Taking Shots: NCLB and Alternate Assessments

16 Oct


Let’s face some facts, here.  I.Q. does matter when teaching kids, no matter how we would like to pretend otherwise.  True, flaws abound in such testing but there gets to be a point where such testing is barely even necessary.  And all of the students I teach fall into this category.  They fall right on through the floor on most standardized testing instruments.  Those tests do not have standardized scores low enough for my kids, because they are in the bottom 1% of the population. 


I’ve been asked by a few teachers about the Georgia Alternate Assessment (GAA), and I am going to discuss my dealings with that specifically as we progress through the process.  Our district is behind.


But I wanted to talk about alternate assessments in general and specifically how they interface with NCLB. 


NCLB has the stated goal of 100% of all children performing on grade level by 20013.  The idea is that by 20013, all of the students who started at the time the law was passed will be graduating, and from then on, every child in school with be under those same rigorous standards.  There are a host of problems with this, relating to genetics, the bell curve and standards.  However nowhere is this exposed as the joke it truly is, as much as with kids like the ones I teach.  I teach the rock bottom.  These are kids who can not talk, can not feed themselves and some can not even swallow.  They are nearly all in diapers. 


It reminds me of the episode of the Partridge Family when Danny was drafted into the Army.  Everyone knew this was a joke, except the military who insisted it was not a mistake.  The gag was that this large, bureaucratic dinosaur of an organization could not recognize reality in spite of itself.  Danny went in and got his physical and went through the whole thing, even though he was obviously just a child. 


We hear stories about this all the time, as small children, family pets and even dead people are given credit card applications.  When it comes to large organization run by red tape, common sense is not so common.  That’s what makes them a good target for jokes and sitcoms.


The problem is this:  The DOE is every bit as humorless and bereft of common sense as the DOD.  Fact is, is they are totally and absolutely sober and serious about their intentions that my students will be able to demonstrate some level of proficiency in 11th grade high school subjects.  They are neither joking nor laughing and will hold the entire school hostage to that belief under the guise of making AYP.


Now I am not saying that my students can not learn.  They can and they do!  However, due to a variety of neurological factors, it takes upwards of 500+ trials over a hundred or so sessions for them to learn a new skill that they are only halfway interested in learning.  The average high school student is expected to learn it in less than 30 trials over maybe 5 sessions before they are tested for mastery.  Over the course of a decade of instruction, hopefully they get many more trials and sessions to become proficient in reading, writing and basic mathematics.  But my students have not had that instruction.  We’ve been working on getting them to feed themselves, speak, walk, use the bathroom, and wipe their own butts.  We do work on counting money and identifying coins where possible.  But Algebra has not been a high priority.


The alternate assessment has historically aligned with the functional nature of our curriculum.  We take IEP goals and measure mastery from there. However, this year, presumably with IDEA 2004 and NCLB supposedly in alignment, IEP goals are either thrown out or must align to the grade-level curriculum. 


Let me reiterate that for parents: all the work you do trying to fight for the school to provide certain services is actually being undermined by NCLB.  Because if you have certain goals you want worked on, and the school is under the gun to make AYP, which one of these is getting the resources and attention?  Which one of these do you think the principal is going to put pressure on the teacher to do?  You might want your child to learn a vocational or daily living skill that may help them live more independently.  The school does not care because your child needs to demonstrate some level of proficiency in algebra, geometry, reading comprehension and writing.  And these are not bad things to know, except that it takes these kids so long to learn something that the time might be better spent directly on a given skill, like dressing themselves.  This is why we have IEPs in the first place.  But the push and rush for AYP makes kids in special education ripe for discrimination that IDEA was supposed to remedy.


My kids used to not even register on administration radar because the alternate assessment was based on IEP goals I picked.  And I always picked goals the kid tcould handle for AYP purposes.  But now they have to come from the regular 11th grade curriculum, NOT the IEP. 


I have a question for you all: How many of you would feel good about an 11th grade curriculum that my kids could pass?  Think about it.  You do not have to be able to read, write, or count.  Is THIS the standard you want to set?  Are THESE the standards that NCLB is striving to set in order that our nation can compete in a global economy?  Trying to make my kids fit regular curriculum standards is going back to the days of discrimination.  Trying to fit everyone else’s curriculum to my kids does a disservice to ANY standards.  


There’s a very good reason why they don’t make saddles for pigs or milking machines for chickens.  They just don’t work so well.  Not everyone is equipped to do the same things.  My kids are not going to college.  Why would I want to subject them to more frustration and indignity than they have already had to endure at the hands of a public that misunderstands them, at best, and abuses them at worst?  And yet, the DOE is hell bent on doing it.  They insist on taking a kid, for whom just taking a shit is a challenge, and subjecting them to tests of reading comprehension, writing, algebra, geometry, world history and physical science.


I can think of no greater evidence that NCLB is a total loser than this farce that is being made with MY students.  My students have a whole lot more to offer the world than the sorry slobs in Washington or Atlanta who think they are going to save this country with their “more rigorous” standards.  I may be accused of throwing out the baby with the bathwater on this, but NCLB is a study of self-corruption and idiocy.  It will fail and implode because of the immoral abuse that is being inflicted upon students who are the least threatening to anyone.  That 1% of students who can not, even with the most major of modifications and adaptations take a standardized test.  Imposing standards that try to even look remotely similar is an insult to both my kids, and the regular education population who has to really work to pass that test.   


What this new alternate assessment is going to boil down to, is how we as a collective group can best lie, cheat and otherwise hoodwink our way through so that it isn’t us who is responsible for our school not making AYP.  My kids do not deserve this level of scrutiny.  I’ll gladly make video tapes of me teaching them relevant goals according to the curriculum set forth together with parents.  I’ll do that everyday, all day long.  But this business of holding us to grade level is ludicrous beyond words, and is in serious need of a laugh track.  


Stay tuned for more.




5 Responses to “Taking Shots: NCLB and Alternate Assessments”

  1. liz October 17, 2006 at 3:15 pm #

    Hi Dick, this is a wonderful post. Some SpEd kids can and should be expected to achieve at grade level. But as you say, for a subset — like the kids you teach — it’s a joke.

    I think this ought to be a newspaper editorial in a major paper, — I’d be glad to offer my editing skills to make it publishable.

  2. Dick October 19, 2006 at 4:22 pm #

    Liz, if you want to run with it, feel free. However, as you can see by my latest post, my cynacism runs deep in regards to politics and politicians and especially the media (major newspapers) who cover news. I’m not convinced that they care very much.

    Besides, if I gave up being anonymous, there is no possible way I could write this well! Yet another testimony to the erosion of freedom nowadays. Yet I feel pretty good that I have THIS forum and folks like you that read and enjoy it!

    And thanks to alison for the pingback.


  3. Julie October 23, 2006 at 5:42 am #

    My sympathies go out to you in USA. Here in Australia things are not as bad, but we certainly have some weird inconsistencies in the way that children with disablities are treated within our multiple education systems. I suspect it may be world wide.

  4. TK October 23, 2006 at 10:29 am #

    Wow. That was a great post. I’ll be linking to it from my VirginiaSOL blog. While it’s nice to see we’re not the only ones in this boat, it’s disturbing that the issue is so widespread. We’ve experienced many of the same issues when we lived in North Carolina where the socio-economic impact was greater than here in VA.


  1. Alison Blogs Here :: NCLB Fallacy - October 19, 2006

    […] I’ve been opposed, for many practical reasons, to No Child Left Behind since it was first proposed.  Now that it’s been in practice for a few years, its flaws have become more and more obvious.  In certain school districts, children who were not able to perform were responsible for a significant percentage of the failure level, not the remaining students or the teachers.  In certain districts, numbers were pumped by sending special needs students out of district.  In others, where scores were about as high as they could get, schools failed because they couldn’t improve.  It’s nuts.  Well, I happened to cllick on a link today that illustrated one of the biggest failings, the first on my list above, from a first-hand perspective.  It’s an entry on a blog written by a special education teacher, and it should be on Mr. Bush’s reading list, too. […]

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