Dear Homeroom:

Since my children left elementary school, I have wondered why the middle schools and high schools don't feature Veterans Day parent's visitation, as they could and should. I brought this up at my daughter's high school and got an acknowledgment of the date but still never see any announcements. I have had children in two different middle schools and one high school in different parts of the county, and the story is the same at all of them.

With all the emphasis on "communication between parents and schools" and "parent involvement," there are no fliers, features in the PTA newsletters or P.A. announcements to get parents in the school doors on the only day of the year when it is officially sanctioned.

Can you do something about this?

Susan Vogelsang


Can I do something? No, but you can and just did. For any parents who didn't know: Today, Veterans Day, is an official open house throughout the school system, and teachers and administrators welcome parents into classrooms and schools.

As with everything, some principals are better than others about letting parents know that they are welcome on Veterans Day. But many principals send home notices, talk about it at PTA meetings and put the date on their annual calendars and outdoor signs. The school board chose Veterans Day as open house day because many parents get the day off from work, but parents shouldn't feel that this is their only opportunity to go into their children's schools.

If another day suits them better, they can call the school and make arrangements to visit then. Many principals would prefer that parents spread their visits out rather than descend in a horde on one day. Other principals do not welcome parent visits during the year, so parents who are easily discouraged are best off going on Veterans Day, when the school is prepared to receive them with maps of the school and class schedules.

Naturally, teachers expect parents to be unobtrusive during these school visits, and middle and high school students mostly hope their parents will be invisible.

In some ways, open house is much more instructive than back-to-school night because it shows the schools in action. And parents don't have to limit themselves to their children's current classes or even schools. For example, many elementary school parents are uneasy about the prospect of their children going to the next, middle-school level. If you are one of those anxious parents, use Veterans Day to go to the middle school your child is slated to go to--or even the high school. Just be prepared for a shock--those kids are really big compared with the little ones you're used to seeing.

Irritating Art Projects

Dear Homeroom:

Glad to see you talk about irritating art projects (Oct. 21). They seem to peak in the fifth and sixth grade. My feeling is that they provide a good reason to always be buying a new pair of shoes--keep the supply of boxes replenished.

Teachers always assign these things as homework, so they really turn into parent projects. I have two boys, and these "touchy-feely" projects always, always, always end up being MY problem. The day before they're due, it's, "Why don't we have any glitter?" or "Where's the clay?" or "I need a . . . "

Although the materials aren't expensive, these multimedia things always seem to involve ME. I already read the Pushcart War, why should I have to help re-create a New York City scene?

Although paper-and-pencil projects are less creative, at my house they are more apt to reflect what my kid learned--and the MSPAP and CRT tests never ask for a diorama.

Ginny Blum

Silver Spring

I recently spoke with a parent at a prestigious private school in the area, and she said that the third-grade parents are about to revolt, so overwhelmed are they by the school art projects. Her husband, she said, "spent all last weekend helping build a pyramid with sugar cubes." I'd love to see the reaction of the school if the parents started subtracting their hourly labor from tuition payments.

Any teachers want to weigh in?

Smiling Frowned On?

Dear Homeroom:

Recently a photographer came to John F. Kennedy High School to take pictures for the yearbook and for identification badges. He did not like the way I was smiling so he returned my check and sent me back to class without taking my picture.

Soon the assistant principal came into my class and marched me back to the main gym, where the pictures were being taken. She told me that I had to do what the photographer told me to do, and if he didn't like the way I was smiling then I shouldn't smile.

Is there any policy on smiling in Montgomery County schools or were the photographer and the vice principal just making up rules that do not exist?

Philip J. Freedman

Silver Spring

I spoke with David Jackson, the general manager of Blanton Studios. That's the photography company that took pictures for Kennedy High School. He said that there must have been some misunderstanding and that there is no policy against smiling. He advised that you or any student who had a problem on portrait day should just go back on the day designated as "portrait makeup day" and smile your most winning smile.

More on CRTs

Dear Homeroom:

John Hoven, co-president of the Gifted and Talented Association of Montgomery County, stated (Oct. 28) that "A CRT has only about 25 questions, so just three or four questions may be used to measure a student's achievement in a particular subgroup like whole numbers or geometry." This is not correct.

The mathematics CRTs have more than 50 multiple choice and open-ended items. The minimum number of items to report a topic score, such as whole numbers or geometry/measurement, is five items. The psychometric rationale for this is that after a student has answered at least five items, there is enough information to generate an estimation of the student's level of understanding. The actual number of items used for reporting a student's performance on any given topic varies from grade to grade, depending on the emphasis a topic receives. Thus, whole number operations (i.e., numeration, addition, subtraction, multiplication and division) receives greater emphasis in Grade 3 than in Grade 8. Consequently, 16 items are used to report a student's achievement in this topic in Grade 3, while six items are used in Grade 8.

Jose Stevenson

Director of Testing

Montgomery County

Public Schools

Frankly, CRTs are very complicated, and the more I learn, the more complicated they seem. (Reminder: CRTs, or Criterion Referenced Tests, are the tests used by the county to see if students are learning what they are supposed to in English and math in third through eighth grades. Parents received reports on those tests a few weeks ago; these are the reports with the thermometer graphs.)

A few weeks ago, I recommended that if parents are concerned about their child's CRT scores, they should ask to see their children's tests. Since then, 50 parents have made appointments and traipsed to Rockville to do so. I wish I could take credit for that, but 50 had gone before I ever recommended such drastic action, so I don't think I have the data to make any claims.

So many parents are going that the school system hired two retired principals as consultants to go over the tests with parents. Those consultants have been keeping careful records of parents' reactions to their children's test papers and to what parents say they had previously been told by teachers and principals.

What the consultants are finding is that many teachers and principals do not understand the CRTs as well as they should, which causes as much confusion among parents as you might imagine.

I'm very happy about this, because now the county school system has the information to go forward with some real, substantive training of teachers and principals on what the CRTs are, what kinds of information they can and cannot provide to teachers and parents, how best to use that information and how best to explain the tests to students and parents. If it's done right, that should help everyone.

By the way, parents shouldn't blame teachers for not knowing much about the CRTs. The county hasn't done a great job on this, and most schools of education teach very little about testing and how to use testing information. Teachers--like students--can't be expected to know what they haven't had the opportunity to learn. But it's time for everyone to begin learning.

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