Friday, January 21, 2011

WTF are CogAT and NNAT2 tests?

Back in October or perhaps November, a note came home in Rosie's school folder among many other papers, homework, books, etc. I recall scanning it and without paying any attention to the context, read this statement, "WEDNESDAY: Be sure your child gets a full night's sleep and a good breakfast Thursday morning!!" Thinking it was good advice in any situation, I made arrangements for thorough sleeping and eating to happen. Later on, I learned that her second-grade class was being tested for academic abilities, with results to be compiled and distributed in months to come.

Months later, Rosie's results are in. And they are just that, numbers, percentages, bar charts, with no context. The way they are completely devoid of context appears most carefully contrived, in fact. Even the online information about CogAT and NNAT2 is vague, from Wikipedia:

The Cognitive Abilities Test (CogAT, CAT) is a K–12 assessment designed to measure students’ learned reasoning abilities in the three areas most linked to academic success in school: Verbal, Quantitative and Nonverbal. Although its primary goal is to assess students’ reasoning abilities, CogAT can also provide predicted achievement scores when administered with the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills.

CogAT is also often used to help educators make student placement decisions, especially when selecting students for Gifted and Talented programs. [<--- my italics—aha, a clue!]

Soooo, as a parent, do I need to do anything? While I'm not going to report Rosie's numbers on this post, I will say that she was rated "high-average." Is this just a test for educators to discuss with other educators? There's a note in 6-point type (read: fine print) at the bottom that states, "If you need assistance with score interpretation, please contact your child's teacher." Given a recent communication from the school's vice principal, the school is being contacted by many confused parents! From Mr. F:

Due to an overwhelming number of emails and phone calls regarding the screening process for the Full-Time Level IV Advanced Academics Program, Ms. S and I will be hosting two information sessions next Tuesday afternoon, 1/25/11 from 4:15–4:45 & 5:00–5:30.  

Another clue: "Level IV AAP" is the new, more-PC term for "gifted & talented" program. I may find my answer at this meeting, I guess. I'm going and will find out WTF they're talking about.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Getting my hands dirty, at long last

Graphic designers use computers all day long at work, which is a reality that I wouldn't have easily anticipated when coming out of school oh so many years ago. When I chose the graphic design field, it was because it promised a desirable balance of tech and traditional art/illustration. Even in the first decade of my career, there were still light tables, drafting tables and markers within our offices. Not so anymore. Along the way, illustrating by hand became more or less economically unfeasible—on the computer it's so much faster and accurate, easier to make revisions, and much less messy. Customers these days have no idea what to think if presented with a preliminary sketch (I learned the hard way a few years ago), they expect to see a "final" illustration and still be able to easily and quickly make major revisions to it.

I miss traditional drawing media and the hand-eye precision it requires, the happy accidents and discoveries you make along the way. I'm resolving to not eliminate creating original works of art from my personal work, at the very least; and, I'm trying something new, a technique outside my comfort zone. I'm taking a semester-long, studio art class to learn screenprinting. Thinking back, the last art class I'd taken that was more than a day-or-two-long workshop was back in 1997. Yikes.

After attending one of those workshops a while back, a hands-on screenprinting demo, I was excited by how easy it seemed to create a lovely product from a simple stencil. Revved with enthusiasm, I asked for a screenprinting kit as a birthday gift. I gave it a try at home and was quickly intimidated by the kit. It came with too few instructions and several mysterious solvents and chemicals. There were too many opportunities to fail without any knowledge base to troubleshoot from. Even though I tried to invite some printing-experienced friends over to help me get over my hang-ups, the craft-dates didn't materialize; I had screenprinting paralysis. The kit started to gather dust.

My first class was this past Monday night. The instructor gave us some history of screenprinting, having herself learned the technique in its American heyday back in the late '60s, early '70s. We started out with cutting a simple design out of freezer paper, attaching the freezer paper to a screen, and printing our stencil using a mix of three or more colors across the screen. We got to the business of creating our designs rather late in the class, but thankfully, I'd brought a sketchbook that had some drawings in it from when I was designing Dash's raccoon doll and was able to get something down on paper quickly. Wrapping my head around making a stencil with the appropriate negative and positive cutouts for my sketch was a little tough that late at night (the class is from 7 to 10 p.m.), but I managed it. I finished seven raccoon prints and cleaned everything up just after class officially ended. (Photos to come—sorry, we were so pressed for time, I wasn't able to get my camera-phone out with paint-splattered fingers.)

I have homework for next week's class—coming up with a high-contrast grayscale (or straight black and white) design to print out on a transparency. Looking forward to it!

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Somehow, in NOLA...

In my dream, it was like I was just waking up, except I was driving. It was morning, but still dark; the car clock said 2:25. Strange, brightly colored lights and signage were all around me, was I at an airport? I tried to recall the last thing I could from the night before... I was leaving Philadelphia for home, but was I alone then? I was alone now.

While I navigated the airport exits—departures, arrivals, parking decks—I looked at the interior of car I was driving. Unfamiliar. In, fact, there was nothing in the car except me and what I was wearing. No purse, no luggage, just clean new car smell. A rental? Then the fact that I had no wallet hit me and with the realization, as always, a wall of panic. No ID, no access; no credit cards, no money. And where am I? The airport signage didn't give location data.

I hastily parked the car somewhere on a side street and got out. There were many pedestrians, heading swiftly to their destinations. I stopped a couple, asked them, where are we? Louisiana, they said, near New Orleans. I reeled. I want to go to New Orleans! But, with my family, not like this. Where were they? What day is it? Was someone waiting for me somewhere? Where is my wallet, my cell phone? I need to make a call.

And just like that, my dream ended. I awakened to the sound of a child opening his door, feet padding the hallway, heading for the bathroom.

The night before, I was dining with friends and the subject of vacations had come up. We discussed a springtime trip to Philadelphia and a summer trip to New Orleans. See how those destinations featured above? We haven't worked out the plans yet, though Monkeyrotica has been bugging me to book travel and hotels for weeks.

Rather than trepidation about the destinations, I think this dream is about my feelings on the unsettled logistics of the trip. How will we get there? Driving? Flying? Will we have enough funds to support a single vacation, let alone two?
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