Call Me Ishmael

9 Nov

Call me Ishmael.


In order to meet the requirements of the Georgia Alternate Assessment, (GAA), I must use 11th grade materials and teach to 11th grade performance standards.  There actually are some standards that my students might actually be able to do, but the state of Georgia did not put them on the list that we are to pick from. 


You see, people, this is what happens when you let the federal government take over the public school system.  You get the abomination known as NCLB.  You get people who sit in a building thinking up crap with no knowledge of consequences.  Georgia’s previous GAA did not meet federal standards, so they came up with this lunacy.  Which is why, even on the state level, they don’t know beans.  We end up with choices that are uniformly stinky and undesirable, much like the midterm election we recently suffered through.


So I am trying to turn my thinking around.  I have to go from thinking like a teacher trying to meet the individual needs of my students to being a teacher trying to meet the requirements of the state.  The requirements of the state have absolutely nothing to do with the needs of my students.  So I am going to have to simply swim in a puddle with this pig known as GAA.


Or in this case, it is a whale.  A big, white, evil whale.  “From Hell’s heart I stab at thee!”  I am going to attempt to modify the novel Moby Dick into something my students can work with.  This means processing a novel of over 700 pages into one or two overlays consisting of maybe 20 picture points.  I’m presently gathering up various pictorial renditions of the story using our public library system.  I’ve got the Patrick Stewart video.  I don’t care what it takes or what the cost, I will do it.  I will keep going and going on this GAA stuff and pursue it to whatever end.  There will be no escape. Day and night and night and day, I will pursue it.    I will not rest until the GAA gushes its black blood into the sea! DEATH TO THE GAA!


5 Responses to “Call Me Ishmael”

  1. TK November 9, 2006 at 11:35 am #

    I always thought of Moby Dick as a short story gone bad. Ever wonder how the donkeys that came up with this NCLB stuff would score? I looked at some sample VA SOL tests and just about cried at how my college degree didn’t cover parts of it.

    Great post. Love the literary references.

    And best of luck on your whaling adventure!

  2. Terri November 11, 2006 at 8:25 am #

    You are a genius. Just had an inservice with the county special ed guru – a girl of about 12 – who told us that we were all really special ed teachers and we were all responsible for the special ed students meeting standards and isn’t life grand and isn’t life rosy and look, the tooth fairy!!! NCLB sucks, Georgia sucks and nobody gives the first rip about it. Our parents are looking at the charter schools being started in our area. Won’t somebody please wake up and help us do something? 100% passage in 2013? I teach EIP 5th graders reading on a 2nd grade level. HELLO!!!!!

  3. bamagirl November 13, 2006 at 9:27 am #

    I am a friendly neighbor over here in Alabama. I love to read your posts. This one is great. If it’s ok, I am going to print it out and share with my co-workers. Or at least direct them to the page to read it. This is wonderful thinking, made me want to rally right in behind you.

    I am one of those lucky special ed teachers who wasn’t HQ even though I had a state issued teaching certificate and a degree in Early Childhood Special Education from Auburn University. So I am back in school at night now, spending my own money, just to apease the stinkin federal and state government. What gets me is that I am in classes with girls who have B.S’s in things, but not education and no teaching certificate. They are hired over here on “emeragency certification”, teach the same things I do (with no training) and make the same thing I do, and when we are all done, they have a 2 year master’s in education and I have a 4 year B.S. in special ed plus a 2 year master’s in special ed. But we are all HQ. That makes no sense at all to me. And this deal about the regular education teachers being able to take a test and be certified in another area is crap too. I just don’t get it. Which is a little off subject, so sorry.

    The AAA is a bunch of crap over here, too. I have MR students who can’t even add single digit numbers with a calculator, but I am suppose to use 8th grade math standards to teach them. Where is the individualized part in all that?

    I certainly hope that when the author of NCLB is voted out of office, the federal govt allows the states to go back and re-look at some of those goals. I just don’t understand how they think they can force 100% passing. They are setting us up to fail from the very beginning.

  4. Dick November 13, 2006 at 10:20 am #

    Yes, I AM becoming like the obsessed and insane Captain Ahab! That’s the only way I can put enough fire in my belly to go through it. I have to check my sanity at the door and any semblance of rational thought, since this is what the framers of this junk obviously did.

    Yes, teri, I like Moby Dick because it allows me to give voice to my anger and frustration. I can become quite looney and people think I’m a literary genious! Hahahahaha! Now, try taking someone functioning at a 2 year-old level and get them to pass high school graduation test standards! That is my task. I can only imagine how regular ed. teachers feel about this especially as many are having their evaluations tied to their students’ performance on these tests.

    Bamagirl, I feel your frustration. Unfortunately, the author of NCLB was re-elected and has always been and will probably always be because the people of Massachusetts love him. How can our governmental officials possibly expect 100% passage on standardized tests? Could someone please explain to me how a test retains integrity when 100% of a population passes it every single time?

    I much prefer an educational system that recognizes and rewards excellence, helps those who have exceptional needs and allows individual communities the power to deermine how best to serve their own children.


  5. sheri mcmahon November 26, 2006 at 1:26 am #

    Hi dick-
    I stumbled on your blog tonight, but I know I have been here before. Some thoughts:
    do you ever feel uncomfortable about using un-People First Language like “severe and profound kids”? I realize its shop talk, and I realize it’s quicker, but still. . . .
    NCLB- as a special ed parent, I have been angry for years about how schools in towns like mine tout the performance of their advantaged students and disregard those they do NOT provide with a decent education. Fact: I gave them a kid who loved learning, who had tons of hands-on, creative, playful learning experiences (little natural history museums in the back yard, siphoning water from the wading pool, lots of reading and homegrown books on tape with Mom reading and making “beep” noises, magnets and magnifying glasses, all the fun stuff). For three years he scored in the superior ranges, even as we all saw what difficulties he had in many areas of school. Over time, the difficulties took over, my love-to-learn kid began to call himself stupid, odd, dumb. The worst of it was that some of his upper-elementary teachers assumed special ed had to mean stupid, and since he wasn’t stupid he obviously did not “deserve” what they described as “special privileges.” Talk about the worst of both worlds–unable to cope with all the typical demands of the classroom, but having internalized the lesson that different is bad and needing help means being stupid. At 17, he is two years behind his peers. Last year we simply kept him out–school had resulted in too many psychiatric hospitalizations and too much anguish.
    Maybe it’s best working in the “severe and profound” world–because nobody else intrudes upon that world. Keeping a smart kid with a disability in regular classes means constantly contending with administrators who rule the world. (It got a lot better after junior high, but the principal still runs the show).

    Anyway. I looked at the alternate assessment standards for my state (ND) not long ago. They are “aligned” with 11th grade standards but they are NOT 11th grade standards, not even the highest of the three levels offered.

    But here’s the deal, and the reason why I looked at the standards. My son brought home some odd stories about the 11th grade testing a couple of weeks ago–students with IEPs who I knew did NOT have “persistent or significant cognitive disabilities.” Seems the high school managed to miss failing AYP two years in a row. How? First, juggling demographics to mingle poor-achieving minorities with the town’s high-achieving Asian students ( combination of Cambodian and Vietnamese immigrants who have been here several years, along with the offspring of university and medical professionals in town). Second, 87% of IEP students at the high school got alternate tests. 84% of them–ta-da–scored in the “advanced” range. Hardly any were in the “proficient” range. Let’s just say skewed.

    I ran a bunch of statistical analyses, and patterns of unusually high alternate assessment rates are possibly suspicious and certainly indicate that the students were not appropriately tested. The previous year, 0% scored advanced at the same school, when a small number of IEP students took alternate assessments.

    My son tells me that some friends said people tried to persuade them to take the alternate test but they refused. Good for them, I say.

    I’ve been to the school board, which has promised to look into the matter, but I’m not even sure they perceive a possible issue. I tried to be non-inflammatory and give them a chance to get good with the Lord of testing. But I have also given a heads-up to the state special ed director, whom I have come to know (I am one of “those” parents but he and I get along just fine) and have been told there is “concern.” He and I talked about the inherent conflict between standardization (NCLB) and uniqueness (IDEA). On the other hand, watch out for those low expectations. Many years ago I worked in a group home with adults with physical and developmental disabilities. Inadvertently, I started casually teaching basic arithmetic to a 34-year-old woman with cerebral palsy, non-verbal. Maybe she had had instruction in the past, I have no idea. But she was whipping through the K-Mart workbooks I started buying for her and having a blast–until I was ordered to stop doing that, because it was not in her plan. Even aside from that experience, over and over what I experienced as a part-time group home aide was that the spark of genuine intelligence was in all the residents. There is a difference somehow between, for example, being conditioned to respond in a certain way and showing that one is CONSCIOUS that one has made the connection between the cue and the response. More and more, I became aware that the handicap was not in them, it was in me–in how my ability to perceive the intelligence before me was limited. Am I saying that adults with mental retardation were secretly discovering unified field theory? Well, no. At the same time, maybe the AA struggle will have a little more meaning if you think of it less as an impossibility than as a possibility and a challenge. I think you have to take some kind of Zen step to disregard all the institutional and political pressures, but I also think it is possible to take that step, even if only for a moment. In other words, what if its possible to find joy in NCLB testing? What if my son’s school had given the regular test to more IEP students and then said, “my goodness, look at all the things there are for us to teach them that they don’t already know!”
    My son has just two classes this year. In theory he has a third class in algebra, but it is a computer based course and, surprise, the resource room teacher doesn’t know how to solve an algebraic inequality. Sure, they have HQ math teachers, just not in the room where my son is supposed to learn algebra. The principal was surprised that I brought up the need for an actual teacher, saying most parents are just grateful the computer course exists. 3/5 of the way through the semester, we finally have a meeting with a math teacher to see what we can work out. My son’s other two classes are 9th grade science (he’s 17). Very frustrating. It took 2 months to get the teacher to provide copies of her overhead notes so he can use a highlighter–he is unable to take legible notes. That was one item of a list of 5 or 6 items that nobody has bothered to get into the IEP but which I had asked her about informally and were promised. The IEP says “copies of notes or modified notes” but “modified notes” is an undefined term, I think generated at a long-ago school he attended and like many IEP artifacts, it linger. She figured she was giving everyone “modified notes” already (outlines to be filled in, basically). His third class is auto tech, where he has a blast with the tools and enjoys the lectures. The students are not academically strong, so his 77% is the best in the class. I could quibble about accommodations that would allow him to do better but I won’t. On the other hand, one of the things they never tell you is which teachers use scantron sheets for classroom quizzes and tests. He can’t keep track of the rows on scantrons, fails the quizzes then, but nobody thinks anything of it because his average is the best in the class.

    I can torment myself about the courses and accommodations he is not getting. Or we can get enthusiastic about reviewing for the physical science test and protons and neutrons and electrons. The latter seems to be the better choice most days.

    But I am deeply angry over how my son has been handicapped by his education–this weird combo of low academic expectations and high (zero tolerance) behavioral expectations. I was the perfect student. I ended up with a National Merit Scholarship and the highest SAT scores in the school’s history. It is so unfair–it was easy and natural for me, and it has been so hard and unnatural for my son. I am just as angry about the other kids I know who have also been handicapped. My niece, whose teachers were smarter than the neurologists who confirmed her epilepsy and knew her odd seizure behavior just meant she was smoking pot. My nephew, whose severe language processing deficit (standard IQ tests put him below 70, although he does much better with modified IQ testing) was interpreted as emotional disturbance and who cannot live on his own without landing in jail (he’s currently in a non-correctional institutional setting, which is better but should never have been necessary).

    IWhile going through the NCLB data I noticed that the junior highs in town average 65-75 IEP students in the 8th grade and 35-40 in 11th grade. Where have they gone? I suspect that those who have been “cured” of their disability do not explain this, because there are kids at every age who are first determined to have a disability and there are acquired disabilities (e.g. head injuries). I think the majority have probably been lost but do not have access to the data that would tell me.

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