Could the odd practice of using high-stakes testing to test students with severe disabilities put an end to America’s obsession with high-stakes testing overall?
There is nothing that speaks to individual differences more than students like Ethan Rediske.
America may have lost Ethan, but his mom, Andrea Rediske, and Orange County Public School board member Rick Roach will not go gently into the good night when it comes to the outrageous testing of students with severe disabilities. And other states—not just Florida—are listening.
I think that the impact this issue could have on high-stakes testing, not just for students with severe disabilities, but testing in general, is the real reason behind FL Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart’s odd letter. It is defensive, to be sure, but it also sends a message. Note: every teacher in the state received the letter.
Let me say upfront, unlike a lot of state education commissioners, who have little background or experience in education, Stewart is tougher to criticize. She has been a real teacher, and she has admirable degrees in both education and counseling. You would think she would have understood this situation better.
Also, in the ‘80s I spent time as an intern in the FL Bureau of Education for Exceptional Students, and I have a bit of a warm spot for the good people who worked there. But of course that was then and this is now.
Standardized testing has been used for years to damn teachers and public schools. More-and-more students with disabilities must master tests that take time away from the skills they need. There are better methods to help these children—and measure their progress.
Stewart’s letter reeks with what would seem to be poor judgment. I’m not just talking about the lack of sympathy for Ethan’s mom, Andrea Rediske. Certainly, knocking a mother after the loss of her son is pretty low.
But the generalized thinking as to why it is a good thing that children with severe disabilities are tested with, what many believe irrelevant assessment, is the issue that needs exploring.
Stewart doesn’t want the public to get a bad overall view of the importance of testing.
She prattles on in her letter about “equal rights” and “reaching measurable goals.” But equality isn’t about making all children be the same. Equality can mean a lot of different things. I’m thinking good school buildings and resources, but you can come up with a list of your own.
And measurable goals don’t have to be the same either. Parents want schools that value their children for the children they are—no matter the disabilities—strengths and weaknesses.
Stewart says, “We cannot and should not return to the days where we tacitly ignore children with special needs by failing to ensure they are learning and growing as the result of teachers’ excellent work.”
What days and which teachers is she referring too?
There certainly was a time when students with disabilities were treated poorly. But with the advent of Public Law 94-142, in 1975, that changed. Across this country a new awareness drove public schools to address the “individual” needs of students in special education, despite the fact that many politicians argued about the cost.
And despite the fact too, that there have been many attempts throughout the years to weaken the bill with watered down re-authorizations that turned it into the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that it is today.
I taught in Florida, early on, during the great changes, and I can vouch that, despite rapid growth and a lot of scrambling to better understand students with severe disabilities and students with autism, special education teachers were by no means “tacitly ignoring” children. Mrs. Stewart might want to read up on the history of the Gretchen Everhart School, on her doorstep in Tallahassee, or revisit the ESEA, Title VI-B Project for students with Autism in Orange County.
No. I think the problem Stewart and other reformers have is special education. Reformers are well aware that there is a cool wind of discontent blowing across the country when it comes to high-stakes testing and Common Core State Standards. Ethan’s strange situation with high-stakes testing just drove home that the serious problems in education may not be with the public schools and/or their teachers, but with the draconian, inflexible, disingenuous and outlandish rules that govern them.