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Out-of-Level Testing Revived?


The reauthorization of No Child Left Behind may have stalled, but that's not stopping education groups from trying to mold the law in their favor.

One of the latest suggestions for an amendment, backed by the National Association of State Directors of Special Education, would start a pilot program to allow "out-of-level testing" for students with disabilities. The chief sponsor of H.R. 4100 is Rep. Lynn Woolsey, a Democrat from California. The bill is sitting in committee.

Under the pilot program, a 6th grade student reading at a 3rd grade level could take a 3rd grade reading test. This wouldn't count for adequate yearly progress, the bill states--the results would just be studied to see how fast the students in the pilot move toward grade-level proficiency.

Nancy Reder, the governmental relations head for NASDSE, was straightforward in saying that her organization wasn't trying to drum up support among disability advocacy groups. (She already knows they won't like it. Teachers won't push toward grade-level standards if the tests aren't there to hold them responsible, these groups believe.)

The U.S. Department of Education also has come down against out-of-grade-level testing. Even the "2 percent tests" that states are allowed to administer to slower learners must measure grade-level standards, although with simpler language and less complex problems than the regular grade-level tests.

"We support high expectations for students with disabilities, but there needs to be an element of realism in how kids are assessed," Reder said. And giving a grade-level assessment to students who are clearly behind is meaningless, she said.

"We're more interested in teaching kids where they are," she said.


The schools and districts already have in place mechanisms for testing and "studying" the progress of students with disabilities--if that is truly their interest. Every IEP is supposed to lay out "present level of performance," set measureable goals and report to parents on achievement of benchmarks of progress towards those goals.

In my experience, however, this is generally muddied by reaching back 2 years to speculate on a PLOP, setting goals that cannot be measured ("student will become more compliant with completion of homework" or the new and improved measureaable version: "student will increase compliance with homework completion by 25% each quarter), using vague measures (daily papers, teacher tests) and always using a different test from the last one given in order to set the new PLOP.

How woulld you like to read at 3rd grade level and be confronted with a test at 6th grade level? That is way above your frustration level and you are likely to be overwhelmed and will, oftentimes, be forced to simply resort to guessing.

LD students have real differences, furthermore research has shown that an LD person can need as many as 100 x the repetitions to learn something that a "normal" learner needs. A child, with the best of teachers can only learn something as fast as he or she can, there is really no magic bullet that will fix LD, though good teaching will pay off down the line in a greater level of skill and more success in the regular ed. program.

I know, I am a strong resource teacher and I have taught 14 years at elementary and now 4.5 at high school. There is no such thing as catching most LD (dyslexic) readers up to their nonLd peers, but there is good teaching and real progress. Without good teaching most LD readers get stuck around 3rd grade level, with research-based instruction, they make gradual progress and achieve scores well above that level.

Yes, Margo, we do plenty of testing on our LD youngsters and we can and do use the same measures so we continue to measure the same thing.

When I taught elementary I administered a Woodcock Johnson annually. Though I don't care for the scores, I think the test is inflated by today's standards, it gives us a comparison. For interim assessments, I used a collection of informal reading inventories (graded word lists and passage comprehension passages) much more frequently. These permitted me to report to parents EXACTLY what level their child could read and EXACTLY what they were doing while reading. I even showed parents the tests. Yes, my students made progress, though progress is usually in fits and starts.

For example, when I have asked for 2 years progress in a year, I could not necessarily document 1 year's progress in 6 months, or 6 months progress in 3 months. Instead, students gain the same way they grow physically; in spurts. So, I might see little progress, then a huge leap.

Janice--thanks for your comments. This just shows that it can be done. But I would still argue the validity of my personal experience and that of many other parents I have talked to. The first time I asked that the goals be written in measureable terms, a principal told me that they weren't allowed to--especially if progress was laid out in something like achieving a particular grade level in reading.

The principal's remarks were disavowed by the Special Ed department, but I still have to struggle to get anything consistently measureable into an IEP. End of year measures are typically not completed (providing the need to reach back 2 years and interpolate the PLOP)--or pulled from something that was available (like comparing the Woodcock-Johnson from the last MFE to the most recent state exam, or the WRAT, or the teacher's informed guesstimate). Quarterly progress reports while not officially the option of the teacher (they are supposed to choose from one of several reporting options), they are not copied and made a part of the student record--so, if the final one doesn't get to the parent (especially if the teacher changes buildings or leaves the district), it's gone forever. And it's not available for the next year's teachers.

While I don't question what goes on in your classroom (rather I applaud it!), if that were actually going on in all the classrooms for all the kids on IEPs, there would not be a need to use out of level state tests to "study" progress.

Thank you so much for your comments. I am a school psychologist and every year, my special education staff dreads the STAR testing. It is a giant waste of time to give a child a test that is too hard for him/her. It's like giving a kid who can't add or subtract an algebra test and expect him/her to attempt it anyway.

Their academic self-esteem is at stake and giving a test they cannot do is a recipe for frustration. I hope the amendment passes.


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