Every child doesn’t have to arrive at the same destination. There are many endpoints and lots of highways. So why are parents and students directed to one score and one test to say who will be successful?
The Atlantic is asking whether No Child Left Behind (NCLB) should be considered an achievement when it comes to students with disabilities. Some believe that with the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, schools will no longer be strict enough when it comes to testing students with disabilities. Others think the tests will still be too strict and used inappropriately.
Here is a quote in the article: The problem that students with disabilities face in schools is that people have such low expectation for what they can achieve.
When Education Secretary Arne Duncan says Every child, regardless of income, race, background, or disability can succeed if provided the opportunity to learn, it is, in fact, a hopeful statement. The trouble is his idea of success is only based on a high score on a test.
Many parents and some civil rights groups have bought into this.
Instead of focusing solely on test scores why don’t they focus on the real keys to helping children with disabilities? Why don’t they look at a broader more encompassing picture that could lead to a better life for all children?
Here is what they should consider demanding of their schools:
- Smaller class sizes so when inclusion takes place it will more likely benefit all children.
- A return of vibrant art programs in all public schools so students with disabilities have other areas where they can succeed.
- Fully prepared and credentialed teachers who are specialists in different areas—better prepared to understand and come up with new ways to tackle academic and social difficulties.
- Peer understanding programs to fight bullying.
- Extra support for students with special needs in the regular class.
- A continuum of quality services that address transitioning to other regular classes.
- Professional development provided for principals who may know little about student disabilities.
- A fight for regular diplomas for all those students who work hard and demonstrate stamina and results (not just test scores).
- Career-technical courses and part-time job placements in the community (high school).
- Career education and help finding college and/or job placements in the area of a student’s strengths (high school).
- Life skill courses for all students.
- Fight against vouchers given to private or charter schools that remove the rights of students with disabilities, or segregate students, providing little in the way of services.
- Demand a balanced school curriculum with access to more course offerings.
- Family support.
- School guidance counselors–enough of them to assist students in a variety of areas.
- Good health screenings and school nurses.
- Fair assessment that guides students and helps teachers determine what will be good instruction.
- Good community outreach programs.
- Individual Educational Plans for all students that include and value parental feedback and involvement.
When the focus is solely on testing, students miss out on many things. There will be winners and losers. Some students with disabilities will score high and others won’t. For those who don’t, there will be no safety net. But they will run the risk of being stigmatized.
When students are stigmatized for what they can’t do (get a good grade on a test) and other options are closed to them, the country runs the risk of a return to Willowbrook mentioned in The Atlantic.
Some might recall the reporter Geraldo Rivera’s famous 1972 expose of New York’s Willowbrook School, which reveals students naked, some in their own filth, with overwhelmed aides and no instruction.
Instead of fighting for more high-stakes test sanctions and policing, why don’t those who advocate for the high-stakes testing of students with special needs fight for real schools that will steer their students down the road to success?
Parents of students with special needs have every right to be concerned about what the future holds for students. But the fight shouldn’t surround just a test score. Life is bigger than that and that is what public schools should reflect. There are many roads for students to choose to reach success, and whichever road they choose, the trip should be lovely.