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Washington State Considers Changes to Testing


Earlier this week, I blogged about two teachers in Washington who were suspended for refusing to give state assessments to students with severe cognitive disabilities.

Now, the state is forming an advisory group to look into the issue of state testing of students with disabilities, though it appears the recent suspension controversy wasn't a direct factor in the formation of the group.

State Schools Superintendent Randy Dorn already is convening a special needs advisory committee to figure out what can be done to change the state assessment system while still complying with the federal No Child Left Behind law, said Chris Barron, assessment communications manager for the superintendent's office...

"Because both Randy Dorn and the Legislature had interest in creating the committee, it went forward and I really feel like they were listening," said Veronica Cook, a special education teacher in the Shoreline School District who testified in Olympia earlier this year.

Perhaps some changes to the Washington Alternate Assessment System, the portfolio assessment that the two teachers refused to give, are coming.


The No Child Left Behind law has done more damage to education than any item that I am familiar with. I have been in "education" all my life. My mother was a teacher and I taught 35 years. My GREAT grandchild spends most of the year being crammed for testing, resulting in almost no advancement for the months spent in the public school.


I think that it is important to distinguish between the actual requirements of NCLB and the ways in which schools and teachers have chosen to respond to it. In the case of the two Washington State teachers, it is difficult for me to trace a coherent line between the laws testing requirements and their refusal to test their students, or their assertion that students have "received zeroes" in the past.

I don't want to blatantly assume that this is pure balderdash, but I am familiar with the testing provisions generally, and their application to students with disabilities, as well as provision for alternative testing for students with cognitive disabilities. I did look up yesterday (as Christine had) what the specifics in Washington State are. It looks to me as though students with cognitive disabilities are to be tested on alternate standards. This doesn't necessarily mean that the existing standards have no application--nor does it generally mean that schools/teachers can blanket in totally unrelated areas. If the student's level of skill, and the content on which their academic experience is focused has to do with being able to ride a bus, traverse the town, record phone numbers and make phone calls, these things fit into such areas as geography, applied mathematics, civic understanding, reading and writing skills, etc. The assessment process can be very application based (observing the student in being able to apply the skills if several settings beyond the classroom). It is hard to envision this becoming the frustrating experience of failure that is frequently attributed.

It is also important to note that students with this level of disability are a very small portion of the disabled population. Many others have reading struggles that interfere with acquiring content in traditional (ie: read the text) ways--but who have the ability to learn content with appropriate supports and accommodations. These students have far too often been relegated to separate classrooms, spoon-fed limited doses of content, and seldom if ever evaluated in any way that would allow for any knowledge about the overall quality of the education provided to such students as a group.

I do not doubt that your great (in all senses of the word) grandchild is being crammed with factual information and test taking "skills." This is a response that I regret and do not understand. To my mind it is less than ethical and springs from a "push back" against the use of data to substantiate the need for reform.

I don't know why we have so little faith in the ability of children to learn and teachers to learn better ways to teach. But because we seem to believe so little in our abilities to improve, we give up and adopt ways to "game the system." As you point out, the pay-offs are minimal. But where I disagree is in the suggestion that this was caused by NCLB. The quality and quantity of learning was demonstrably uneven prior to NCLB--despite decades of Title I funding intended to provide more equal access. I think that we are still stuck in a muck of denial--and playing games to change the data.

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