Archive | Alternate Assessment RSS feed for this section

GAA Tips and Tricks

20 Aug

I just had a local teacher email me asking for some hints on doing a GAA with a student with profound disabilities. Is it possible? Yes it is, and I’ve done it more than once, each time successfully. I could get a potato through the GAA and show progress.

It’s a bit of a charade, but it’s possible to get anyone through the GAA as long as you have an open mind! Even if the student is in a coma, they can do a GAA and show progress. I know it’s stupid, but as long as we’re all willing to wink and carry on and follow the rules, I’m willing to try to keep my outrage to a minimum. Just don’t change the rules.

At this point, you’ll have to look at the academic standards for the student’s grade level from the 2009-2010 blueprint. I just scrolled down to the 7th grade standards and they are not too far off from what I do at the high school. So I’ll give you a basic setup on some possible tasks:

ELA #1 – Reading comprehension: I think every grade has some sort of reading comprehension. At the high school, we have specific areas, like American literature, nonfiction or poetry. Basically, I pick a book or story that has some support with it, or that it will be easy to make things for. During the first collection period, I read the story to the student and have him point to some of the pictures. Take pictures of him pointing, or (better yet) of you holding his hands pointing. You want to keep the baseline very low at this point. Of course, if he can point independently, sure go with that. But for someone who is seriously profound you will be hand-over-hand. Get pictures of this. The second task involves watching a movie to TV show of the story. Same rules apply, where I get pictures of the student watching and perhaps being physically prompted to touch the screen. Keep it all pretty simple and low tech. Remember, this is a baseline and you’ll have to show progress from this point.

ELA #2 – listening, speaking, viewing – I think everyone has this one, too. I have one task that involves a basic scripted conversation: “Hi”, “How are you” I’m fine” and “Goodbye.” This is pretty basic and can be done with a step-by-step single switch or a Gotalk 4+ or similar device. This is the one time where you might try to use audio or video, because the conversation is already scripted and programmed. But I stick to captioned photographs, because I like that medium of data collection and it has always worked for me. The second task could be a different way of giving information or answering questions. I like something like requesting food, because that opens me up to generalization later. We can start at the school cafeteria (or home or hospital) and then expand to ordering at a restaurant during that second collection period thus showing progress and generalization. I’m always thinking of how to increase the level of independence, sophistication or achievement in order to show progress. Actual achievement is the variable that I have the least amount of control and certainty over, so I program progress into it by increasing independence and sophistication using technology. Collection period #1 is very low tech and very simple. Collection period #2 gets very technologically sophisticated and fancy.

Algebra – I usually use modeling addition, but we’re still on QCC standards at the high school, so you’ll have something different. But the basic template is the same. Pick two tasks that demonstrate the same concept and keep it very simple for the first collection period, and use hand-over-hand. During the second collection, you can hook a switch to a laptop and do all sorts of cool things. As long as the student can hit the switch (with or without your help) they can show progress.

Geometry – I’m all about doing stuff with shapes. Again, collection period one involves drawing hand-over-hand and pointing to shapes hand-over-hand. The second collection period involved using a computer and a switch to do some different things more independently. Getting the student to become a switch user is a big key, here.

Social studies – This used to be difficult for me, until they opened up all the standards. Looking at the 7th grade blueprint, you have some nice options. We picked Mexico and did a ton of activities surrounding that place and culture. Collection period #1 involved just looking at books and video, where collection #2 involved doing activities and accessing material using the computer and technology. We actually had so much fun, that we sort of went “around the world” and did a mess of countries and cultures, and talked about food, music and traditions.

Science – I’ve done both biology and physical science tasks and the key is finding sufficient things to support what you’ll do in the second collection period and two separate tasks. Again, one task could involve reading a book or watching a video while the other involved actually doing something with some material. For biology, we planted some seeds, and this was the activity for collection period #1. Collection period 2 involved watering, measuring and perhaps comparing two different plants or similar plants under different conditions. Timing it tricky with live plants as if you start too late, your plants might catch the frost! Start too early, and your administrator might have issues with the dating of the material compared to the rest of your subjects. You’ll have to watch the 3 week window.

A lot of things I’ve said might not make any sense to you right now, but hopefully you’ll get some basic GAA training that will flesh this process out for you. There’s a bunch of niggling rules and details I’m skipping over, but my experience is that planning and designing the tasks is the hardest part. Once that is done, the other stuff fits in and things can be adjusted.

At this point in time, look for whatever it is you think you might want to use for your reading comprehension. See what other grade-level teachers are using. Then, see if you can find an adaptation of it, such as a graphic novel. Also, if there is a movie of it, you’ll have a nice package. For instance, Frankenstein has many adaptations. If you go to the Significant Disability GA DOE Website, and scroll way down, you’ll find a whole unit of activities that uses this story.

Hope this helps!

I
It’s a bit of a charade, but it’s possible to gehrough the GAA as long as you have an open mind! Even if the student is in a coma, they can do a GAA and show progress. I know it’s stupid, but as long as we’re all willing to wink and carry on and follow the rules, I’m willing to try to keep my outrage to a minimum. Just don’t change the rules.

At this point, you’ll have to look at the academic standards for the student’s grade level from the 2009-2010 blueprint. I just scrolled down to the 7th grade standards and they are not too far off from what I do at the high school. So I’ll give you a basic setup on some possible tasks:

ELA #1 – Reading comprehension: I think every grade has some sort of reading comprehension. At the high school, we have specific areas, like American literature, nonfiction or poetry. Basically, I pick a book or story that has some support with it, or that it will be easy to make things for. During the first collection period, I read the story to the student and have him point to some of the pictures. Take pictures of him pointing, or (better yet) of you holding his hands pointing. You want to keep the baseline very low at this point. Of course, if he can point independently, sure go with that. But for someone who is seriously profound you will be hand-over-hand. Get pictures of this. The second task involves watching a movie to TV show of the story. Same rules apply, where I get pictures of the student watching and perhaps being physically prompted to touch the screen. Keep it all pretty simple and low tech. Remember, this is a baseline and you’ll have to show progress from this point.

ELA #2 – listening, speaking, viewing – I think everyone has this one, too. I have one task that involves a basic scripted conversation: “Hi”, “How are you” I’m fine” and “Goodbye.” This is pretty basic and can be done with a step-by-step single switch or a Gotalk 4+ or similar device. This is the one time where you might try to use audio or video, because the conversation is already scripted and programmed. But I stick to captioned photographs, because I like that medium of data collection and it has always worked for me. The second task could be a different way of giving information or answering questions. I like something like requesting food, because that opens me up to generalization later. We can start at the school cafeteria (or home or hospital) and then expand to ordering at a restaurant during that second collection period thus showing progress and generalization. I’m always thinking of how to increase the level of independence, sophistication or achievement in order to show progress. Actual achievement is the variable that I have the least amount of control and certainty over, so I program progress into it by increasing independence and sophistication using technology. Collection period #1 is very low tech and very simple. Collection period #2 gets very technologically sophisticated and fancy.

Algebra – I usually use modeling addition, but we’re still on QCC standards at the high school, so you’ll have something different. But the basic template is the same. Pick two tasks that demonstrate the same concept and keep it very simple for the first collection period, and use hand-over-hand. During the second collection, you can hook a switch to a laptop and do all sorts of cool things. As long as the student can hit the switch (with or without your help) they can show progress.

Geometry – I’m all about doing stuff with shapes. Again, collection period one involves drawing hand-over-hand and pointing to shapes hand-over-hand. The second collection period involved using a computer and a switch to do some different things more independently. Getting the student to become a switch user is a big key, here.

Social studies – This used to be difficult for me, until they opened up all the standards. Looking at the 7th grade blueprint, you have some nice options. We picked Mexico and did a ton of activities surrounding that place and culture. Collection period #1 involved just looking at books and video, where collection #2 involved doing activities and accessing material using the computer and technology. We actually had so much fun, that we sort of went “around the world” and did a mess of countries and cultures, and talked about food, music and traditions.

Science – I’ve done both biology and physical science tasks and the key is finding sufficient things to support what you’ll do in the second collection period and two separate tasks. Again, one task could involve reading a book or watching a video while the other involved actually doing something with some material. For biology, we planted some seeds, and this was the activity for collection period #1. Collection period 2 involved watering, measuring and perhaps comparing two different plants or similar plants under different conditions. Timing it tricky with live plants as if you start too late, your plants might catch the frost! Start too early, and your administrator might have issues with the dating of the material compared to the rest of your subjects. You’ll have to watch the 3 week window.

A lot of things I’ve said might not make any sense to you right now, but hopefully you’ll get some basic GAA training that will flesh this process out for you. There’s a bunch of niggling rules and details I’m skipping over, but my experience is that planning and designing the tasks is the hardest part. Once that is done, the other stuff fits in and things can be adjusted.

At this point in time, look for whatever it is you think you might want to use for your reading comprehension. See what other grade-level teachers are using. Then, see if you can find an adaptation of it, such as a graphic novel. Also, if there is a movie of it, you’ll have a nice package. For instance, Frankenstein has many adaptations. If you go to the Significant Disability GA DOE Website, and scroll way down, you’ll find a whole unit of activities that uses this story.

Hope this helps get you started. I’ll keep blogging as I go, and will add more tips that I stumble upon (as well as vent!). Feel free to toss out any other questions you might have. It’s a lot of work, but is doable. I got my scores from last year with a student who was my lowest EVER (as well as was multiply impaired in many ways) and I got the best scores ever! I just have to remember to not get too worked up about it, emotionally.

The End of NCLB!

25 Jun

YES!  You read that right!  No Child Left Behind is officially coming to an end!

The long nightmare is over!

Well, okay.  Not exactly, but it is a start, I suppose.  However, I do not forsee any substantial changes coming along anytime soon.  In fact, the Obama administration has pretty much come out and said that they are just going to be looking to change the name, dispite some of the promises he made while campaigning.  So as far as the feds go, it is still business as usual.  And it is still going to be the same in the state of Georgia, too.  Even when the state legislature tried to make room for some choice within a district, the rules imposed by the DOE pretty much make it impossible to happen, for good or ill.  Basically, the Georgia DOE has proven itself to be more and more of an enemy to public education that anything coming out of Washington!  I’m repeatedly amazed at how they manage to bungle up legislation passed by our elected officials, or block legislation designed to fix their blunders.

And pretty much all of it is hostile towards individuals with disabilities as well as the rest of the student population.  When our students increasingly demand a costumized education, the state and the feds are doing everything they can to homogenize it. When the world cries out for creativity and innovation, the educational system forces conformity and uniformity.

The rebranding of NCLB is simply repainting the same rundown shack and giving it a new name.  According to the WaPo article above, it is almost literally window dressing as the red schoolhouse is replaced by pictures hung in the windows of the building of children doing various activities.

At any rate, it is still lovely seeing the crowning jewel of the GW Bush legacy added to the ash heap of history.  Even so, the stench of its consquences still remains as a sort of toxic haze choking off any meaningful education inovation and reform.

Before moving on to other topics, I do want to elaborate just a bit on my contempt for NCLB.

In 2002, I was actually an advocate for this legislation or at least a large part of it.  I wanted highly qualified teachers and accountability.  I wanted all students to learn and I was all for using research-based instructional methods and materials.  I never believed that more money was the answer, so as a tax payer, I thought it was a good idea to make funding contingent on getting some results.  But I never really dreamed that my SID/PID students would be caught up in this.  And then I started seeing how NCLB was being implimented and it became harder and harder to defend this law.  Basically, it turned our national curriculum into “Test Prep.”  Basic bench marks and minimum requirements suddenly became some sort of gold standard, and mediocrity became the ultimate goal.  I’ve never seen antything wipe out and destroy student creativity and and teacher innovation more effectively than this law.

So while many of the things that I wanted while supporting NCLB were noble, it was a serious error putting such an important task into the hands of the federal government.  I was very wrong, and over time that wrong-ness has been reinforced every single time our own state DOE interprets this terrible law and makes it an even more hideous monstrosity.  The ideals espoused by the people peddling this law and the actual execution of it are very, very far apart.  As a former supporter of this law (and the president who wants to take credit for it) there is a very, very deep sense of betrayal.  When it became obvious that this thing was stripping autonomy away from local school systems and causing a collapse of creative and independent thought in favor of the Test Culture, it should have been scrapped or at least something new developed to take its place.  But we have nothing to show for it, an imminent meltdown in 2013 when every school fails to make the 100% AYP mark, and an entire generation that has been left behind while the rest of the world is learning how to think creatively, independently, competetively, globally and collaboratively.  And there is no plan on what to do next.

Many of you probably saw the light long before I did, and I want to apologize to you for my slowness.  I know there were people who saw much further down the road than I did, and I should have listened more carefully.  I do feel a bit of guilt for starting out on the wrong side of this issue.  But I’m speaking now.  Here’s a few ideas:

1. First, I believe that every single person involved in the architecture of NCLB should be dismuissed, and placed far away from any influence in educational policy.  Put them in a SID/PID classroom.

2. Second, a new strategy should be develped from scratch.  That means we need to start on it right away.  But the conversation should be as inclusive as possible.  The capacity for involvement are much greater today than they were in 2000.  Let’s use those tools.

3. No plan should be set in stone.  We need to be mindful of changing conditions.  NCLB was written and implimented for the 1990’s educational syatem.  The world is changing and the capacity of teachning and learning are also changing.  And they will change again.  Flexibility needs to be built in.

4. Start removing the teeth from NCLB now, so that the damage becomes less and less so that by 2013, the impact will be minimal.

5. Make student motivation part of the converation when discussing student performance.

Those are just a few of my ideas.  Feel free to make up your own, put them in a comment or better yet, send them to your favorite (or least favorite) legislator or governmental entity.

Just When I Thought I was Finished…

2 Mar

No-school-today-snowstorm Edition

Our GAA is was due TODAY, and I was chugging along at a pretty good clip, getting things done as time went on. I was not saving everything until the last minute, because I realized how little time we actually have to do these things. It is less than 8 weeks to do all 12 tasks. So I had gotten a bunch of data and have been assembling it and putting it together. My GAA student has been out the last couple of days, but I wasn’t sweating it, because I thought I had everything I needed.

But I was wrong.

I had everything I needed right up until the very last task of the last standard. And the pictures of what we did were GONE! I searched every computer and jump drive I had, and they simply didn’t exist. No small task since I take hundreds of pictures of all of my students basically creating a sort of pictorial portfolio for each of them. So now I’m a bit against the wall. I already know what the task is and have it set up so we can get it pretty quickly. Hopefully he is recovered from his illness!

But this is exactly the sort of thing that happens. This student has been ill and absent more this year than any other time in his 3 year career with me. But I have done well with it until now, because I didn’t put it off. And it still isn’t a huge deal. It’s just a matter of some concern. We’ll make the final deadline, easy enough, unless things go viciously wrong.

All-in-all, this whole GAA business isn’t the total disaster that I sometimes paint it to be. It does have numerous and serious problems, to be sure. It is not very good for evaluating either students or teachers, but there are aspects of it that are okay. For one thing, it has made us players as far as the standards go. Prior to the GAA, our students (and us as teachers) were totally excluded from the regular curriculum. We had a functional curriculum, which by and large served the needs of the students and their parents most of the time. However, we were not really involved with the rest of the school’s curriculum. I was fine with that, and focused on my background in vocational instruction (when I taught agriculture) in the community-based program. The shift in focus has allowed me to shift back to my more academic background (when I taught science) and ways to present and differentiate that better. Fact is, in those areas I am possibly miles ahead of my regular peers because I am reaching for a much farther and harder target. I’ve had to learn how to present it smarter and in more creative ways because my students can not attend for more than a minute and they can not read a textbook or do a worksheet. Studying about matter and Mexico and Moby Dick has been enjoyable and I’ve had to stretch as a teacher in ways I would not necessarily have before the shift. Ironically, it’s because I teach everyone in the class according to the standards that I didn’t have the pictures I needed to document the activity for my GAA. On the day we did the activity, the GAA student wasn’t there so I went ahead with the activity with the rest of my class. So while I did it, I just didn’t do it with this particular student and whenever we get back to school, we’ll have a make up session.

The shift has taken place during a time when community-based instruction has fallen almost totally off. We used to go to the community nearly every day. Now it is once or twice a week. Maybe. So a lot of the void is filled in with academic content activities. At least I’m not pressured by the same time constraints as those in the regular classrooms who have to cover so much material in a relatively short period of time. I can sit on one topic as long as I like or move on and come back to it later. The freedom to do that is a good thing, since my students may take hundreds of trials in order to master one new skill.

During the Elluminate session and more than once on this blog, I may have come down too hard on teaching academic content to these students. It’s not a bad thing for the students or the teachers, for the most part. However, thanks to NCLB, the academic content is the only thing that counts. We can make all sorts of noises about the importance of IEP goals and the need for transition, daily living and vocational goals, but NCLB has narrowed the focus to that one single area. The schools are charged with providing all students access to the state mandated curriculum, regardless of disability or economic status. The ‘A’ in FAPE has been clearly defined. “Appropriate” is exactly what the regular education students are getting, so that is what the exceptional population gets, too. The accommodations and modifications are designed to enhance access to the general education curriculum (and associated assessments)– and nothing else. Until either the curriculum changes or the accountability changes (or both), those other areas of the IEP are not very relevant at all. Courts have made it clear that NCLB trumps IDEA. For most students, this might not be a terrible thing in and of itself. But for students with severe disabilities, it really does put us in a tough place as far as providing services for our students. They don’t really and truly don’t fit into a “regular” academic setting (whatever that is) because they present more unique challenges. Realistically, they are not going to have competitive employment, pay taxes or vote. They are not going to college, which is where every current education reform is trying to force every student. Colleges simply don’t want everyone! They want to be able to be somewhat selective, and my students are through the floor in that particular process. But that doesn’t mean that they have to be totally locked out of the curriculum.

The students with more severe and profound disabilities have a lot to teach us, which I believe is their greatest asset and role. They let us believe that we are teaching them, when in fact WE are the ones moved to greater character and knowledge. Every teacher who teaches any subject at any grade level should do a rotation in a severe and profound classroom for at least 4 weeks. Let them teach their subject and ply their craft to students with the most needs and the most limited personal resources and they will be able to better reach those who already come equipped with a lot more knowledge. Since that isn’t going to happen any time soon, it makes some sense to wheel these kids into regular classrooms as a sort of mobile learning opportunity, like those learning lab buses that criss cross the country and stop at various schools so kids can go inside and experience a virtual environment with activities centered around a topic or theme.

Gotta love this one

2 Mar

I think standardized testing has become this country’s new national obsession.

Blogging Elluminate: Aligning Standards for Students with Significant Cognitive Disabilities

25 Feb

I just finished an Elluminate session put on by our state DOE featuring Dr. Shawnee Wakeman from UNC Charlotte. You can see a copy of that session here. I was good and quiet…for at least the first half of it!

I’ve watched a few Elluminate recordings but this was my first live one. Well, my second if you count the one from yesterday which I showed up late to. It is definitely a cool medium but it also takes time to warm up to it. It also takes more concentration than just listening to a podcast or watching a video because ideally you’re supposed to react and participate. So there are some definite chat aspects to it. Sort of like Yahoo Chat with a Whiteboard and a lot less spam.

One complaint I have with Elluminate or at least the rendition of it that I experienced is that I would’ve liked to have seen profiles of other participants for reasons that I’ll get into in a moment. I did see and input my own profile into (including the URL to this blog). But I don’t think anyone else saw it.

Dr. Wakeman was the primary presenter and if you log in to get the Elluminate archived session, you will probably also get a copy of the power point. Today was day 2 of a 2 part presentation and if I would have been able to make more of that one I might have had less to say in the first one! I did manage to listen to a lot of it from the archive during my planning time (such that it is) and got up to speed. I also poked around her site to look at some of the other work her and her colleagues are doing. And I can’t find the link to it, but some of the work regarding different levels of intentional communication sort of resonated with me. A huge part of what we do with our students is trying to raise and harness the level and sophistication of that intentionality.

I won’t get into the entire presentation as there was a sizable portion at the beginning that went over and through me. I still had a room full of kids as we had buses that were running late. My paras are really good, but that late in the day everyone is just letting off steam. And sometimes the kids can get loud and restless, too! It was just difficult following along right then, which goes back to what I said about Elluminate requiring more sustained attention than I initially expected. With the recorded version, you can always pause it and come back. When it is “live,” if you snooze, you lose!

Once the students and paras were all gone and after the cleaning lady had buffed my floor with her diesel-powered buffer (LOUD), I was able to tune in. But I have to admit to taking more time to get turned on. This is where having profiles would have helped fill in a few blanks, such as the grade and instructional level that people taught. A lot of the material seemed to be pretty far above where my students live, and if it weren’t for me deciding early on that I wanted to try to blog, I might have left early. But I’m glad I stuck around. I thought Dr. Wakefield did a good job of hitting on some ideas for increasing the depth and breadth of knowledge during our instruction. And she did actually get to me on a couple of points (although I didn’t let her know it at the time) as far as continuing to do the same things over and over and over and over and over again.

Yeah, guilty. That’s me. I do have a kid who has been trying to identify his name from an array of 3 for 5 years. And still he can’t do it independently more than 30 percent of the time. HOWEVER, we did (FINALLY) get him to identify the penny, nickel, quarter and dime. After 5 years. And he’s counting to 5 after learning the numbers 1-5. So here’s the tough part; knowing when to quit. It took him 5 years (at least) to master those few skills. We’re extending to numbers 6-10 and deepening to counting other things but I could have just as easily given up 2 years ago once he finished his GAA. But I’m stubborn like that.

Is being stubborn an asset or a liability in this business? It probably depends on the quality of judgement. I’m still working on that part of it.

But as a high school teacher trying to do this with students who have severe and profound (mostly profound) cognitive disabilities there was still some distance between the expectation and what I see myself being able to do with a room full of students. Dr. Wakeman did sort of address that, which is about where I piped in because it was the first I was able to really get turned on to her material. I think if, as educators, we can succeed in jumping the enormous gap between a high school profound student and their grade level standard, doing it for the rest of the student population would be absolute gravy. Once we landed people on the moon, flying to Califronia or even China didn’t seem so difficult. Same thing, here. So my recommendation for future training would be to zero in on conquering that challenge: the distance between the most profound student and the highest grade-level standard. So much of the conversation on aligning standards seems to be akin to getting to California from Georgia when my kids are trying to get to there from the moon! Can they do it? Yeah, maybe with the same amount of time, intensity and resources as an Apollo moon mission. But no one is offering NASA-sized resources to my class at the moment. Perhaps I’m still thinking too small. I’m willing to try and think bigger and jump higher.

Anyway, it was a worthwhile presentation that was done well. I did come away with some new insight and not all of it was guilt! Perhaps doing more with less would improve future presentations, but only if there are other loudmouths like me in the room. It’s the participatory potential of Elluminate that can make the house rock. So thank you Dr. Wakeman, for virtually visiting us in Georgia!

By the way, I had no idea what a Dip Dog was either. So here you go!

Of course, I already had a lot of background in this material, thanks in large part to Dr. Toni Waylor-Bowen (she needs her own webpage) and her partner in crime at the time, Jessie Moreau. Dr. Bowen was the moderator of this session and everyone needs to give her kudos for being such a good (and patient) sport to some of my snarkiness. Regular readers know my feelings toward the GAA and she did a swell job of fielding my comments and questions. I might invite her to do a podcast or some sort of interview type of thing in the future to address some of those issues. As it was, we did sort of get into it toward the end of the Elluminate session which may or may not have made it more interesting. I think we could have gone on for some additional time, but at 5:00 most of us were ready to go home. Or use the bath. TMI but at least more truthful for me!

I think I might blog Dr. Bowen sometime separately later on, because she does have a good story, lots of experience and is totally willing to help and share.
So any and all, feel free to have at me in the comments!

PLN for SID/PID Teachers?

22 Feb

PLN = Personal Learning Network and it is the latest buzz word buzzing around. Or at least it’s the latest thing I’m running into when reading about teachers who are into technology and all the latest, greatest stuff.

I’m still trying to figure out what it is, exactly. It’s not exactly cut and dried. Funnily enough, the concept is older than most of the technology that is spawning a lot of the conversation. But there is some good sites helping to guide teachers on how to make one. And David Warlick seems to have the authoritative site on the subject.

So do you have one? Do you need one? Patrick Woessner does a good job of describing the current state of affairs in education. Few people know what it is, let alone have one. In a way, I do have one in the form of the folks in my blogroll and RSS feed. But I feel like it’s not very tightly knit. I’m beginning to see where Twitter might be helpful. But again, there’s that info overload, because of my various interests.

I joined the Classroom 2.0 and there’s some promise there. I invite you all to look around and let me know what you think.

View my page on Classroom 2.0

What really got me thinking about this was a recent wave of comments from colleagues who have referenced the isolation involved in teaching students with severe disabilities. Like our students, we are often in need of the greatest support but are segregated off from the greater teacher community. We can join in extra curricular concerns (if we have time) but we rarely get to connect with others who also do what we do. It’s rare that there is more than one SID/PID teacher in the building and some districts may only have 3 in the whole system! So providing support and ways to get support becomes a real challenge but the technology is there if we want to use it.

Oh well, back to work on finishing up the GAA!

HB 215 – Restoring Some Sanity

22 Feb

I do make a lot of noise about those monkeys in Washington, and their simian counterparts in Atlanta. Over the past few years, they have managed to screw up education in such a way that it will take decades to recover. But change is on the way. Hopefully.

Ironically, the troop of baboons under our gold dome actually might get something right. There are 3 separate bills working their way through the Georgia legislature that are designed to help lower the drop-out rate while helping students succeed. Some promising developments, and some not so much.

HB 149 is basically a form of dual enrollment that allows juniors and seniors to work their way through college while finishing up the last two years of high school. I do like this idea, as it will allow those students who are ready to move ahead to do so. High school can be fun for a lot of students but a drag to others. Getting out early plus getting college courses for free could be a big incentive for certain students.

HB 400 involves having a grant program that would enable high schools to set up magnet or theme schools around high-demand vocational careers such as healthcare, agribusiness or science. I have not seen a lot of specifics of this bill, and so while it looks nice it seems pretty vague. Schools would have to opt in and apply for the grants and then establish the infrastructure to help train students in a vocational career. Technical schools and colleges would also partner in this proposal, so it has some aspects of dual enrollment built in. But both HB 149 and HB 400 will still be hamstrung by the requirements of the curriculum standards set by the GA DOE. HB 215 would help correct this.

HB 215 is the bill with the most promise and yet will face the stiffest opposition. It represents a battle between the DOE and the legislature over what a H.S. diploma in Georgia will represent.

My DOE readers, feel free to weigh in.

Basically, Georgia used to have a multi-tiered diploma system. There was a basic, general diploma, there was a vocational diploma and then there was a college prep diploma. As one moved higher in the track, the requirements became more rigorous. If one got a general diploma, it didn’t automatically bar them from higher education but probably meant a two-year college before moving higher. The general and vocational diplomas had fewer requirements so that more vocational electives could be taken. However, the DOE recently abolished this system in favor of one diploma for every student– the college prep diploma. The idea was that every student who graduates will be able to go to college. The DOE has stated they don’t want lesser diploma levels for anyone, but equally rigorous standards for all. They also don’t want all the work they invested into the new “One diploma for all” approach to be undone.

As I see it, the DOE was all wet when they came up with “one size fits all.” It was a serious mistake and the legislature is right for trying to fix it. The DOE could reverse themselves and fix it today, but they won’t do it. Therefore, we need to pass legislation in order to compel some common sense into the process. Students with special needs automatically become the brown biscuits in the punch bowl, once again. Because they are either locked out by the requirements, or drop out or simply are failed and left behind. And the students that I teach are a particular case in point. According to the newest DOE standards, a student with an IQ of less than 25 will get a college prep diploma (based on passing the GAA). A student with a 75 IQ who can’t pass the graduation test will get nothing. The gifted student with a 140 IQ will get a college prep diploma which is the exact same diploma as my student with profound intellectual disabilities. Am I the only one who sees the problem here? How does this do anything but cheapen a college prep diploma? Insisting everyone pass the same standard necessarily lowers the standards for the higher achievers and raises it out of reach for the lower achievers.

My students participate in something known as Special Olympics. The rules are modified as is the playing conditions and equipment so that my students can participate. If they had to use the same equipment and rules as the regular Olympic athletes, just what chance would they have of succeeding? Would they have a chance of even meeting a basic qualification of being in the Olympics? No. But if the DOE were running the sporting universe, every child would have to have an Olympic qualifying time or forget about sports altogether. Which is what too many Georgia students do. They know they aren’t going to survive Algebra 2 and have no use for it, so they drop out. It’s the only way they can keep from losing. The DOE counters this by saying that they can not support any legislation that waters down the curriculum. But given the provision being made for students with severe disabilities, that is exactly what it amounts to. The college prep diploma is totally watered down is now meaningless. Which means a Georgia diploma is meaningless.

HB 215 is a bill that corrects the serious error that the GA DOE made when they abandoned students with disabilities and those with non-college career goals and aspirations. Not everyone wants to go to a university. We still need firefighters, police officers, paramedics, soldiers, electricians, carpenters, plumbers, daycare providers and truck drivers. The DOE seems to be blinded to the fact that the employable skills of a Georgia HS graduate and the skills of a HS dropout are almost exactly the same! The college prep curriculum leaves precious little room for taking any vocational courses because there are so many core requirements. Even for students with severe disabilities, the community-based program has all but been totally decimated by the emphasis on the core curriculum requirements. Much of this was pushed downwards from the feds with NCLB, but much of it is aggravated by our own state policies. I notice this bill also re-implements the special education diploma track which at least makes the regular diploma look less ridiculous and makes it slightly more meaningful to those who earn one.

So thanks to our legislature for bringing a bit of sanity back into educational policy. Sometimes Georgia politics seem as straight as a dog’s hind leg, but this is one educational bill that actually deserves some support. I hope that it can be passed and is able to comply with the onerous NCLB requirements.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

23 Dec

A couple of days before we got out on break, I got something very special from my special education director at the board office.

Now I can share my joy with all of you!

This is also a jumping off point for a new series about IEPs. I figure since I have to do this anyway, I might as well blog it. It might help other teachers as well as parents. My IEP series is linked in my blogroll and has been the biggest source of traffic to this blog since I posted it. Maybe the same trick will work for my Teachertube and Youtube channels?

Thanks for y’all coming by and joining in my foolishness!

(Note: I’m not at all bashing my special ed director here.  I’m just having a bit of fun with the inevitable Life That Chose Me.  You just have to laugh, sometimes)

NCLB: Why it’s not going anywhere any time soon

23 Dec

This is just how it is…

I’ll give you an example of just how and why NCLB is so absurd disastrous for my students.

Every single day of the school year, our students get off the bus and go through our back door straight into our classroom.  Every single day.  This door does not automatically lock when it is shut, which is why many other teachers end up coming in through our room.  If you push it, it will lock and can not be opened from the outside.  It has been that way forever.

I have a student who has been with me just shy of forever.  This is year #5 for him with at least 2 more to go.  He is also (somewhat arguably) my most capable student.  “Capable” being extremely relative in a SID/PID classroom.  Each and every morning for the past 5 years, this student has done the same, exact thing.  He runs to the door and pushes it shut, thus locking himself out.  Each and every single morning, without exception.  5 x 180 days = 900 trials and the boy still has not learned to simply open the door.  This is a very basic and functional thing but he still does not get it.  This is where teaching these kids are; it takes about 1000 trials to teach a single basic skill, even if it is highly relevant.  Sometimes less, many times more.

It’s not that these kids can not learn.  They can and they do!  But they do not learn at the pace (or for the price) of everyone else.  They never will, short of a brain transplant because the brain wiring is simply not there.  It is simply a biological fact of reality.  That doesn’t mean we give up, but could we please get over the fact that algebra and world geography might be relevant and practical for these kids on any level?!?

These kids could learn algebra, sure.  But no one wants to provide the resources necessary to do it.  It would take 40 hours per week of 1:1 instruction in order to get them to the most basic concepts.  Who is going to pay for that kind of service to teach something that is irrelevant to a lot of “normal” people and totally useless to the ones being taught?  No one.  No one is going to pay for any more than the basic level of care and instruction!  I have 7 kids who are 1:1 students and there are 4 adults here.  Combined with the administrative paperwork, I am swamped and overwhlemed as these kids can not toilet or feed themselves!  This takes a huge swath of time out of our day.  Plus the attention and endurance of these students is quite a bit less than 8 hours per day.  It is closer to 25 minutes per day, but I do push for more and there are numerous tears shed and gnashing of teeth because of it throughout the day in my room.

But why are we banging our heads so hard on this?  Is it just because it is a nice campaign slogan?  Is it because we are so bound by political correctness that we are immune to seeing some semblance of reality?

I’m hoping the new administration can bring some sanity to the situation but I am not overly optimistic.  In his speech introducing his nominee for secretary of education, President elect Obama said:

We need a new vision for a 21st century education system – one where we aren’t just supporting existing schools, but spurring innovation; where we’re not just investing more money, but demanding more reform; where parents take responsibility for their children’s success; where we’re recruiting, retaining, and rewarding an army of new teachers; where we hold our schools, teachers and government accountable for results; and where we expect all our children not only to graduate high school, but to graduate college and get a good paying job.

So now every student is going to be required to take on a college prep curriculum.  Just where does that leave a whole lot of students who are in special education?  Not much different than now.  Not much of a change, if you ask me.  This is the exact same rhetoric that spawned NickelBee (NCLB) and everything that went along with it.  George Bush could have delivered this exact same speech and if it were delivered by Joe Biden, I would seriously be wondering if it were lifted from 2000!

2009 is going to be real interesting.

My GAA Video Rant

6 Dec

Trying to embed from Teachertube, but for some reason it won’t let me.  I linked in a prior post, but here’s my Teachertube channel again.

We all had to have collection period 1 spit shined and polished today.  What an ordeal!  It’s such a pain to grab some sort of mastery level from the air.  My students need prompting and assistance 100% of the time because they are profoundly intellectually disabled 100% of the time!   But the local people reviewing my GAA won’t let me say that because it sounds too snarky.

Anyway, Youtube to the rescue (it’s blocked at my school so here’s the TT link).