Friday, February 2, 2007

No (NT) Child Left Behind

So the other night I attended a parent's association meeting at Buddy Boy's school. The majority of the meeting was taken up by the teachers explaining April's upcoming statewide test, which is mandated by the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act.

Now Buddy Boy is in the first grade, and these tests don't start in our state until the third grade, but it was interesting to sit there and listen nonetheless.

Two thoughts came to mind as I pondered what was being said. First, it was obvious to me that the test was going to be very challenging for a lot of kids on the spectrum (especially mine). The test is written, long, contains a lot of 3 step instructions, and there is no assistance or directions allowed from the teachers once the test has begun.

I can just imagine Buddy Boy, who has a lot of ADHD type symptoms, sitting and filling out part of the first page. Before he even gets to the second page I can easily imagine him getting distracted by something (how the paper smells, what kind of design the cover has, etc., and zoning out for the next couple of hours until they tell him to turn in his book. Without someone prompting him to answer the next question, I just don't think the test will reflect what he knows. Also, while Buddy Boy can write, his writing tends to be slower than his peers and takes a lot of his energy. Again, sub-par writing skills may lead to significantly under representing how much knowledge he really has.

Now, Wrightslaw,which I usually respect and pay attention to, seems to feel that NCLB will make schools stand up and take kids with disabilities seriously. Also, this site seems to agree with that sentiment. But it seems to me that unless a LOT of accommodations are made for special ed kids (and I can't see them doing that when they're testing large groups of kids at once, then a lot of our kids are not going to test well at all on these tests, and may be left further behind than otherwise.

There's another potential problem that I see with how all this is done. The school very obviously "teaches to the test", and devotes the vast majority of their manpower from after the winter break until the test to drilling kids for the test throughout the school. What this meant this past year, when Buddy Boy was in Kindergarten, was that the bare minimum of people were in his class for several months last year, as any available aids were pulled to help tutor/drill the classes that were going to be tested. You see, our school district actively opposes "paras" for individual kids, and instead uses what I refer to as a "zone defense", where they will have one or two aides per 5-7 kids. Since the aides are not assigned to a particular child, the school is free to assign them "temporarily" where they are most needed (such as drilling kids in grades 3 thru 5 for the upcoming test).

I imagine that any available personnel from the first and second grades were pulled, too, as neither of those grades were being tested. So for up to 4 months of the school year, the Kindergarten, first, and second grades are short shrifted teachers and aides. While NT kids may do all right with this, I feel certain that this led directly to increased meltdowns in class last year for Buddy Boy, because there were less people around to redirect him when he was in the early stages of having a problem in the classroom. This then resulted in less time learning for him, and him falling progressively farther behind. If it weren't for all the time my wife spends tutoring him outside of class he would be far behind academically.

So the bottom line is that my mind is not at all made up about this. I think that NCLB is a good idea in theory, and could indeed result in more attention paid to kids with disabilities. But the devil is in the details, and I'm somewhat anxious as to how this is all going to pan out.


Barbie said...

Hi. Welomce to the blog world. I am a special ed teacher and I can tell that not many special ed teachers that I know are the least bit happy with NCLB. In the past, in my state, these tests have been given to special ed kids. The state said we had to do it because we couldn't deny the children the access to a regular test that other kids had access to. But now, with NCLB, we are required to have at least 98% of our special ed kids take the test AND do well on it. That is what is so frustrationing for me, not the that children have to take the test (which I'll hit on in a minute) but that they are expected to score well on it. It is given on grade level. If my students could do grade level work profeciently then they wouldn't need my services. So not only are we asking them to take a test that they aren't used to taking, without giving them the same help we've always been able to give them on any other classroom test of assignment, we are asking them to complete a level of work they can't yet complete.

Now, I am not a parent, I have no children and therefore I can only speak from the converations I have had with parents of children who will be taking the state tests and how they feel. I don't know why the state and federal govenment thinkg that a parent is going to get mad because their child wasn't given the opprotunity to sit for hours in a desk without talking and without receiving any assistance like they are used to getting, but this has apparently happened somewhere before or it wouldn't be included in NCLB.

There is currently a petition to dismantle NCLB being passed around via email through the public education system nation-wide. I received an update on it last week, there were 24,000 names signed to it. Our state education agency is also advising that we write letters to our senators with a complaint or suggestion. The thing about NCLB, is we seem to be looking at those kids who are right on the brink of educational success, but aren't quite there yet. We have totally left behind gifted students and children with disabilities.

NCLB does have some very valid ideas in it, but the others ideaa produce a hardship on mast categires of children. All for the mighty power of the dollar, which is waht it's all about to me, anyway.

I enjoyed reading your beginning posts, please continue to share. Don't beat yourself up over your son taking the test coming up. Just encourage him. Read what you can about NCLB and write letters, for him!!! Thanks for this thought provoking post.

Club 166 said...

Thanks, Barbie, for your well thought out and presented comments.

I'm still undecided about the relative merits of NCLB (both in general as well as it pertains to special ed kids).

I share your concern regarding requiring giving a test at specified grade level. A big requirement of the test is the ability to read at grade level. Since you're given no assistance, if you're in 3rd grade but only reading at a first grade level then not only will you not do well on the composition part of the test, but you'll also end up failing all of the other parts (Math, Science, etc.) even if your actual knowledge of those subjects is at or above the 3rd grade level.

It's also a big test of concentrating ability, as the test is long and kids are expected to just work their way thru it without prompting to get on/stay on task.

With modification, I think the test could be a good thing. I fear that if special ed kids are just left off of testing that they'll be even further marginalized in a system that attempts to shunt them off to the side whenever possible as it is.

Daisy said...

Recommendation from a regular ed teacher and autism parent: make sure testing accomodations are specified in his IEP. Without this, the school cannot modify at all.