Monday, May 5, 2014

From C+ To Shining C-

Ah, springtime in Portland, Oregon.  A time when the hipsters change from plaid flannel button-ups to iconic 80's tees; a time when the housing prices act like Robert Downey Jr.: getting irrationally high, then crashing and regrouping; and a time when the homeless citizens on Rosa Parks Way remove the rain covers from their shopping carts.*

*Ironically enough, there are no bus lines that run on Rosa Parks Way.  You would think the city planners would have wiki-ed Rosa's name and been all over that business.
And springtime is also when the public school system in Oregon touts out a series of standardized testing designed to pigeonhole assess each child's progress under No Child Left Behind. 
I'm sure most of you are familiar with No Child Left Behind (NCLB), but for those of you who may have missed the memo due to a challenging career, active social life, or having neglected to use birth control a couple of times in the 90's, here's a recap:
No Child Left Behind requires all public schools receiving federal funding to administer a state-wide standardized test annually to all students. This means that all students take the same test under the same conditions. Schools that receive Title I funding must make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in test scores (e.g. each year, fifth graders must do better on standardized tests than the previous year's fifth graders).
Seems pretty straight forward, right?  Higher scores = more funding.  So, why would anyone have a problem with it?  Gee, glad you asked.  For me, it started when my son, M. came home in tears two weeks ago.  I asked him what was wrong and he told me that he "flunked" his OAKS (Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills) test and that he'd have to take it again.  Now, I found this a little disconcerting, as M. is an exceptionally bright little boy, but I understand that his autism brings along with it some learning challenges.  So, I did what any pushy interested parent would do and I contacted the school to ask how the test was administered.
"Oh, all of the OAKS testing is done on the computer."  the teacher told me with a smile.
I stared at her incredulously.  "You have M's IEP."  I said calmly.  "You know that he can't have screens: TV, computer, iPads at school because he will just fixate on them and lose focus on the materials being taught."
She shrugged affably.  "There's no choice.  Every child has to take the test the exact same way for total accuracy."
"But it's NOT accurate!"  I cried.  "M. can't learn that way and he certainly can't be tested that way.  If you give him the test in written form or orally, he'll ace it."
She shook her head solemnly.  "We can't."  Then she sighed and threw her hands up in frustration.  "Look, I know it's stupid.  I know it's not indicative of individual learning styles.  But it's the law, and our hands are tied."
So, in summation:  my son was given a test that pigeonholes him as a challenged learner because the law of No Child Left Behind somehow supercedes his right for appropriate modifications to the curriculum under the Individuals With Disabilities Act.  I'm sorry, but this is some craziness right there.  You can't just force these children to take the test again and again until they get the score YOU want.  It isn't poker; you can't just keep tossing the low cards and fishing for a better hand.  And these test scores say nothing about the individual learner nor do they even go on their academic record.  The scores are a little like Sarah Palin: annoying, meaningless, and easily forgotten.  All they are meant to do is drum up revenue for the school.
Now, God knows I am a devout Republican.  I loves me some Ronald Reagan, and have secret fantasies about partying with the Bush twins.  I even love ol' George Dubya with his faux Texas drawl and inability to pronounce 'nuclear'.*
*Although, you have to wonder if his brother hates him a little.  I can just picture Jeb Bush shaking his head, thinking "I graduated Phi Beta Kappa, for Pete's sake.  What in hell am I doing stuck in the swamplands of Florida while my brother is off doing Jell-O shots with the prime minister of Israel?"  Your time is nigh, Jeb.
But although I am pro-Bush Administration, a tiny part of my soul dies when NCLB enters the picture.  Et tu, Dubya?  I'm sure he meant well when he signed off on that little governmental document (or maybe he was drunk), but somewhere along the line, the whole concept went seriously awry.  Now the test scores aren't just being used to drum up school funding, they are leading to massive teacher layoffs, and children being forced out of school when they don't adhere to the high standards of the test.  NCLB even has a name for it: "pushouts"; as in 'we're pushing you out of school because you don't measure up'.  And it's not just Oregon; every state has it's own series of standardized testing designed to assess student progress.  Standardized testing has become as de rigueur as a pretentious blogger who peppers her writing with random French bon mots in an attempt to appear intellectual.*
*La haine du jeu, pas de lecteur.
So, what happens if your child -- like mine -- doesn't "measure up".  Well, generally one of two things.  They either start disappearing faster than a 'Teen Mom' baby daddy, or they are categorized as "challenged learners" and expectations are lowered.  "I'm going to be a doctor some day!"  Well. . .not according to your test scores, Billy.  From what we see, you're going to be over here in group B with Jen, blogging, eating Funyans, and collecting unemployment.*
*"U-S-A!  U-S-A!"
I don't think it's fair. . .any of it.  No Child Left Behind?  Why not?  What's wrong with leaving them behind?  I say leave them behind until they've freaking LEARNED something, no matter how long that takes!  We don't all blossom in our youth.  Nelson Mandela was elected president of South Africa when he was 76, Julia Child didn't start cooking until her mid-40's, and Grandma Moses didn't start painting until she was 75.  There is no timeline for greatness and some kids just need that extra time to discover theirs.  And, in truth, does standardized testing really answer the question "are the children learning?", or rather "are the teachers teaching?"  Actually, I guess the better question is, "are the teachers being allowed to teach to the best of their abilities or are they being forced to 'teach to the test' in fear of losing their jobs if their students don't curry a high score?"  It is this circle-jerk mentality that drives me nine kinds of crazy and whenever you get me fired up about some governmental issue, it's a little like asking R. Kelly to babysit your 14-year-old daughter -- you know somebody's gonna get pissed.
My son M. took the OAKS tests a second time. . .and received even lower scores.  Yesterday I received a notice that he would be required to take them a third time; I will be taking that notice to the superintendent of special education this afternoon.  Hell hath no fury like the mother of a special needs child, y'all.  This is one little boy that will most certainly NOT be left behind.


Kathy in South Carolina said...

I did the IEP boogie for years, just to have my daughter insist on opting out in high school. Ingrate, they have no idea how hard we battle for them, and how hard it is to get that option back. Well, she will be a senior in college next year, but if it wasn't for the IEP program you could've kissed that goodbye. Best of luck on your quest!

RHBIC said...

eating funyuns sounds awesome. Go raise some hell, I'll be looking forward to hearing it all the way down here in sunny, slightly windy southern CA. xoxo

Erica B said...

Does M. Have a one-on-one? Is there a way a teacher can read him the questions and answers off the computer and he answer them orally or on paper/bubble sheet? There has GOT to be a reasonable accommodation they can make. God knows your son isn't the only child with a similar IEP out there. Good luck with the fight. You could reach out to the state dept of education and see if there really is something that the principal isn't offering/doesnt know about

Mandi said...

I've known a lot of parents in many different states in the past few years who have chosen to opt out of the testing for their kids. I don't know anyone in Oregon with children of school age, but if I were a parent, I'd absolutely tell the administration to stuff it with regards to standardized tests and my kids wouldn't take them. I am pretty freaking brilliant, and a good tester, but my sister (also a pretty bright gal) absolutely panics in testing situations and just bombs. She got so frustrated about the standardized tests when she was in school that she just drew pictures on the back of them of the test proctors spontaneously combusting. (That was a fun conversation with our guidance counselor...)

And don't even get me started on common core...

Nicki Mann said...

I am a special ed teacher and I wish I could punch NCLB in the face! I can see why people who have never worked in a school might think it is a good idea, in theory. I mean, nobody wants to LEAVE CHILDREN BEHIND! But it really is not a holistic plan in any way. It requires all children, no matter what their ability or background or learning style, to measure up to a very specific test. It puts a ton of pressure on kids, requires then to spend a huge amount of time preparing for and taking tests, and sucks every ounce of joy out of the learning process. I wish I could start my own school for diverse learners, and avoid all those tests completely!

Nat said...

M is lucky to have you, Jen. :)

I'm wondering if it would be possible to get him a screen that doesn't look like a screen? Like with e-Readers, where you can get one with no backlight whatsoever, so it essentially looks like a piece of paper in a frame. I don't know what his exact problem with the screen is, of course, but it might be a way to cheat the system, if they keep refusing him proper treatment.

Kat said...

That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard! How can NCLB trump his IEP AND Americans with disabilities?! I have a kid in the special needs program. At least right now he's in preschool. I don't care what NCLB says, my kid will get tested how *I and his counselors* say or I'll pull him out and they can kiss his special funding goodbye. Good luck with this, unfortunately it only gets better if someone makes a stink.

Mandy said...

Fight the power, my twin! And keep us posted.

My mom is the "teacher" in charge of Title 1 at her elementary school and I am regularly regaled with stories of epic lunacy like the one you've just told.

May God have mercy on our souls.

Cheryl S. said...

I certainly hope that woman was wrong! We have the FCAT down here. My daughter has a 504 for anxiety and was allowed to take the test in a different room (with only a few other kids) and NO time limits (which is the part that stresses her most. That child hears "you have X minutes left" and she starts Christmas treeing the test. . . )

Anyway, I can't believe that he can't take the test in written form!!! That's BULL and you should definitely fight!