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The 4th Grade FSA Writing Test: Resources


If you have a 4th grader in Florida, they will be taking a very important writing test in April 2019 for the first time. 


They will get instruction at school, but parents can also help by accessing FREE information, including practice tests, at the following links.

















Taming the Homework Beast


Your child saunters home for the third time this week, no books in hand. When you ask about homework, the response is “I did it in class” or “There isn’t any.” A parent can take the easy way out of this dilemma and accept that their child truly doesn’t have homework. But the path of least resistance will eventually catch up with your family when report cards or progress reports are issued, and you discover that your child hasn’t been honest with you. In today’s highly competitive educational environment, it isn’t logical to think that homework isn’t being assigned on a regular basis.

            It’s first important to understand that this doesn’t make your child a juvenile delinquent. It merely means that your child is normal in attempting to make his or her life as easy as possible, and it also reinforces the research showing that children’s brains, including those of teens, aren’t developed enough to anticipate consequences. They really don’t think that they’ll be caught. And the situation becomes even more difficult for parents to monitor when a child enters middle school and has more than one teacher, each with varying expectations.

            It’s crucial, though, that we take a proactive stance in taming this dilemma. The first step is to build into our families the concept of each individual accepting his or her responsibility to the group. Mom and/or Dad have the responsibility of going to work and making an income sufficient to support the family, while the children’s duty focuses on school. If this attitude is instilled early, kids will grow and mature as members of a community who don’t want to let each other down.

            Next, parents must build a supervised educational routine into the family schedule. Part of the child’s duty every day should be to spend an allotted period of time at home with their school books, either doing assigned homework or reviewing the material that was covered in class that day, or both. Families can determine whether this time is immediately after school, or perhaps right after the evening meal. Some children have so much physical energy that needs to be released right after school that it would be impossible for them to sit still to study at all. Others just need a snack and a few minutes to rest and then are ready to get busy. Parents know their children best, so it’s a matter of recognizing our own child’s internal rhythms.

            At that point, it becomes immaterial whether your child has a specific homework assignment to do at home. He or she is responsible to the family for reading over the day’s material from class, as well as completing any assigned homework. This takes the teeth out of the homework monster by not allowing the normal tendency of children to avoid work thus creating uncertainty for parents. Once this schedule is in place, it becomes an expected part of a child’s routine, with no negotiation. If your child “forgets” his books, have a few generic research tools on hand, such as a dictionary, encyclopedias, or computer access to those things. There should always be something to review or additional research that can be done for the designated study period each day.

            But how do we deal with the uncooperative child, the one who continues to insist there is no homework until a progress report or report card appears that indicates that obviously hasn’t been true? He may observe the daily study time at home, or he may refuse to participate at all. Parents are at a distinct disadvantage unless they call school every day to check on homework assignments, but that isn’t really a practical solution, and it doesn’t build responsibility in a child.

             By meeting with a child’s teachers and asking for their assistance, this problem can be tackled. It will require work on the part of parents at first, and it will also require commitment to follow through with the program, but the results will take your family closer to building the foundation that is necessary for responsible behavior to become the norm in your child.

         At the meeting, ask your child’s teacher(s) if they would help by completing a daily progress report for a specified period of time, such as two weeks. Ask that they indicate on the report each day if there is any homework and if your child had all required work in class that day. Also, ask for a comment about any behavior issues. It’s important that your child is at this conference, and hears the conversation between parents and teachers so that there won’t be any manipulation about what was actually discussed.

         Next, explain to your child that there are consequences in life to everything that we do and that this program will help him understand that while helping him get back on track with his homework and class assignments. It isn’t intended to be punishment. The purpose is to build commitment to his responsibility as a student, which is his job. Calmly tell your child that if the report has ANY negative remarks on it, including missing assignments, all privileges are rescinded for the remainder of that day/evening. No phone, no computer/video games, no visitors, no trips to the mall, nothing except school work and dinner with the family. Each day begins as a clean slate, so in the morning, his “normal” activities are restored. For children who continue to be oppositional, parents can use Saturday and/or Sunday as reinforcement of your commitment. One or both days can become negotiated time frames for loss of privileges until a more cooperative attitude develops

         The actual mechanics of the program are very simple. It is your child’s responsibility to obtain the blank progress report each morning for the two week period (or whatever the time frame is that you’re working with). As the day progresses, the form is given to the teacher(s) at the beginning of each day or class, and then is picked up at the end of the period. At the end of the day, the report is presented to the parents, who must be firm and consistent in monitoring the report and be prepared to follow through on the consequences outlined at the beginning of the program period.  The study period at home remains a part of your child’s daily routine during this program.

          One roadblock that will arise at least once is the “lost” or “forgotten” report. It’s important that the same consequences apply if this happens. If a teacher indicates something negative on the daily report, a child’s manipulation of that situation would cause him to lose it or leave it at school. He will then hope that you’ll take pity on him and believe what he is telling you, which will only encourage further use of that excuse, and you’ve lost the battle all over again. So, a missing report is treated the same as if it came home with a negative report on it.

            It’s important that this plan is carried out with calmness and persistence, even if no results are visible for a while. Too many parents give up when things don’t improve quickly, which teaches a child that he only needs to outlast his parents. Kids won’t like this program, but as parents, it’s our responsibility to stay the course so that our children reap the benefits not only in the short-term but also into their future.

           This will require commitment on the part of parents, and it admittedly will curtail everyone’s activities until your child understands the seriousness of the situation. It also requires the cooperation of your child’s teachers, which is a major reason for keeping the lines of communication open throughout the school year. The success of the program will depend, too, on your willingness to follow through with the consequences, even when your child is begging, pleading, crying, screaming, or pouting to get what he wants. But if you stand firm, the results for most families will come within about two weeks. Parents can reinstate the program at any time during the school year if they feel it necessary to do so and can ask for occasional random reports to keep the hard-fought results on an even keel.


The homework monster will have been tamed, and your child will learn how to maintain control of his responsibility to his school assignments and to his family. 






An open letter to parents: Who’s Failing?


Exactly who is it that is failing?


We send our children to school to be educated, with the ultimate goal to enable them to become self-supporting members of society. Our kids head off to school each day, with the parents’ expectation that they will be taught all the “stuff” they don’t know. Why else would we send them? If they already knew it, there would be no need to waste time at school. Would there?


So, after nine weeks in the presence of trained professionals, how can a 6-year old be “failing?” He’s 6 and he knew none of what was put in front of him on cookie-cutter worksheets and the whiteboard when he showed up in August.


Or she’s 13 and is a creative, artistic right-brain learner who only sees “gray text” when presented with a higher version of those worksheets. But that is all the professionals in the room are encouraged to use to reach state benchmarks, set by legislators who have never set foot in a classroom with students of varying abilities, backgrounds, and learning styles.


Who is it that is failing?


Parents have a right to ask that question.  We need to know how that designation of “failing” is determined.


Using what criteria? And by whom?


It seems to me that a 6- year- old, after 9 weeks of first grade, simply cannot be deemed “failing.”


But the school teaching him can.


The 13- year-old CAN learn if presented information in a slightly different way. Isn’t that what teachers are trained to do?


So, who is it that is failing?


I am a former public school teacher. Now I tutor children privately and it breaks my heart to see the desolation on the face of these children, the weight of the label–-“failure”—burdening their beautiful souls. Parents are confused and upset, and usually take it out on their children. After all, the school system is full of professional educators. Right?


It is common sense in nearly every arena of life that if something isn’t working, you change the tool used or the method of delivery. My vet doesn’t blame my Siamese for not getting better on a new medication. She changes the drug prescribed. My mother’s gerontologist doesn’t chastise her for developing dementia associated with her Parkinson’s disease. He adjusts his treatment based on where my mother is in the progression of her disease. Which may even change again over time.


How can a child “fail” for two years at one public school, yet achieve at A-B level at a charter school in the same school system?  Did she suddenly overcome her “failure” or was something changed on the delivery end of the educational process that elicited better outcomes for this child? What does common sense tell us?


Make no mistake: there are children (and parents) who don’t take advantage of the educational opportunities put in front of them. But most parents do care. So they hire me, or someone else, as a tutor, often at great expense to the family to “do something!”  And most kids want to please their parents; they hope someone can rescue them from the disgrace of “failing.”


 Under these circumstances, if the school simply continues to label the child a failure, it’s time for a re-evaluation of the delivery system being used. Parents must stop simply accepting the diagnosis of failure and begin asking hard questions of the adults in the room.


It’s their child and their right to do so.

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