Sunday, January 24, 2010

Permission to vent...

Before I begin my venting session I would just like to say this is MY opinion. My opinion does not reflect my district or administration. I realize that many factors go in to the operation of a large school district and that there are instances in which concerns may arise.

Okay, with that said...We are coming upon a time of many formal assessments. Both state and district. Assessments are essential to highlight student's academic accomplishments. We need to know if they have met curriculum objectives. So far, so good.

Now the venting begins...I am a resource teacher. This means my job is to work with students who are identified for special education. The students I work with have been identified as learning disabled, mild/moderate mental handicapped, other health impaired, and autistic. I, and all other resource teachers, work very hard to keep students involved in general education classrooms. This is an ideal situation; keeping them in with non-identified peers.

This is not always possible. Our district has established curriculum for reading and math which is considered "life skills" level. Students are able to work with curriculum which is essential to the goal of independence in the community. Essential knowledge for survival (for lack of a better term). I applaud my superiors for their forward thinking. I have seen student have many "light bulb" moments when material is provided at a level which is not at a frustration level.

At this point, you may be asking, "so what is her problem?". The problem is when it is time fore the formal assessments mentioned above. Students who are in the life skills classes are required to take the SAME formal assessments as students in the general education classrooms. The SAME assessments that differentiated students take. My blood pressure rises each time these tests near. How can I expect students in life skills classes to be proficient on assessments for which they have not been taught?

An example of this problem is highlighted with semester CRTs (criterion referenced tests). All students in all grade levels have two of these each year. They are base upon material presented in their math classes. Well, students in life skills math class are not in these classes. Some of the concepts are not a part of their curriculum. However, ALL students must take these test. The only exception is if a student participates in alternate assessment which is used for moderate/severe students.

My heart breaks each time I see my students taking these test. I think to myself "I am helping them see one more thing that they cannot do". Students with disabilities may have had many failures in the past; this certainly does not help. How many times must special educators hear a student say "I don't know what to do" and we must reply "try your best" or "use your best test taking strategy".

Do these assessments truly represent my student's abilities? Don't get me wrong. Assessments are essential to show summative growth. But it is not a summary of my students' growth. I think a more appropriate approach would be to take the same objectives for the topic and have tests which are written for the ability level. This may mean changing the wording, reducing objective tests from 4 choices to 3 choices to omit a possible distractor.

If we are going to continue to have life skills classes, why don't we have life skills CRTs? The criteria would be based upon the material in which the students were taught. To me this is such a basic concept. Tests should reflect material presented. I have no problem if students do not pass assessments which are based on their material. At least it is accurate to their learning opportunities.

I have confidence that I am not the only educator who has had this problem. In fact, I bet that people at the district level have also had this conversation, many times. I would like to think of my district as being progressive and always evaluating practices.

I would really appreciate feedback from readers regarding my opinion. I would like to have an open dialogue of viewpoints. Feel free to leave your comments, links, etc. to keep the conversation going.

Photo Credit: via Google Image Search


Deven Black said...

I'm fairly certain all special education teachers feel the same frustration you do as we all find ourselves in similar situations.

Assessments must be based on the concepts students have been taught. That is the idea behind all the assessments for general ed students, asking if they learn the concepts in their curriculum. Testing special ed students on concepts they have not been taught makes so little sense that it makes outside observers question the sanity of school and district administrators.

So much effort goes into designing appropriate lessons and materials for special needs students; can't some of that same effort be put towards designing appropriate assessments?

Despite all evidence to the contrary I continue to hope that school and district administrators will develop the spine to stand up for what we all know is the right thing to do.

shupester said...

I know this is not really an answer that is fair or what any of us want to hear- but are some observations:

It is easier to 'teach' than to assess.

It is much less expensive and easier to administer the 'One size fits all.' Standardized Test.

After spending time in the committees that designed our state's science standards, I came to realize the 'experts' expected the average student to know more about the branch of science that the expert of science was passionate about than what most people needed or wanted to know. The continuum of 'must know'–>'nice to know'–>'detail of experts' is surprisingly hard to navigate and agree on.

Although I believe that most teachers out there really want the best for their students, there is a tremendous amount of variance in what is being taught from classroom to classroom.