respected ELA teacher.
    ______________________

    Go to sageportal.com and look at the rubrics, tests, and writing prompts for the various grade levels. We were given a twenty-minute preview last week of what to expect this week.

    Our writing rubrics for 9, 10, and 11 are unbelievable, but what the students have to do on both the writing and the reading test would astound you. We were not given any time to look at the rubrics, other than a couple of days last week (when we were scrambling to change our lessons for this week) or to prepare our students. Our students will now read 2-4 texts, totaling 2,000 words. Then they will write (this week, type on the real test- and if they can’t type, well… oh, well) for 90 minutes. The argumentative essay (which will be their practice) asks them to look at the texts, make a claim (and a counter claim), cite textual evidence (for both) and organize what is essentially a college paper in that time.

    They are graded now with three separate grades; 40% organizing this type of essay, 40% on citing valid evidence from all articles, and 20% conventions. I have had only this time to look at the rubric and the only argumentative sample I can locate is a 6th grade argumentative essay (go look at that if you want to be blown away) and 9-11 informative essay. There is nothing in the prompts, texts- there was never a text to read – or the requirements to resemble anything that they have been taught for FCAT/OCPS Writes for all their school years, and nothing we have prepared them for- unless they have taken IB 11-12/ AP 11-12. I just had to re-do a month of preparation of lessons.

    This week, I will administer the practice for three days and then I will be out of my class for two days to grade all my students’ writing. You just saw my complete training from my 20 minutes last week.

    The students must now pass the writing as well as the reading, in order to pass high school. They take it as practice in 9th, for real in 10th, and if they do not pass it, they take it in 11th grade. If they do not pass it, they keep trying (I assume – we have no more information).

    This is nothing compared to the new reading test. I have seen only two samples, but it is monumental. The rubric you saw is unbelievable, but we have been told over and over, “Get your students used to the language. Only use the language of the tests, so they will get use to it.”

    I have had no preparation and certainly did not prepare my students. We have a new textbook with nothing that we have ever taught before and we were given the teacher’s copy and a three-hour training during pre-planning. I have spent the last month trying to figure out the text, figure out how to get my students on their E-Text, Edmodo, and other mandatory tech sites, and to just learn the new text.

    So, obviously, it is with great trepidation that I give this writing practice now. I feel very sorry for both my students and the teachers.

    I do not have to tell you not to put my name to anything. I do EVERYTHING I AM TOLD AND THAT IS IT. Please do not even mention my school or where you got this information. I really need my job at this moment. Thank you.”

  2. Double post is an error. My apologies.

  3. THIS is the manifestation of Pay for Performance and School Grades and parents should be outraged. This is happening because legislators are writing education laws with the primary input of corporate interests and not REAL educators.

    It is from a highly qualified and respected ELA teacher in a Florida public high school.
    ______________________
    “Go to sageportal.com and look at the rubrics, tests, and writing prompts for the various grade levels. We were given a twenty-minute preview last week of what to expect this week.
    Our writing rubrics for 9, 10, and 11 are unbelievable, but what the students have to do on both the writing and the reading test would astound you. We were not given any time to look at the rubrics, other than a couple of days last week (when we were scrambling to change our lessons for this week) or to prepare our students. Our students will now read 2-4 texts, totaling 2,000 words. Then they will write (this week, type on the real test- and if they can’t type, well… oh, well) for 90 minutes. The argumentative essay (which will be their practice) asks them to look at the texts, make a claim (and a counter claim), cite textual evidence (for both) and organize what is essentially a college paper in that time.
    They are graded now with three separate grades; 40% organizing this type of essay, 40% on citing valid evidence from all articles, and 20% conventions. I have had only this time to look at the rubric and the only argumentative sample I can locate is a 6th grade argumentative essay (go look at that if you want to be blown away) and 9-11 informative essay. There is nothing in the prompts, texts- there was never a text to read – or the requirements to resemble anything that they have been taught for FCAT/OCPS Writes for all their school years, and nothing we have prepared them for- unless they have taken IB 11-12/ AP 11-12. I just had to re-do a month of preparation of lessons.

    This week, I will administer the practice for three days and then I will be out of my class for two days to grade all my students’ writing. You just saw my complete training from my 20 minutes last week.

    The students must now pass the writing as well as the reading, in order to pass high school. They take it as practice in 9th, for real in 10th, and if they do not pass it, they take it in 11th grade. If they do not pass it, they keep trying (I assume – we have no more information).

    This is nothing compared to the new reading test. I have seen only two samples, but it is monumental. The rubric you saw is unbelievable, but we have been told over and over, “Get your students used to the language. Only use the language of the tests, so they will get use to it.”

    I have had no preparation and certainly did not prepare my students. We have a new textbook with nothing that we have ever taught before and we were given the teacher’s copy and a three-hour training during pre-planning. I have spent the last month trying to figure out the text, figure out how to get my students on their E-Text, Edmodo, and other mandatory tech sites, and to just learn the new text.

    So, obviously, it is with great trepidation that I give this writing practice now. I feel very sorry for both my students and the teachers.

    I do not have to tell you not to put my name to anything. I do EVERYTHING I AM TOLD AND THAT IS IT. Please do not even mention my school or where you got this information. I really need my job at this moment. Thank you.”

  4. Jupiter Mom says:

    The old prompts did really stink. It’s great to have kids working on finding information, condensing and interpreting information on the new test. However, this isn’t why the kids and parents and teachers and administrators are all so stressed. Nope. Not a bit. It’s the stakes attached to the test. You claiming otherwise is just silly. Some kids are nervous about tests in general. No one is claiming that we should not have tests because a few are phobic. We ought to help those who are phobic but tests can be learning opportunities. Not doing well on a standardized test should result in the teacher reviewing why this student had a difficult time and not whether the child gets to pass to the next grade or not, the teacher gets to keep her/his job and the school gets A+ money and stays open.

    Think of it this way- If I say you are going to be required to take a test to keep your driver’s license. If you do not pass, you cannot drive for 1 full year, your instructor will be fired, and the driving school you took your course at will lose lots of money and risk closure. How would you feel taking that test? Would you be a little anxious? And how do you feel about that same test if instead you hear that if you fail, the results will be reviewed with you, that you’ll have an opportunity to ask questions about the information you struggled with, and you are offered extra help to review the material and a chance to demonstrate mastery in some other form? How would you feel about it now? And in which situation do you think you would actually learn more?
    So, it’s wonderful your daughter is so confident and has no difficulty nor stress with the test. Some others who are more borderline in their skills are not quite as confident and are definitely much more anxious. When the risk that you may suffer the consequences increases, you become a bit more anxious. I hope you can see this. High stakes is the key here- not the “waffles”. Thanks for the recipe though.

  5. Jinnifer Roach says:

    i would like to applaud you for making breakfast for your child on test day. i am sure your daughter is very happy that she gets time with you to eat waffles and not worry about a test. many of my students come to school to eat a waffle that was heated in a pre-packaged bag that is part of their free breakfasts. your daughter was writing stories at age 6. how splendid. some of my students never looked at books until they were in school. she writes better than you. what a great job you did, probably helping her, making waffles with her on the weekends, or pancakes, spending time with her, taking her places like museums or fairs or even the library to instil the love of learning and help her explore her love of reading and writing. some of my students have never been to a library before they stepped into school. some of them do not have the luxury of making waffles with their father because they do not have one present. many of my students are more worried about where their next meal comes from–and gues what it isn’t? yep–waffles. it will be a can of tuna or a pb+j with food given to them by the local food pantry. so when you spout off about how excited your daughter is about taking a test because she is so eloquent and well-educated you should be proud. but how dare you! how dare you forget that many more children in the country face the circumstances that MY students face every single day before they walk into the only safe place they know. how dare you patronize the children in this country that are pushed down and kept down by the 1% who DON’T want these children to learn to think, let alone think critically. how dare you not realize the parents are scared and the students are scared because they ARE smart…street smart. they know what they are up against. they know the man wants to keep them down. they know the man wants them to fail. they know people like you don’t really care about them. they know they are trying their hardest for one of the only people in their lives who they know care about them. they know. and they try so damned hard because they love their teachers. they want their teachers to be proud of them and to love them back. so next time you make waffles remember all the kids coming to school with empty stomachs, with bruises, with dirty clothes, with no parents, with no place to call home, with no kitchen with a father to make waffles.

  6. Mike,
    No one I know in the opt out movement is against testing in general. We are against the high stakes attached to testing in the name of accountability. It’s really a crock. The higher the stakes attached to tests, the less valid can be any results from said tests.

    So people ask, “If we get rid of the tests, how would we know that teachers are doing their job? How would we know that kids are learning?” The voice that has been missing is that of teachers, who are in front of our children on a daily basis, who know best what children need in order to learn best.

    Consider this by veteran teacher, Stephen Lazar in his testimony before the US Congress this January: http://wapo.st/1HioIzK

    “While consortium graduation rates exceed NYC averages across the board, the difference is most staggering for the most-challenged populations: In consortium schools, the graduation rate for English language learners is 69.5 percent, compared with 39.7 percent citywide; the rate for students with special education needs is 50 percent, more than double the 24.7 percent citywide rate. Moreover, graduates of consortium schools are better prepared for college than their peers. For the cohort of 2008, the consortium’s persistence rate at four-year colleges was 93.3 percent, compared with 74.7 percent nationally. At two-year colleges, consortium students persisted at a rate of 83.9 percent, compared with 53.5 percent nationally. These results arise from only one structural difference between our schools and others in the city:

    We do real, authentic performance assessments in place of standardized tests.”

    Do you agree or disagree with this teacher?

  7. Ceresta Smith says:

    “With the new test, students have to digest information, compare countering arguments, pick a side and explain the logic behind their choice using material from the essay. ” That therein is the problem. It results in parroting and plagiarism. L.a. teachers see that. It is mind control at best. Analysis writing involves identifying a common or antithetical thesis/theme and citing how each writer developed their discourse using identifiable devices and techniques. Arguments should only evolve via a careful gathering of facts overtime and time to become somewhat of an expert-
    like us with this testing racket. Any child given a topic, often foreign, and expected in 90 mins. to write a non-plagiarized piece after reading everyone else’s opinion, is being denied the right to become knowledgeable and expert on their own with their own independent critical thinking. This type of testing is a guise and ruse that should outrage parents and teachers.

  8. Mike says:

    Sir,

    It doesn’t take standardized test data to assess that it is your daughter’s life experiences that have resulted in growing up in a relatively affluent family that have produced the high test scores, and not the waffles. Access to reading materials in the home, the arts (piano), and parental modeling (you obviously write) all matter much more than breakfast choices.

    Unfortunately, for a growing number of our students in the United States, their home lives do not reflect the picture you painted in this post of your own daughter. Their lack of access to books, lack of exposure to the arts, and less than ideal home situations make it impossibly for those students to score well – whether they eat magical waffles or not. Chances are, these students are not getting any breakfast.

    Before anyone thinks that I’m talking about some fringe minority here, recent studies show that more than 50% of US public school students are living in poverty.

    I’m blaming you for the situation of students in poverty. But, I certainly am taking exception to your implication that high-stakes tests benefit our students. They do not.

    Parents of

  9. Mike says:

    Sir,

    It doesn’t take standardized test data to assess that it is your daughter’s life experiences that have resulted in growing up in a relatively affluent family that have produced the high test scores, and not the waffles. Access to reading materials in the home, the arts (piano), and parental modeling (you obviously write) all matter much more than breakfast choices.

    Unfortunately, for a growing number of our students in the United States, their home lives do not reflect the picture you painted in this post of your own daughter. Their lack of access to books, lack of exposure to the arts, and less than ideal home situations make it impossibly for those students to score well – whether they eat magical waffles or not. Chances are, these students are not getting any breakfast.

    Before anyone thinks that I’m talking about some fringe minority here, recent studies show that more than 50% of US public school students are living in poverty.

    I’m blaming you for the situation of students in poverty. But, I certainly am taking exception to your implication that high-stakes tests benefit our students. They do not.

  10. Mike Thomas’ aberrant self promotion is characteristic of adults who only care about themselves while ignoring conditions outside their castle walls. 40% of children in the US live in poverty or close to it, yet the US is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. The US has the highest rate of child abuse of any civilized country in the world, yet we have the most power war weapons for protection on the planet. How do you explain that Mike Thomas. It is called “mind blindness”. It is characteristic of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

  11. Holly Foley says:

    Mike-

    I’m sorry you are being blamed for the ills of the world because you seem like a very intelligent reasonable person who has a very good attitude about the realities of testing (deal with it and do your best) .

    I like that you point out the positive changes in skills being tested. I tend to shy away from the doom and gloom conspiracy theories, so it is refreshing to read that someone can find something good about what is inevitable.

    Thanks for your blog post!

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