Students with Disabilities, Public Schools & Standardized Testing

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This article popped up in my Facebook newsfeed the other day.  You should read it, but I’ll summarize it by explaining that it’s by a mother of a 13-year-old girl on the Autism spectrum, who relates the story of how, despite her daughter’s varied and meaningful educational successes, the New York State Department of Education deems her a scholastic failure, as measured by her scores on the statewide standardized tests.

The article is compelling, and viewed in a mother’s eyes, the story is heartbreaking.  Notably, the mother is also a teacher, and with that in mind, I think it’s a brave move to publish something like this.  But then, she answers to her local superintendent and board, not directly to the state, and I know that many administrators and board of education members feel similarly about standardized test scores and their apparent failure to provide a holistic and accurate reflection of student (and district) achievement.

The one thing that really struck me about this article, though, is that it begs the question of whether this child’s school is fulfilling its obligation to accommodate her disability, including in the administration of standardized tests.  Modified test administration may be required by federal and state laws, depending on the student’s individualized learning needs, and on the extent to which her ability to access her education is impacted by her disability.  Maybe what’s really going is that her individualized education program (also known as an IEP in special ed lingo) doesn’t require modified testing — or perhaps, she does get the modifications — and the “ones” are indeed an accurate reflection of her abilities, as measured by this test, anyway.  Especially since the author and mother is a teacher, I have to assume she’s aware of these issues.  In fact, she is probably highly aware of her child’s legal rights when it comes to her education, but nonetheless finds them woefully lacking — a sentiment shared by many parents of children with disabilities.

Do you have a school-aged child with a disability who receives either an IEP or 504 Plan from your public school district?  Has your child’s experiences with the statewide assessments been positive or not, and what if any value do you think your child’s scores provide in terms of measuring his or her educational progress — or your school’s efforts in terms of fostering student achievement?

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7 comments on “Students with Disabilities, Public Schools & Standardized Testing”

  1. Thanks for all the great comments! Randi, yours especially raises a lot of great discussion points. I won’t claim to fully understand the unique frustrations endured by parents of children with disabilities when dealing with the public schools. But I have seen it, on a regular basis, in my work. Lawyer to lawyer, I know you get what I’m saying when I say that I have seen it from both sides. On the one hand, I know fabulous educators who are just struggling to comply with the law and do what’s right for students at the same time. On the other, I know that deep down, no one truly knows what’s best for their own child better than mom or dad, and that sometimes what the school-based members of the PPT just know to be “right” for the child in question is just absolutely wrong, and no amount of pedagogical research or experience can be a substitute for that gut instinct. You are absolutely right that in some cases, although there’s always an option to call another PPT meeting to request changes, the parent will be trapped in a situation where she’s waived her right to a hearing on an important issue. For this reason, while I think parents have the ability to become very knowledgeable and empowered in advocating for their own children, I do not recommend that they enter into mediation or a due process hearing, or that they sign any type of settlement agreement, without consulting with an attorney.

  2. I am so happy to hear from the good guys out there. Actually, we did have one wonderful person who advocated for my son and I should have given her a shout out. She was an angel disguised as a speech/language educator. Her name was Valarie and I will never ever forget her.

  3. I agree 100% with Audrey. I didn’t become an educator to watch people fail, quite the opposite. Our hands are tied by state and federal law. I assure you I go above and beyond for the students I work with, and most educators feel the same. The fault is with the education system as a whole, not the people in the schools. As an educator and a parent I could give a rats ass about standardized tests. Success is measured in 100 different ways everyday in schools.

  4. I love this, Melanie, and I love Randi’s response. You always write such thought-provoking posts. A lot to think about before our kids get to school.

  5. Just an FYI… as a special educator, some of us hate standardized testing just as much as the parents do. And some of us advocate for our students to get MORE services, not less… and some of us (a lot of us, in my school here in NC) actually care about our students so much that they become our family. We are dictated by what the state tells us to do and say most of the time. We’re not all that bad, Randi, I promise!

  6. I think the world of special education is the most frustrating and insane aspect of raising children. You have to go to a meeting of professional educators and fight with them because they think your kid is more capable than you do. “No, I swear, he’s really struggling!” you say. They say, “Oh, you just can’t deal with the fact that he’s a C student. Not everyone can be an A student, you know.” You say, “He’s much worse off than you think!” They say, “Prove it!” It’s totally against every instinct a parent has! The educators’ sole goal is to PREVENT your kid from getting the services he needs, whether they are support/resource classes, speech & language therapy, social work services, or full-on special education. When I had my time of fighting with them, I recall snarling at them, “You took an OATH TO EDUCATE CHILDREN! How could you be so cold?” It;s a very emotional experience, so much so that I had to hire an attorney, even though I am an attorney.

    Why is this so? It’s all about money. If you live in Woodbury or Avon, your kid will get special services much more easily than a kid in Bridgeport or Waterbury. No one seems to understand that this is the future of Connecticut, and that these children will be lost, depressed, troubled adults without those support services. I recall reading that some HUGE percentage of all young men in juvenile detention centers have learning disabilities. When kids try but can’t succeed, and their teachers are disappointed in them all the time, it affects self-esteem, they become frustrated and they just check out — either mentally or physically (as in dropping out).

    Most parents do not know how to navigate the system, which is full of legal maneuvers at every turn (as in, DON’T SIGN THAT IEP or you have given up all kinds of rights of appeal!!). Why should it be this way? It’s disgraceful. My son is a perfect example of how a little intervention at the right time can make all the difference in the world. He is incredibly bright but he has a processing disorder and ADHD. He was in a self-contained special ed class for 6th, 7th and 8th grade. He hated me for it, but my idea was to cram in a lot of help in those 3 years in order for him to go to high school without needing special ed (and thus avoiding embarrassment).

    In high school he was totally mainstreamed, with some speech/language time and a one-period per day resource class (where kids are helped with their assignments, projects and homework, in a class with less children than the usual class). He went to college and graduated with a degree in Electromechanical Engineering. He is working as a manufacturing engineer and LOVES IT. Had he not gotten the help in his formative years, I think he would be in a very different place in life now.

    I get very worked up about this and I think that the attorneys and advocates who try to help these families are angels from heaven. I feel so awful about parents who don’t speak English, or who don’t understand their rights to independent testing to challenge the school’s self-serving testing. I hate that the state Department of Education, Department of Developmental Services, Department of Social Services and Department of Children and Families are so busy protecting their little fiefdoms that they do not collaborate in a way that federal funding can be maximized and CHILDREN GET THE HELP THEY NEED. Don’t get me started (too late).

    I didn’t answer Melanie’s question in my rant above. I think standardized tests are stupid and biased. I hate them and how important they have become, so that now teachers teach for the tests instead of the other way around. There’s a meme going around on Facebook, a quote from Albert Einstein that goes, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” We all have different talents, but we are forced to grow up in a world where only reading and math ability count. How messed up is THAT? Why do we do this to our kids? I’ll bet a lot of you have wonderful fish who can’t climb trees but can do so many other wondrous things, which will not matter once school enters their lives.

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