Archive for May, 2016

It’s That Time of Year Again

May 20, 2016

That’s right, it’s that time of year again!

Most of the students in grades 3-12 are taking or are preparing to take the Virginia Standards of Learning tests; otherwise known as the SOLs.

SOL tests measure the progress of students from 3rd grade to 8th grade, as well as certain high school classes. Virginia SOL test results provide actionable data that help parents, teachers, and students improve academic performance in reading, math, writing, science, and history/social studies. SOLs are also used in evaluating each school’s Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) as required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

SOL assessments are criterion-referenced tests aligned with and based on the challenging Virginia Standards of Learning. These Virginia state standards define what Virginia students should learn in every grade. VA SOL scores measure how well students have mastered grade-specific skills and report achievement in each subject using the following three levels:

  1. Pass/Advanced
  2. Pass/Proficient
  3. Fail

Achieving proficient or advanced levels is considered passing the SOL tests.

The best preparation for SOL testing is to steadily build skills. Children who master math and reading fundamentals, such as phonics, reading comprehension strategies, and facts and formulas, will be prepared for more complex questions and concepts, and will ultimately perform better on tests.

But even a well-prepared student can feel pre-test anxiety. Encourage your child to relax and to view the test as a chance to show what they have learned. Reassure them that it is natural to feel a little nervous and that the important thing is to try their best.

Still anxious about SOL testing?  Here are some tried and true test taking strategies that may help in the testing clinch!

  1. The Day Before:  Make sure your child gets a good night’s sleep. Test scores can be greatly affected when a child hasn’t gotten enough rest.
  2. Test Day:  A good breakfast the morning of the test is a terrific brain booster. Nutrients help to stimulate the brain.
  3. Remind your student to pay close attention to directions, and emphasize that they can highlight or underline any words that may assist them in answering questions.
  4. When taking the reading comprehension test, which can be very lengthy, it may help your student to start by previewing the questions prior to reading the assigned passage so they know what they are looking for when they read the text.
  5. In multiple-choice questions, if stumped, remind your student to first rule out answers they know are incorrect. It will then be easier to figure out the correct answer.

In parting, if you want to change your child’s performance on standardized tests, don’t over-focus on short-term test prep, as it only builds pressure which is generally counter-productive. The best on-going strategy is to stay involved in your child’s education, and to keep in mind that standardized tests, while giving insight, are not the final say on how much your child is learning or how well they will do in life or even in future academics. Remember, it takes months and years to build skills and knowledge, and many factors can impact test performance on any given day.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, focus on the fact that summer break is right around the corner!

We Don’t Allow That Here!

May 6, 2016


Imagine you are allowed only one bag for all of your possessions.  A soldier holding a rifle orders you to quickly board a cattle car.  The door locks and the train pulls out slowly.  You have no idea where you are going or when the train will stop.

Earlier this week, MHS students had the opportunity to listen to motivational speaker and Holocaust Refugee, Captain Alex Keisch.  Captain Keisch filters through his personal perspective of the Holocaust to teach a simple, but not simplistic approach to systematically stop the epidemic of bullying.

Captain Keisch, the son of Jewish Partisans, was born in the waning days of WWII on the site of the Nazi work camp Plaszov, near the city of Krakow, Poland.  Through his very personal commentary, Captain Keisch detailed his family’s experiences during that traumatic time bringing authenticity and raw emotion to the atrocities of the Holocaust unachieveable through normal textbook study.

The facts of the Holocaust are staggering:  6 million Jews murdered for the crime of being born a Jew; the largest murder of a people in the entire history of mankind; an estimated 1.1 million children murdered during the Holocaust.

A number of social agencies and organizations are beginning to teach the Holocaust as a means of demonstrating what can happen if bullying is allowed to escalate into stereotyping, prejudice, racism or worse. Cyber-bullying is a relatively new and especially alarming phenomenon. Through social media such as Instagram, Snapchat and MySpace, kids can now bully other kids anonymously and even recruit their friends to help. Teen suicides as the result of cyber-bullying are on the rise.

Bullying is repeated, unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. It is a person or group with more ‘social status’ attempting to lord over another person, over and over again, to make him or her miserable.  The single greatest strategy to reduce bullying is through the power of peer pressure and peer advocates. In the middle of the struggle between bully and victim there are dozens of bystanders who might be able to make a difference if they had the insight, strategies and courage to intervene.  We cannot fully protect any child from hurt feelings and upsetting experiences, but we can teach our children to notice when someone else is feeling left out, to reach out in kindness when a classmate is being taunted, and to use their power to speak up on behalf of others.

That is the core of the Holocaust Center’s UpStanders: Stand Up To Bullying initiative. It is a central lesson of the Holocaust, where a few brave rescuers were willing to save the lives of Jews in spite of the risk to their own safety and comfort. It’s the Golden Rule. It is what we want our kids to learn young and carry into adulthood. Whether you call it bullying or just plain unkindness, we want our kids to know that it is wrong, and that people who perpetuate these acts of unkindness should be answerable for their actions.

The mantras of ‘We Don’t Allow That Here!’ and ‘Do Your Little Bit of Good’ reinforce Captain Keisch’s message that, in many ways, the Holocaust embodies the characteristics of school bullying. Just as many kids stand by while others are victimized, groups of people and even countries stood by and watched as millions of people were killed by the Nazis. Having an anti-bullying program tied to an event about the Holocaust teaches students that the choices they make and the actions they carry out every day can make a huge difference.

“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”   -Elie Wiesel

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