Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Again, President Obama, Can We PLEASE have a New Education Secretary?

From Huffington Post, news that Secretary Duncan wants this to be the last year for alternative tests for special ed students.  He wants them ALL to take the general assessments.  This, of course, is all around the NCLB legislation (which is practically on life-support anyway). 

A subsequent 2003 regulation allowed states to use "alternate achievement standards" for up to 1 percent of students with the most challenging cognitive disabilities. 

In 2007, the Education Department tweaked the law to allow 2 percent of students per state to learn a curriculum based on "modified" objectives and be measured on an aligned test. The feds based that number on the "percent of students who may not reach grade-level achievement standards within the same time frame as other students, even after receiving the best-designed instructional interventions from highly trained teachers," the department wrote in the Federal Register. States could use the modified tests to measure student performance of these 2 percent under No Child Left Behind.

Since then, a consortium of advocacy groups representing special education students, such as the Easter Seals and the National Center for Learning Disabilities, have pushed to end the allowance. 

"The expectation should be that students presently taking the ... [alternate exams] will participate in the general assessment, with appropriate accommodations as needed," the group wrote in July.

Now the Secretary of Education is responding to those pleas. On Friday, the administration posted a proposal to roll back the rule, which would let states already administering alternate tests use them for the last time this school year. The administration can act on its own accord and is gathering feedback from the public until Oct. 7 before making a final decision. 

States could still count 1% of students with the most severe disabilities.

For the NEA, the question comes down to aspiration versus reality. "We're talking about students with disabilities who have documented life-impacting issues, that if they could do everything else the other students were doing, they'd be doing that," Riley said. "We have to take an individualized look at how we're assessing them ... Some students don't fall on the normal bell curve."

Please remember - our own district is in trouble for non-compliance for all Special Ed students.  If this comes to pass, the district either lets these student sink or swim or will have to put more money towards this effort (and less in other areas).  Until our Legislature fully funds education (and includes money for this effort), something will have to give.

Here's Secretary Duncan's Facebook page - that might be the best way to reach him.

9 comments:

Mary Griffin said...

Melissa, there has been a lot of hand-wringing about this, but actually most special ed advocates, myself included, think its time to dump the 2% rule. We feel that it lets the districts off the hook for substandard programs for these kids. Most students (~80%) in special education can achieve at the same level as kids who do not receive special education services.

But, don't get me wrong, I'm no fan of Arne Duncan.

We are far more concerned that the State of Washington has applied for an ESEA (NCLB) Waiver which basically excludes many special education students from measures of growth and performance.
There is far too much emphasis on compliance with special education and not enough on actual performance. The groups that made these recommendations included only one person with a background in special education and no family representatives.

Mary Griffin said...

According to the National Center on Learning Disabilities, "an analysis of the use of these exams has found that thousands of poor, black students took them, placing them in a modified track that may not support graduating with a regular diploma; students who are proficient on the general assessment took the alternate test "for no apparent reason other than the fact they are students with disabilities;" large numbers of students with learning disabilities, attention-deficit disorder, speech/language disorders and other disabilities took the modified tests although these disabilities should not warrant the need to be placed into these assessments; and the use of these tests reduced student access to the regular classroom and general curriculum, further segregating them and reducing their opportunities to achieve with their peers."

Melissa Westbrook said...

Mary, I certainly would listen to you over Arne Duncan and I can understand the broadness of the waiver is problematic.

But again, where are the supports? In a year, districts are to get the majority of these students ready?

Mary Griffin said...

Our district is certainly going to have its share of problems this year. I could write you several pages and put all your readers to sleep on that subject. But it is not right to let districts off on some kids just because districts are not up to snuff. I feel the same way about a lot of things, and I know you do, too.

But as a general example of things that are going on in this district, there was a student who was being mainstreamed at a K-8. She was doing fairly well and getting great benefit from her program. Then, because of her diagnosis, she was plugged into a program at Nathan Hale for freshmen year. On Mondays, it was swimming, followed by bus to Fred Meyer, where there was fronting and stocking to be done. After that was another bus ride. Then lunch and swimming. The focus of this child's program turned from academics to life skills and her pathway was turned from graduating with a diploma to graduating without a diploma without any conversation with the parents and no one was held accountable. These are the kinds of low standards that are happening every day and just shouldn't be happening.

This is way we do not think that the school district should be let off for educating students who have academic capabilities.

Anonymous said...

There seems to be grave misunderstandings as to what's actually happening now with special ed assessment. ALREADY, students are assessed with the same assessments - and yes, they fail by incredible margins. (around 30% can now pass each area at normal levels) There is no modified assessment! Up until kids get to the very end, and they need to graduate. And that is a state requirement, not a federal one... then they have some options for graduation: Same assessment at a lower level (MO), WAAS-DAW (MSP at lower grade level with a 3), site based testing, WAAS-Portfolio - in addition to alternate graduation paths available to gen ed students (presumably). The yearly DAW (Developmentally appropriate WASL, different from the regular one) was already thrown out, deemed against Washington State law about 8 years ago. Kids who have ANY hope of passing (eg. hold a pencil, can read a tiny bit, etc, are already assessed with the plain old MSP. And, they get what they get.

While it might be nice to think that all special ed kids with LD can pass at normal rates - but nowhere in the country is that true, or even close to true. So, why do people think it could be true? The definition of a learning disability (and any disability) is that students have a biological basis for failure to be able to perform academically. Lots of instruction does not make up for that difference, especially as standards rise. There may be a small number of cases for which that is true - but then you've got to wonder if the students really had a disability in the first place.

The very few students who do take the portfolio assessments WAAS - are those who have no hope at all of even knowing what the test is about. Would you really want a student who had 0 language to be forced to endure hours of testing? Should students with IQ of 50, who can't count to three, have to take the EOC? (yes these exist too!)


It is certainly true that the district can do much more to raise expectations for students with disabilities. Unfortunately, giving more standardized testing isn't it. Forced testing, for students who can't perform, often will not be able to perform - despite preparation - simply robs students of their dignity. It says: You suck. You failed, because you're "not standard". Hello. We already know our students "aren't standard"! We don't need that message repeated ad infinitum. And most importantly, our kids don't need to hear it either repeated at every testing opportunity - including 3 x 2 = 6 map tests per year, 3 MSP/HSPE/EOCs, and triennial psych evaluations. They need to find their area of strength.

Spedvocate

Mary Griffin said...

@spedvocate, everything you said is true, too. But the fact of the matter is that the kids live in a world where all things money boil down to tests. I don't advocate for thrice-yearly testing at all, and they already have an exception for 1% of kids who don't have the cognitive ability to take the tests, what I am saying is that 2% of kids who have the cognitive ability to take the regular tests, are given portfolio tests and shunted into non-diploma granting pathways without any student-centered reason.

This is a national issue. I still believe that the focus of special education needs to be more about performance rather than the sole current focus on compliance.

Anonymous said...

Mary, have you ever met a kid who is now doing the WAAS portfolio who should be taking an MSP/HSPE/EOC? I bet not. Way less than 1% are doing WAAS as is. It's a giant pain to administer. It's really the other way around. Students taking and failing tests should be given other measures and ways to succeed. It beats getting 1s on assessments for a decade.

Spedvocate

Anonymous said...

I have mixed feelings about this because of how I have seen it used in SPS.

One elementary family with LD child had the school change to modified scores for passing MSP, (2 was passing). That child got no SDI at all & finally the family found a specialized tutor outside of school. Two years later the child was passing MSP at level 3. I think the school wanted the modified MSP score so that they wouldn't have to provide the SDI.

On the other hand, I have heard high school staff adamantly opposed to inclusion for LD kids because they say that any modification of the curriculum for that child in the classroom will lead to a modified diploma. Evidently SDI can only be offered in a studies skills class in that high school, otherwise it is a modification, leading to a modified diploma.

And Mary, I really would like to read more about sped in SPS. Please write more. It is so opaque.

-Confused

Anonymous said...

Confused, you hit the nail on the head. Students need both high expectations AND alternate paths to success. It is a huge challenge to get that right and schools really don't care about it very much. There's nothing stopping a student from getting any particular score on standardized tests of all flavors. They all are provided countless opportunities. Scoring a 2 on MSP, which passed under MO, makes no difference in the instruction a student would get. Testing options really don't drive SDI, and it us illegal for them to.

Your high school information is false. Students can indeed be accommodated, highly accommodated in general ed classrooms. Nathan Hale teaches nearly all students with disabilities in a general ed classroom. And, if students do require modifications, that too can be done in general ed. There's nothing special about the special ed classroom that dictates the type of certificate students will get. The contrasting style, "no modifications in my sacred class" seems to be prevalent at some schools like Roosevelt. Guess why Hale has a sped population of 20% and Roosevelt's is (or was) 8%? My guess is that the overwhelming majority of students with disabilities who do graduate, get a Certificate of Individual Achievement. And, another group get the Certificate of Attendance.

spedvocate