My son moves into third grade this fall. According to the Common Core Standards, that means he'll be tested. The intense and difficult process of designing an education for a special child adds up to a monumental task. Each child in the regular classroom learns differently. Special kids walk a path that is truly only theirs. My son learns through a physical, emotional, and cognitive basket of connections, each year, month, and day must follow a goal yet always let go to redesign and reassess at any moment. How can a special child be expected to take standardized tests? Is reading and writing the only thing we're going to measure to move a child on? A child's education is not solely about tests.
I am concerned about the position this may put the teacher in. I watched my older child take the Common Core tests and struggled with their value versus their narrow view of the world. Teaching my son to learn the alphabet and read about 20 words (without knowing what they mean) has taken all year. Even if my son starts reading sentences, his comprehension of his what he is doing could take so much more time to understand. My son may not even be able to process the directions on the test. I am afraid special kids could be put at risk of being labeled (even more) and possibly held back from their peers until they can read according to the standards.
National Public Radio ran an article on their site written by Anya Kamenetz, the leading education blogger at NPR called, Asking Kids With Special Needs To Clear The Same Bar. She spoke with four people for input to this topic: a mother; Louis Danielson who served from 1976 to 2008 in the Department of Education's Office of Special Education Program; Sara Glasar - a Democratic Representative in the Oregon State Legislature; and Dr. Magda Chia Director of Support for Underrepresented Students for Smarter Balanced - from one of the groups that creates the standardized tests.
Overall, it seems that most do not know where the testing is actually going for special kids. This presents the curious challenge we always face with special kids: how do we approach anything and know it will be successful? My son may go to college. My son may never read past fifth grade level. I have no idea. My son takes very small steps, yet those are leaps and bounds of grand proportion in his world. There is no box to check or score to give, exactly, of how brilliant it is for him to pronounce the letter C or end a word with a good, hard G.
The IEP was crafted specifically with my son's learning abilities and challenges. Meanwhile, in his day to day life, he learns rules, has classmates as friends, is challenged, is excited, is paid attention to, and is thrilled to get on the bus everyday. I never rule out anything with my son - from reading to writing to playing baseball to driving a car to going to college. Standardized tests might be able to give clues and aid in the puzzle that is my Down syndrome son. As a measure of his true ability, I suspect the these tests - on their own - would fail the grade.
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