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NCLB's High Stakes for Teachers


Last fall, Madison, Wis., teacher David Wasserman was reprimanded for refusing to proctor a state test with high-stakes implications under NCLB. This spring, Seattle teacher Carl Chew was suspended after he refused to give the Washington state tests. Chew explains the reasons for his protest in this item.

But now the stakes are getting higher.

Last week, a North Carolina school board fired special education teacher Doug Ward because he had informed them he wouldn't be giving the state tests to the severely disabled students in his class. Even though the test was adapted to measure disabled students' performance, Ward believed his students would fail.

“Basically, the way it was set up, my kids have no chance of passing,” Ward told a local newspaper in mid-May. “If you have a kid that is 11 years old and only developed to the level of a 1-year-old—I think I am a decent teacher, but I am not good enough to develop him to pass the test.”

Ward is being treated like a hero by commenters to the story about his firing. One wants to clone him. Others offer kudos and other support. Just one says he got what he deserved.

For the story of another teacher in trouble over testing, see this item on the SchoolFinder blog. (Note that the item hasn't been updated to say Ward's contract was not renewed.)


I am not close enough to know what Mr. Ward's real problem is, but he is giving credence to the lie that severely cognitively disabled kids are required to take and pass the same tests as others. NCLB requires testing for students with disabilities under three basic conditions. One is that the student (with the consent and agreement of the IEP team) takes the regular test under normal conditions. The second is that the students (again as planned by the IEP team) takes the regular test with accommodations appropriate to the disability (extended time, small group, scribe or computer, calculator, "chunking" into smaller sections, re-ordering questions, oral administration, etc). The third way is an alternative test (again as planned and agreed to by the IEP team) based on specific goals for the student. Based on the prevalence of cognitive disaabilites states may include up to 2% of students tested in this way towards their determination of AYP.

Now, assuming that Mr Wade is actually teaching the hypothetical 11 year old who functions at a 1 year level (this would be pre-verbal and lacking in the ability to walk, dress, be toilet trained, etc); Mr. Wade would have participated in an IEP meeting to determine the kinds of services to be offered and why (goals). Goals might center on such areas as independent feeding? Some basic communication (indicators of Yes and No in response to simple kinds of questions)? Why is it unreasonable to develop some measures of whether the methods being used are having any success? What is a TEACHER doing with this child that a lesser trained aide might not do as well at a much lower cost? The measures of success might typically demonstrate (using pictures, tape recordings, etc) that this child is able to carry out the required eye-blinks or spoon grasping etc in a couple of settings over time.

Sure--he might be a hero if he were "rescuing" this child from being seated with a pencil in front of a bubble sheet for hours and then graded on whether he was able to magically get correct answers. But, he is not.

I am sorry Margo/Mom, but you are not presenting the whole picture. While we are allowed to modify testing and teaching for special education students, there is no accommodation or modification that will allow a student, (outside the "allowed" 2%") who has a specific learning disibilty in a subject, to perform the same as their non-disabled classmates on a standardized test. I know, I am a teacher of special education AND the father of a daughter with a learning disablity. Hurray for Mr. Wade for calling attention to this unreasonable law.


I am also a parent of a student with disabilities and I have been following test scores for this population pretty carefully, both within my own district (looking for a setting where my son can be successful) and in other districts (to get a feel for what is possible). I find that the scores for the population are widely variant. Now I supposed that this could be because of wide variance in the number and percentage of the kinds of disabilities that you allude to, or the kind that Mr. Wade describes (the hypothetical 11 year old with 1 year old skills), but this is not generally born out. There is, however, a wide variance in school structure (inclusion vs segregation for example) and teaching methodology (watered curriculum vs intensified services, for instance).

I welcome study that is yet to be done on better ways to test what those in the vast middle (Specific Learning Disabilities category--which I find ironic because it is so lacking in specificity) are learning--as well as how they learn and how best to support them. My son had one wonderful year when (with accommodations) he passed all portions of the state test. He had a wonderful teacher. Her track record of educating kids with disabilities (as measured by the tests) supported the sense I had when I visited her classroom--that her kids were learning. In that school, they outscored their non-disabled peers.

Comments are now closed for this post.


Recent Comments

  • Margo/Mom: Kirk: I am also a parent of a student with read more
  • Kirk: I am sorry Margo/Mom, but you are not presenting the read more
  • Margo/Mom: I am not close enough to know what Mr. Ward's read more



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