Children with special needs are left way behind
Friday, February 17, 2006
I hear a lot of complaining about mandated tests. Many teachers, staff, administrators, parents and kids complain that too much emphasis is placed on mandated tests. Personally, I think testing can be a valuable tool in determining student progress as well as the effectiveness of teachers and schools. However, I have serious issues with mandated tests and the No Child Left Behind act as it applies to children with special needs.
My daughter, Rebecca, will be 10 this school year. She’s in third grade, but her academic skills are at a first-grade level. Rebecca has special needs.
During mandated testing this year, my daughter will be given the third-grade tests, even though she functions academically at a first-grade level.
The law of the land says public education must be two things: free and appropriate. Having a child with first grade skills take a third-grade test is beyond inappropriate. It’s abusive.
Last year, when Rebecca was technically listed in second grade, Rebecca spent every day of standardized testing with an aide. She had to listen to question after question after question, only to respond, "I don’t know."
The process was a complete waste of time and ultimately, intolerable. Mandating that my daughter take a test that is beyond her capability reinforces lessons that the world teaches her daily—she’s different, she does not fit in and, too often, people are unwilling to help.
When my wife and I brought the matter up to school staff, we were told almost universally that they agreed that administering a test two years beyond a child’s academic ability is inappropriate. (At this point, I need to say that we like the teachers and staff who work with our daughter. And we love our principal. And we have a good relationship with various district administrators. The problem is deeper.)
Their bottom line was that federal and state mandates require the testing continue. That’s just the way it is. There’s no good reason for it and thus far, we haven’t found anyone at any level willing to do anything about it.
Personally, if I don’t believe in something, I’m not going to support it. I told school administrators that we may take our daughter out of school during testing week this year. They said that if we do, it could hurt the school and the district. A certain percentage of children from a specific sub-group, such as children with special needs, must take the mandated test or the school and the district would receive a failing grade.
I said it is not our family’s responsibility to validate a flawed system. Fear of poor marks from the state is hardly a reason to condone and continue an abusive process.
I contacted the Special Education Department and the Assessment Department for the Illinois State Board of Education. I learned there is an alternative assessment for children with special needs, but no more than one percent of a district’s population can qualify. That means the alternative test is given only to children with the most severe special needs. My daughter doesn’t qualify.
No one is willing to take responsibility for this situation and no one has offered us any recourse beyond a suggestion that I contact my congressman to complain. If I were to follow this pattern of logic to its conclusion, I would find myself in the Oval Office with President Bush. But guess what? We’re all to blame for this situation because we tolerate it.
The answer is simple: Children who have been identified as having skills levels two or more grades lower than their age peers would automatically qualify for alternative assessment during mandated tests so that measurements are meaningful and appropriate. Why should this be any more difficult than that?
I am writing a resolution for our school board to consider that states our district will no longer support inappropriate mandated tests for children with special needs. I have volunteered for a state board of education committee that is addressing this and similar issues. I am trying to contact my local legislators to alert them of this situation.
If none of that works, I’ll be running for president of the United States.
Larry McIntyre is a husband and parent of two children living in Oak Park.