By EVELYN PETERSEN
---- — Rumors about what individual school districts and the State Department of Education are doing often float around causing unnecessary concern. Let's extinguish some rumors and share facts you need to know before parent conferences this month.
In these times of increased pressure on children to achieve, it's more important than ever for parents to realize that what happens with their children in the early years of school will impact their lives forever.
Schools are funded with our taxes. Parents have the right — and the responsibility — to ask questions about what children are learning and what methods and tools are used. Kids are an investment in the future. Know what their needs are at school and don't be afraid to ask questions if you want your investment to grow and prosper.
• Rumor: If our school has low reading scores in kindergarten or grades 1-3, the state will take away some of our funding.
• Fact: Scores in the Traverse City Area Public Schools have been among the top in the state for years; we are not in danger.
According to the No Child Left Behind Act — which has nothing to do with funds, only with testing — if a school in Michigan does not make Adequate Yearly Progress, there are federal consequences. For instance, children could be bused to another district or a district could be ordered to make improvements by a certain date.
• Rumor: The state standards for each grade level get harder each year.
• Fact: The Grade Level Content Expectations have not been revised since they were developed. But our state has just joined more than 30 other states in adopting the national Common Core standards. These replace but are very similar to the old standards.
Guidance on how to aid teachers in age-appropriate instruction to help children reach these end-of-year standards is planned for conferences this month in Grand Rapids and Boyne Mountain. Traverse City is one of the top districts in the state; it will surely be represented at the conferences. See www.gomiem.org/content/instruction.
• Rumor: The state tells kindergarten and elementary teachers exactly how many minutes per day must be spent teaching language arts, math and other subjects.
• Fact: The state has no control over and does not monitor local school district instruction, programs or curriculum tools. If you want to know more about Traverse City's "Daily Instructional Minutes" form, ask the teacher how it works in the classroom. Jame McCall, TCAPS executive director of Elementary and Special Education, says, "The minutes are a guide, not a Bible."
• Rumor: The No Child Left Behind Act says children must be tested and rated frequently from kindergarten through 12th grade.
• Fact: No Child Left Behind only requires testing from third grade on up. Michigan has been using its own testing (the Michigan Education Assessment Program) from grade 3 and up for many years.
When you go to your conference, be prepared to share information about your child's learning style, talents and what motivates him or her best. Also list the questions you want to ask. Be prepared to ask questions about reading, language arts and testing.
Go online to read the Position Statements on Appropriate Assessment and on Literacy for Children written by the Michigan Association for the Education of Young Children (www.miaeyc.org; search for "position statements.") These statements may give you some ideas for discussion.
It may help you to know the names of a few of our district's curriculum tools. In kindergarten and grades 1-2 they use the Developmental Reading Assessment or "DRA" kits that include books at various levels of difficulty, as well as built-in assessment tools, such as the "guided reading" running record assessment.
If you want to know more about these books and assessment tools, ask the teacher. In kindergarten and grades 1 and 2, the Traverse City schools use "Investigation" (which has built-in assessments) for math. Use the Internet to learn more about these curriculum tools.
Early elementary teachers in Traverse City also use Curriculum Assessment and Alignment Process tests. These were developed here to help ensure that the district's curriculum is consistent and that it matches state expectations and standards. Remember that the purpose of assessments is to help the teacher with planning that meets the needs of children.
Evelyn Petersen is an award-winning parenting columnist and early childhood educator and author who lives in Traverse City; see her website at askevelyn.com. For more columns from Evelyn Petersen, visit record-eagle.com/askevelyn.