Looking back at third grade

Looking back at 3rd Grade

My son just finished third grade at a Honolulu public school. He had two wonderful teachers and opportunities to do more creative projects. This past year, he’s become more argumentative and opinionated – we joke that he would make a great lawyer. He also showed more initiative, signing up for school activities without asking for our advice.

I’d like to share our third grade school year experience. How does it compare with your third grade memories?

Reading. Hawaii public elementary schools are all using the “Reading Wonders” workbook. I didn’t have a chance to browse the workbook, but I have seen the spelling lists and related vocabulary. The spelling words were chosen phonetically and were easy; the vocabulary words were chosen by unit theme (for example, natural resources) and were more challenging.

Several times a week, my son did reading comprehension activities on Achieve3000.com (sometimes called KidBiz). The site is easy to use, with interesting nonfiction articles and opportunities to think about the articles in different ways – through questions, polls, open-ended “thought” questions, and math. It even keeps track of students’ points and completed activities, and questions get harder as students improve.

Math. Hawaii public elementary schools are all using the “Stepping Stones” math workbook and practice book. I’ve only seen the practice workbook, which is easy, colorful, makes math fun with puzzles and riddles (it reminds me of a Kumon workbook), and wastes paper by printing on only one side of the page.

During the school year, my son alternated between math workbooks, worksheets, and online practice at IXL.com. The site is well-designed, tracking the number of problems solved, the time spent on each practice test, and the number of practice tests completed. It even gives students “prizes” on a prize board. And there are many reports for teachers and parents to check student progress.

International Baccalaureate (IB). My son’s school is an IB candidate school for the Primary Years Programme. Only a few public schools in Hawaii have signed up for this voluntary accreditation program. It incorporates six transdisciplinary themes into the curriculum and encourages teachers to coordinate lesson plans across multiple subjects. Each of the six units culminates in a final project. For example, in the “Where we are in place and time” unit, students created a 3D model of our community using boxes, paper, and cardboard. There are also 10 IB “learner profiles” that emphasize character and attitude. The most challenging part of the program was asking students to reflect on what they have learned.

Enrichment classes and activities. There were 7 “enrichment” classes: Art, Computer Lab, Hawaiiana, Library, Mandarin, Music, and Physical Education. For some reason, third grade is the year everyone learns to play the recorder. I have one suggestion: turn one of the Computer Labs into a typing class. Students also participated in a winter assembly and a May Day program, and could join band, a garden club, the Junior Police Officer (JPO) program, a speech club, a library club, and the Student Council. A question for parents and educators: what is the best balance between academic rigor and well-rounded children?

Standardized tests. This school year was the first time that Hawaii public schools used the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) standardized test, aligned to the Common Core standards. I realize that it is a new test with harder questions, and students need to be familiar with it, but I was concerned by the amount of time they spent preparing for it. I wondered how much instruction time might have been lost because of the additional test preparation. I was dissatisfied with the practice test because students don’t get immediate feedback; they don’t know which questions they missed and why. Maybe an alternate solution would be “Test Prep Saturdays” or “SBAC After School,” so that test preparation wouldn’t interfere with classroom time and could be more relaxed.

My son felt overwhelmed by the training and practice tests. At the start of spring break, he expressed a lot of anxiety. “What if I get a DP [developing proficiency] or a WB [well below proficiency]? Will you be mad?” he asked me with a worried frown. I told him, “As long as you try your best, we won’t be mad.” A week before the test, he admitted, “I’m scared to take the SBAC.”

School fundraising. For the parents of children in public and private schools, fundraising has become a big part of life. At my son’s school, parents raised funds through a bake sale, keiki carnival and silent auction, fitness run, and two dine-and-donate events. The fundraising events were fun and helped us meet other parents. But there seems to be a growing cycle – the more parents give, the less schools receive in funding, and the more parents are asked to give.

Do you have school-age children? How did you decide between public and private school? Were they the same factors that influenced your parents? What has been your experience with common core and standardized tests?

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