The 1% testing wars.

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Graphic: NY Times

-Bev Johns

Why do D.C. based civil rights, disability and special education organizations all insist on Standardized Testing for ALL students with disabilities?

Why do they insist, through the new Federal policy of Results Driven Accountability for special education, that all students with disabilities meet a grade level standard on the NAEP tests that students without disabilities do not come close to meeting?

The Federal special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), is entirely about the individual needs of ONE student, not standardized Instruction, not a standardized classroom, not a standardized teacher, and not a standardized Test.

IDEA is specially designed instruction for one student that provides a Free and Appropriate and Public Education (FAPE) in the Environment that is Least Restrictive (LRE) for that individual student along the required Continuum of

Alternative Placements, as detailed in the IEP where all decisions are made ONLY by the IEP Team.

The new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), replacing No Child Left Behind, requires every student with disabilities, no matter how complex or severe, to take the State Standardized Test, excepting only 1 percent of all students who have severe cognitive disabilities.

The 1 percent still have to take a state test, just a different one.

The U.S. Department of Education set up a Negotiated Rule making (Neg-Reg) to recommend rules to implement ESSA, including rules on the 1 percent and on a definition of severe cognitive disabilities.

According to Education Week:

The toughest part of the assessment negotiation was on tests for students with severe cognitive disabilities.

The Neg-Reg group finally decided NOT to have a Federal definition of severe cognitive disabilities but to let each State decide on a definition.

According to Education Week:

But the regulations set strong parameters for the definition states come up with, at the behest of civil rights advocates on the panel. For instance, states can’t identify a student as having a severe cognitive disability just because that student doesn’t do well in school, or only because that student is an English-language learner. And states have to take into account both students’ adaptive behavior (how they handle being in school) and their cognitive abilities (their academic potential) in writing their definition.

The suggested regulations will make it very hard for states to get a federal waiver of the 1 percent limit, although local school districts can get a waiver from their state if they can justify having more than 1 percent of students with severe cognitive disabilities.

In a major defeat for the civil rights groups, the Neg-Reg group rejected a rule intended  “to make sure that poor and minority students aren’t disproportionately identified as having a severe cognitive disability.” Recent research has shown that concentrated poverty, low birth weight, etc. results in students of color being under-identified for special education.

There is a developing backlash against major civil rights organizations within minority communities over standardized testing.

An April 24th article in the New York Times, Race and the Standardized Testing Wars, states:

When the parents of more than 200,000 pupils in the third through eighth grades in New York chose to have their children sit out standardized state tests last spring, major civil rights organizations were quick to condemn their decision, along with similar movements in Colorado, Washington and New Jersey.

Reliable testing results, they argued, broken down by race, income and disability status, were critical in holding schools accountable for providing equal education for all.

By refusing to have their children participate, the parents were “inadvertently making a choice to undermine efforts to improve schools for every child,” according to a statement by the groups.

Because the families opting out were disproportionately white and middle class, testing proponents dismissed them as coddled suburbanites, while insisting that urban parents, who had graver concerns about the quality of their children’s schools, were supportive of the tests.

Earlier this year, proponents of testing began using the hashtag #OptOutSoWhite – a spin on the #OscarsSoWhite social-media campaign – to suggest that testing opposition was a form of white privilege.

Yet as testing season unfolds this year, the debate is becoming murkier.

More minority educators, parents and students are criticizing the tests, opening a rift with civil rights groups and black and Hispanic educators who support testing, like Secretary of Education John B. King Jr.

Their complaints are wide-ranging.

They argue that the focus on testing has forced struggling schools to cut back on enriching programs like field trips and arts education.

Some view testing as part of a larger agenda, driven by test companies and opponents of teachers’ unions, that seeks to wring profits from education while closing public schools and replacing them with non-unionized charter schools.

Others say that the tests are damaging to students’ self-esteem, because students interpret low scores as proof that they are inferior and destined to fail.

2 thoughts on “The 1% testing wars.

  1. I remember watching a colleague (a retired teacher working as a parapro) put together a comprehensive portfolio of a student’s work with explanations as to why each artifact was chosen. The effort required hours of time. It was obvious that the state spent very little time examining it, and the examiner felt compelled to find something to criticize. Not only was the comment not helpful it showed how little care was taken in examining the portfolio. It was a complete waste of effort. The school district was very lucky to be able to afford an extremely well qualified paraprofessional to complete this process. The teacher of record was merely a rubber stamp of approval. Imagine those districts where the teacher had to complete this lunacy. It would be much easier to pretend that the student could take the normal state test. Apparently nothing has changed in the fifteen years since that exercise. Someone checked off a box in some state office that indicated that child was being educated.

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