Saturday, September 19, 2009
So, I spent all day Friday in a long, New Hampshire State Department of Education sponsored meeting with a team from my school. The topic of the workshop was NECAP (New England Common Assessment) alternative portfolios. These are essentially books that school teams develop to evaluate how the most challenged students are progressing academically in school. They take an entire year to create and untold hours of teacher time to manage; time unrelated to teaching and learning. They are also about the state assessing the student's program, well that's what the state thinks they are doing (which is commendable) but in reality they tend to provide more information about how clever the portfolio manager is at creating the portfolio along state guidelines than the quality of the student's program. But, that's another topic.
Portfolios are for the 1% of the school population who are cognitively and socially limited to such a degree that they cannot take the typical NECAP assessment most students take each October. In our school there are 300 students so 3 students might be portfolio candidates. This process is not for the student who despite all accommodations (including one-on-one instructions with a special educator) will clearly bomb the state test. For this student, the 5th grader who is severely behaviorally disordered and learning disabled in math (still struggling with addition and subtraction), there is no appropriate state assessment! And the state has known about this for years. The first time I sat in one of these huge NECAP portfolio meetings and asked "So, where is the appropriate test for these students?" I was told, "The state is fully aware there is a need for an appropriate test for these "gap" students but it would cost $5,000,000 and that's too expensive." Yesterday I asked the same question, at the urging of my team, and we were told, "It's a problem across the country and we are working on it." Well, that might be fine and good except when students fail the NECAP, the state then punishes the school! My school is a school-in-need-of-improvement in the category of special education because a number of special education students didn't demonstrate academic progress on the NECAP. But, they CAN'T. A 4th grade severely learning disabled student, cannot access the 4th grade NECAP test. The way the test is designed, a student shows that he or she is either reading at 4th grade or not. A student cannot demonstrate that he or she has grown in their reading abilities from, say, grade 1 to grade 2. That NECAP only measures if a student is at 4th grade reading or not. So, what's measured, then, is that a student cannot read at 4th grade. Well, we know that! That's why such students are identified as special education students with IEPs (Individualized Educational Plans). State and federal law is clear, special education students are to be assessed, by law, along with all students but using appropriate tests. This is not happening, apparently, across the country and schools are punished because of it. If the state of New Hampshire knows they don't have the appropriate test for "gap" students, then the least they should do is not punish a school until they have the appropriate test or accept alternative measures of student learning (which we have!).
I wish those who demand that our special education students sit for the NECAP, would proctor one of those tests with a student they care about who is trying their best yet, despite all the accommodations, CANNOT take the test. I wish that administrator or state employee would sit there and comfort the little girl who is crying because she feels stupid and wonders why you expect her to read the 3rd grade test when you both know she CANNOT or chase after the 3rd grader who has run out of the room or check in with the nurse regarding the 4th grader who has become physically ill. I have sat with students during NECAP season and this has all happened. It's traumatic for many of our "gap" kids as the state calls them. An appropriate test for these students who are not eligible for the alternative portfolio and who cannot take the typical NECAP test with all the accommodations on earth, needs to be created. And until then, schools should not be punished. Our students, who work hard in school and struggle with learning deserve to be proud of their achievements by being assessed in a way that allows them to demonstrate all their learning. No child left behind? I think not.
Posted by Joyful at 4:25 AM