Why are we having this conversation again?
Today, I am going to highlight Paula Drew, who, as the mother of a student with profound disabilities, has run up against bullies who want unnecessary, unrealistic Florida testing. Paula has kindly shared her moving speech to the Sarasota County School Board which you can find below.
Paula’s 15 year-old-daughter, Maddy, has cerebral palsy and is nonverbal. Paula requested that Maddy be exempted from the test. Maddy’s doctor listed reasons, in a letter, why Florida’s State Alternative testing was inappropriate, but Education Commissioner Pamela Stewart denied the request.
At first, Paula was threatened that her child would be removed from her special school if she did not comply and have Maddy take the test. Officials have since changed their minds, or attribute this to a misunderstanding.
Let’s be clear.
There have been, for many years, fair, observational assessments for students with profound disabilities. But that is not what this is about. This is about alternative testing that appears to be solely designed to go after teachers!
Also, students with severe disabilities are capable of learning—a lot. They can improve with speech and physical therapy. They can develop much needed communication and life skills to increase quality of living.
Starting where the student is at and moving forward step-by-step is what’s called for. Parents rely on good, realistic instruction.
It is a challenging job for a teacher, but, also, with the right support, one of the most joyful!
Helping teachers and parents work on behalf of a student with profound disabilities is what’s needed and to also encourage teachers to get the right professional preparation and work in this area.
It is beneath a student’s dignity to be subjected to unnecessary tests. And it is cruel to use students to make teachers look inadequate. It also doesn’t encourage young teachers to want to teach in this critical area.
Also, parents, it goes without saying, who have students with severe disabilities, should not have to endure this kind of treatment.
Citizens in the State of Florida need to have a talk (again) with Education Commissioner Pamela Stewart and her followers about compassion and who the Department of Education should be working for in that state.
Parents of students with severe disabilities should not have to still plead to them to get their students out of testing.
Here is Paula’s moving speech. And it is followed with links about her situation in the news.
My name is Paula Drew and I am Madison’s mom, and I take that role very seriously. As you have undoubtedly gathered, Madison cannot tell you how she feels about being made to take the Florida Standards Alternate Assessment. Madison communicates in various non-traditional ways such as pointing, gesturing, a few signs, and through a communication app on her personal ipad. None of these methods of communication are fool-proof and are often subject to interpretation. Because of Madison’s disabilities, she has limited life experiences and may not be able to identify with certain types of questions on the assessment. I don’t know about you, but I would not want my pay, job security, or school rating based upon what she may say when asked particular questions.
I’d like to borrow a term used in Commissioner Stewart’s letter to teachers dated March 3, 2014, wherein she was defending her actions with regard to harassment of Ethan Rediske and his family while he was on his deathbed. In her letter she states “It would be a moral outrage to deny that opportunity [referring to testing] to any child based on any reasoning, including special needs.” Well, that certainly speaks volumes as to the Commissioner’s morals and compassion and determination to test no matter what the cost! What is a moral outrage is asking special needs children (or any child for that matter) to perform on a one-size-fits-all assessment. What is a moral outrage is ignoring the child’s special accommodations outlined in their IEP. What is a moral outrage is not listening to the parents of said students who find it abusive to subject their special needs children to this assessment for hours on end. What is a moral outrage is using the results of said flawed assessment to rank students, calculate teacher pay, and assign grades to schools…but ESPECIALLY schools like Oak Park who service nothing but children with varying physical, intellectual, and/or emotional disabilities.
In 2014, as a result of the State’s harassment of families like the Rediske’s, Senate Bill 1642 was passed. That law restored a little bit of compassion and common sense to the State’s overzealous testing regime. That Bill allows for the exemption of medically complex children from taking standardized assessments. Even though I made my position known 10 months ago, it was just last week that we were given the procedure on how to apply for such an exemption with only four days to gather the documentation from a physician and hold an emergency IEP meeting. I requested a permanent exemption for my daughter as her condition will not change, and I already have enough paperwork and hoops to jump through on a daily basis just to address her basic needs. I do not want to repeat exemption process every year. The Commissioner will have to grant the exemption. I was told that she most likely will not given her past history denying most exemptions and the tone of her March 2014 letter. I would also like to note that I was told that Madison could be removed from her specialized school if I refused to allow her to be tested should the exemption be denied. If the exemption for my daughter is denied and/or she is removed from her specialized school, I am hereby putting the School Board and Department of Education on notice that I intend to do whatever it takes to see that this law is adhered to.
In summary, I know that Madison will never go to college, get a job, or leave home. I’m okay with that. All of the education and testing in the world is not going to change the fact that she’s severely disabled. But, you know what, she’s happily disabled and because of that, I’m okay. Yes, she’s somewhat educable, but not to Florida’s “Standards”. She goes to school to learn life skills. She goes to school to get social interaction. Madison is anything but standard!
Thank you, Paula!