Thursday, February 18, 2010

Stand Up for the Rights of Your Students, Get Suspended

I just came across an article from the National Education Association (NEA) about two teachers in a mulitple disability classroom in Washington state.  The teachers, at the request of the parents, refused to administer the state standardized assessments.  They have now been suspended without pay.  Now because most people have no experience with or knowledge of multiple disability students some issues raised in the article may seem odd. For instance, when the teachers state:
Although the test was modified, it measured our students achievement against grade level standards. Because our students are cognitively at ages six months to two years, the assessment was not at their level. It had nothing to do with the goals and objectives designed for them.
Some people without experience with this population of students may wonder why we wouldn't want to assess whether or not students -- even students with cognitive impairments -- are performing at the expected grade level.  Why shouldn't students take the test if it is modified?

While I don't have any personal experience multi disability students (I've never even worked at a school with a multi disability class).  My mother is a multi disability teacher, so I have more insight than I would otherwise.  Most of my mom's students will never function above a kindergarten cognitive level, with many well below that.  In addition to the cognitive impairments, she has students with no motor control, students who survive by feeding tubes and respirators, students unable to communicate at a level to even express hunger or pain. 

She has told me about the pride and joy she felt when, after years of working with a student, that student was finally able to indicate (nonverbally) when he needed food or wanted out of his chair.  She told me a story about a grateful mother saying she had cried when her middle school daughter came home from school able to read a kindergarten level book (again, this took years of dedicated work).  All of this was done while attending to the feeding tubes and respirators of other students.  From what little I know, from these few anecdotes, I have decided teachers who choose to work with multiple disability students are a rare and beautiful breed of teacher.  And unfortunately all too often these teachers do their work in schools with administrators that want nothing more than these students to be kept out of sight and out of mind. 

So when the teachers in this article say the grade-level assessment had nothing to do with the goals and objectives for their students, this should be considered an understatement.  As they state:

Our goal might be to teach them to hold a spoon or recognize their name in print, and the test covered fractions. In fact, one student would start crying every time we got to the part on fractions.
 Administering these tests for these students is at best worthless and at worst emotionally damaging.  After the parents were informed of the situation many were rightly angry. 

They said it was ridiculous. One said, “If I had known you were doing this, I would have told you to stop.” Another said, “I’m sick of tests that tell what my child can’t do. I want to see what he can do.”
In the interest of best serving their students, the teachers did research on their own and found that parents had the right to refuse state assessments.  With that knowledge, and having the parents already express their opinions, the teachers did not give the tests during the next assessment.  Unfortunately, they also did not get anything in writing from the parents.  The school suspended the teachers without even contacting the parents. 

No comments:

Post a Comment