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Ms. Christina Miller’s Article, The pitfalls of standardized tests, featured in the Gainesville Sun | October 6, 2014

Click here to view the article on the Gainesville Sun’s website:

There has been a lot in the news lately regarding the value of standardized testing.

Testing students should serve the purpose of evaluating and improving curriculum as well as learning the practical aspect of taking a test. However, teachers do not get the precise feedback they need to improve the ways they spend classroom time.

Often just the opposite occurs and the test leads the curriculum. Large amounts of time are spent on teaching the test, which negates what a test was designed to do, which is to measure what children have learned through their observations and hopefully an experiential, authentic curriculum.

At Millhopper Montessori School, we do not promote or retain due to the results of standardized testing. However, the stakes are very high with regards to test results in the public schools.

Children are advanced or retained because of the results. It makes the importance of a year’s worth of learning meaningless when compared to a brief, timed performance, in large part on knowledge-based multiple-choice questions.

Even though various subjects are covered, success all boils down to how well a child reads. Except for the computation and estimation sections of the math portion, everything is led by reading comprehension.

Science and social studies as well as word problems all unfold with one’s ability to comprehend what he or she has read. Little, if any, higher-level thinking skills are required.

The full picture of what students know or what ability an individual student has or hasn’t compiled in his or her years of schooling is not revealed.

It is very important to learn the practical aspect of taking a test. Therefore, I approach testing as a practical life skill at my school. Because testing is a part of our society, it is valuable for our students to know how to approach a test without fear and stress.

We do not administer the FCAT. We use the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and test once a year from kindergarten through eighth grade. We never put pressure on our students.

They are not stressed throughout the several half days of testing, but I must admit they are always glad to get back to business as usual.

Testing students should serve the purpose of evaluating and improving curriculum. Despite the fact that the test-scoring process does not allow the precise feedback necessary for evaluating the curriculum, it does allow for an understanding of what skill format is being used on the test to evaluate the students.

For example, the spelling section may give the students a choice of one correctly spelled word mixed with those incorrectly spelled. This is an editing skill. It is important for students to learn this skill in life and vital in order to be successful with this test section.

Being successful with the multiple-choice format also teaches an important skill such as how to eliminate and narrow down a correct answer.

It is important to keep in perspective that standardized tests are only one form of evaluating our students. On the plus side, it has the advantage of scoring large groups providing percentiles and norms.

It is equally important to remember that teaching, learning and evaluating do not become authentic if schools teach the test or model a curriculum around the questions. Ask any teacher.

Christina Miller is president of Millhopper Montessori School.

Spirit Weeks Brings in 1,118 Pounds of Food For Food Bank

Food BankOn Friday, October 3, 2014 the 2nd grade students from Millhopper Montessori School took a field trip to the Bread of the Mighty Food Bank to tour of the facility and deliver all canned food items that were collected by the 1st – 8th grade families during spirit week. A total of 1294 cans/boxes were collected; 1,118 pounds of food.  Ms. Erin Sorel’s class won the “Golden Can Award” which is given to the class that collects the most cans each year.

Click here to see photos that were featured in the Gainesville Sun.

International Children’s Book Day – WUFT

International Children’s Book Day reinforces reading’s importance

Lauren Rautenkranz on April 3rd, 2013 | Last updated: April 3, 2013 at 12:51 pm

WUFT visited Millhopper Montessori School to see how children in the Gainesville area celebrated International Children’s Book Day.

In honor of national reading day, Millhopper Montessori School dedicated the entire day to celebrate the importance of reading and “dropped everything and read.”

Teachers and children sang and read together in groups. Outdoors, older students also read with young children to encourage the love of reading at an early age.

Learning Together

Featured in Gainesville Today Magazine

Millhopper Montessori School offers a high-quality education in a friendly, family-like environment

Tucked away in the northwest quadrant of Gainesville, on 39th Avenue, Millhopper Montessori School quietly helps students grow and mature, both in knowledge and social skills. Spanning pre-k through eighth grade, with nine classrooms, 35 staff members and more than 200 students, the school thrives on nourishing young minds and forging strong relationships between teachers and students. In this warm, welcoming environment, they not only learn reading, writing and arithmetic, but how to rely on and help one another.

“Everything we do here is interwoven, and there’s a sense of family, a sense of community in all that we do,” said Christina Miller, founder and director of Millhopper Montessori, which is accredited by the Florida Council of Independent Schools and the Florida Kindergarten Council.

Since its inception in 1977, this unique approach has established Millhopper Montessori as a bulwark in local children’s education—an institution worthy of parental confidence. Miller, who holds a bachelor’s in elementary education, a master’s in curriculum design and a Montessori teaching certificate in ages early childhood through middle school, takes pride in the school’s history in the community.

“There’s a lineage and legacy here,” Miller said. “We have had the opportunity to impact so many lives, and I am thrilled that we have guided so many students from pre-k up through their middle school years.”

The efficacy of the Millhopper education is readily apparent in students like Manny de la Puerta. Now a sophomore at Eastside High School, he first attended Millhopper at age three, spending the next 11 years there. At Eastside, he is in the college prep International Baccalaureate program. His mother, Irma Alvarez, firmly believes that both Millhopper’s brand of education, and the atmosphere in which it was presented, were instrumental in her son’s success.

“He transitioned perfectly,” Alvarez said. “I think it had to do with the fact that (Millhopper) graduates students who have a strong sense of self.” That sense of self is fostered in all aspects of the school, but is particularly noticeable in the classroom.

“The classrooms are small, so all of the children get to know each other,” Alvarez, whose daughter Cristina, 12, still attends Millhopper, said, “and now it’s become where the older children and the younger children are interacting, and that’s another part that I really love.”

Alvarez described how fifth graders, who do the morning safety patrol, make special effort to learn the younger children’s names. “So when they get out of their mommies or daddies cars, they greet him, ‘Hello Jude’ or ‘Hello Robert,’ and they take him by the hand and bring him to the back to where their classroom is,” she said.

With admiration and appreciation, Alvarez lauded the school’s focus on producing talented, self-actualized students, who learn in an environment designed to promote personal growth.

“(Millhopper) Montessori more than met—and exceeded—any expectations that I had,” Alvarez said. She referred to it as a “clean, well kept, safe place,” which promotes children’s self-awareness and personal decision making skills, while offering them opportunities to learn from their mistakes.

Elizabeth Falls, a Millhopper teacher establishing this environment, instructs the pre-k to kindergarten class, where students range in age from 4-to-6-years-old. Falls, who’s logged 14 years at the school, said she refers to her classroom as a family—one in addition to their family at home. A large percentage of her students, she explained, have no siblings. For them, going to school is more than an academic endeavor; it’s a chance to learn to interact properly with their peers.

“We always say, ‘We’re a family; so we’re going to treat the environment and all our friends like family,’” Falls said. She added that this environment helps children build useful social skills, and it encourages students to treat the classroom materials with respect, as if they were their own.

Richard Aslanian, another venerable Millhopper veteran—he’s been there 16 years—is responsible for the second and third grade. He said that he appreciates the camaraderie amongst the teachers. “It’s amazing how many things come up throughout the course of the year where teachers just pitch in to help each other,” he said.

In the classroom, Aslanian said the concept that “each child can help another child” is encouraged, “so it really kind of brings everything together.” Using the four houses from the Harry Potter novels—Godric Gryffindor, Salazar Slytherin, Rowena Ravenclaw and Helga Hufflepuff—Aslanian separates the students into groups where they learn team work and cooperation, as well as perform projects.

“On the first day of school, we do a sorting ceremony, and they draw a name out of a hat, and that will tell them what house they’re in,” Aslanian said.

It’s creativity like that which draws parents to Millhopper, which is affiliated with the American Montessori Society. Several years ago, Trish Petty found Millhopper while looking to enroll her children in kindergarten and preschool. She visited several schools, but none quite held the same appeal as Millhopper. Like Alvarez, she appreciated its cleanliness, but, in particular, she was drawn to the level of responsibility it placed upon the children—”being responsible for your own environment,” she said. Her children, Ashley, 13, and Austin, 11, soon enrolled, and the mother of two has had nothing but a positive experience. “It’s been really, really good for us,” Petty said.

She was particularly pleased with the teachers’ support of her children. “They view the students as a complete package and not as a student who just has to make grades,” she said. As an example, Petty, who is also the school’s art teacher, for first through eighth grade, described how the middle school instructors teach organizational skills. “By the time (the students) leave and go on to high school, they are very, very organized,” Petty said.

“I wish I had learned that in middle school,” she added, laughing.

Crystal Sorrow

While the older children learn responsibility and independence, the beginners class—2-to-4-year-olds—rely on sight and sound for comprehension and understanding. “My 2-year-olds can all say the names of the continents, because we teach it to them in a song, and they have materials that show them,” said Crystal Sorrow, lead teacher for the early childhood/beginners class. “The average child may not learn that until they are eight or nine.”

In her class, social skills are also stressed, allowing the young children to become comfortable interacting with one another—sharing, working together. “We start the year with what Montessori calls, ‘Grace and Courtesy’—how to be nice to your friends, how to push in your chair, how to eat with nice manners and those sort of things,” Sorrow said.

Also, she spoke of kindergarten students coming to her class and performing “emerging reading,”—where children just learning to read choose a book and present it to the class. “My children are a very receptive audience,” Sorrow said.

Sherilyn Farris

With an equally strong commitment to education, Sherilyn Farris strives to ensure older students have a smooth transition into middle school. “We really work on interpersonal relationships,” said Farris, lead middle school teacher. Each year they spend three days at the YMCA’s Camp McConnell in Micanopy, where they perform team-building exercises and personal challenges. “That teaches them, as we like to call it, ‘a sense of community,’” Farris said, “as well as how to get along and cooperate with one another.”

This laser-like focus on community, and coexistence, is predicated on the idea that each student will enter a working world which requires collaboration.

“There’s not too many work environments where you are totally alone,” Farris said. “You’re either communicating with someone either through e-mail or in person, so learning these skills early on is really important.”

This approach to teaching—that a child’s education will impact both their immediate and distant future—is what Millhopper Montessori is all about. It creates stimulated, well-educated, fulfilled students—earning a ringing endorsement from their parents. “I really would recommend it; it’s been a great place,” Alvarez said.

A School of One’s Own

Featured in Gainesville Today Magazine

She always knew she would.

So, at 25, Christina Miller opened her own school. First called The Montessori School of Gainesville, it became Millhopper Montessori after switching locations. “It’s my whole life,” she said, describing her undertaking of the last 34 years. It wasn’t flashy; it wasn’t fancy. Miller initially set up shop in a single classroom inside Parkview Baptist Church. After two years, the school moved to a cottage on Northwest 23rd Avenue. By 1989, Millhopper Montessori moved into its freshly built complex on Northwest 39th Avenue, their present site.

Since its launching in 1977, the school has blossomed, presently boasting 35 staff members and more than 200 students, ages two through eighth grade.

Despite being founder and president, Miller still loves teaching. After their final move, she took on a purely administrative role for a few years. However, it was unfulfilling.

“I was not really happy in that role,” Miller said. But, in the early ‘90s, when an elementary teacher unexpectedly quit, she was forced to jump in and fill the gap—which, she guessed, would only be temporary. But nearly a decade later, she’s still at it … and having the time of her life.

“As soon as I got into the classroom, I just fell in love with it, and thought, ‘Well, this is why I haven’t been happy—I’ve been out of the classroom,’” she said, laughing.

That revelation prompted her to hire Amilda Clark, the school’s current administrator—whom, Miller said, is one of God’s greatest gifts to her—which left her free to teach. Now she works with the fourth-and fifth-graders, instructing them in math, grammar and Florida history—no sweat for an educator of 36 years. Plus, she holds Montessori teaching certifications for ages early childhood through sixth grade, as well as a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in curriculum design.

She also takes pride in the caliber of student Millhopper Montessori produces. “Most of our students, when they graduate our eighth grade, qualify for the prestigious area high school programs, like the IB program at Eastside, the Cambridge program at GHS and advanced placement and things like that,” she said.

That success, Miller attributes, partly, to her staff of professional educators and the power of the Montessori philosophy. “It’s based on the principles of liberty in a prepared environment, so it allows for children to unfold naturally and with excitement and discovery,” she said.

“There’s really nothing like it.”

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