Monday, March 28, 2005

Caught In A Bureaucratic Trap: What Happens When Kids Can't Take Standardized Tests?

Why... the school gets punished by Washington EduCrats because of its non-compliance with the federal No Child Left Behind Act, that's what happens. The school is punished even though the all children it serves are unable to take the test.

The 186 students that attend class at Jackson, Michigan's Torrent Center all have severe learning disabilities. Many of these students display symptoms of autism.

According to NCLB, 99% of students in any given school must take the same standardized tests that are given to students throughout the same state. None of the students at Torrent Center are capable of taking Michigan's standardized tests, which are called the
Michigan Educational Assessment Program. (MEAP) The No Child Left Behind Act makes no provision for the exemption of students with severe learning disabilities from testing:
The Torrant Center's boosters were furious this year with word that the school was judged inadequate by federal standards.

"You can always make programs better," said Richard Rendell, the county Intermediate School District's special-education director. "The problem with No Child Left Behind is that it has adopted a one-size-fits-all approach."

David Plank, co-director of the Education Policy Institute at Michigan State University, said the federal law has good intentions, in trying to ensure that schools don't shaft the tough-luck students. But it doesn't address schools like Torrant or, as he put it, "the law is a blunt instrument."

Interestingly, most of the parents of the children that attend Torrent are pleased with its educational program. (As a classroom teacher myself, I can affirm that the parents of children with disabilities do not hesitate to let a school know when they are not satisfied.)

The kids attending Torrent do get tested, but with alternative assessment instruments that are especially constructed for measuring achievement by children with severe learning disabilities.

That aspect of NCLB that punishes schools similar to Torrent Center for their inability to give a totally inappropriate assessment device to students is clearly in need of change. Labeling a school like Torrent Center as "inadequate" simply because its students can not take the same standardized tests as mainstream students is simply wrong.

An Invitation: All writers and readers of education-related posts are invited to contribute to the eighth edition of The Carnival of Education. Please send your submissions to: owlshome [at] earthlink [dot] net. We should receive your contributions no later than 10:00 PM (Pacific) Tuesday, March 29, 2005. The Carnival midway will open here at the 'Wonks Wednesday morning. Get additional details about The Carnival here, and the latest edition there.

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