Posts Tagged ‘special education’
In Measuring Up: What Educational Testing Really Tells Us by Harvard Graduate School of Education, professor Daniel Koretz has a lot of say about our nation’s “high-stakes testing” and the impact of testing special needs students. Maria Fusrao summarizes Koretz’ findings, providing interview video clips and text on Measure for measures: What do standardized tests really tell us about students and schools? The challenge that we face is avoiding misleadingly low or inflated scores — and if we are in fact testing the same skills. Can we assess if standardized testing can properly demonstrate proficiency? It is a challenge that we need to address.
Testing Limitation 1: Misleadingly Low Scores
Koretz begins by explaining that the test scores have limitations: “scores on those tests have often become misleading, sometimes wildly misleading” and that “we tend to overestimate what tests can do. Tests are not designed to summarize all that students and schools can do.” Ask any teacher, I am sure that he or she will agree that testing competence on one area is only a small portion what what students have learned in a classroom. Add special needs test takers to the mix, and the results can be even more inaccurate. Testing students with special needs is troubling because you need the scores to reflect students’ proficiency, yet Koretz points out that “when students have certain disabilities, their test scores may in fact be misleadingly low.”
Testing Limitation 2: Testing the Same Skills through Testing Accommodations
We also don’t want to go the the other extreme by inflating test scores through accommodations. He explains that “the purpose of an accommodation [larger print, modified room lighting, or a specialized computer screen for vision impaired students] is not to make the students’ scores higher, but to help them score as well as their actual proficiency warrants.” Koretz then speaks of a scenario where a student with dyslexia is tested and suggests that “when the impediments caused by the student’s disability are directly relevant to the knowledge and skills the test is designed to measure,” we may not be measuring what the test intended. Koretz points out that the test taker uses different skills: decoding (barrier for that student) or interpreting the meaning of text, so having the text read to him actually changes that test from a reading comprehension to oral language comprehension.
The testing limitations and their implications should give parents and teachers pause. Does Koretz suggest that standardized testing can’t “accurately” measure special needs abilities? If so, it is tough pill to swallow, for teachers and parents of special needs students. Yet Koretz does provide hope: understanding these limitation helps clarify the testing problem, so we can work toward meeting this challenge.
Image courtesy of Keerati at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
My son has had pretty good teachers so far, but I’ve heard of great teachers who make parents of special needs children swoon. One is an elementary classroom teacher who began the first parent-teacher meeting with, “I just read your child’s entire file.” That’s not called getting off on the right foot. It’s getting off on the best foot possible.
As a former licensed teacher and mom of two school-aged children, I find that good teachers don’t deny or sugar coat issues; instead, they are proactive by anticipating problems and dealing with them. Like the ripple-effect theory, an effective teacher addresses and manages an issue before it grows. But instead of waiting for the first ripple to appear and then using classroom management skills to redirect the student and classmates, there are effective ways to begin classroom management from the beginning. Similarly, some teachers are willing to go beneath the water’s surface to see if a special needs child has kept his head above above water (aka on grade level); is doing the doggie paddle to stay afloat; or drowning – academically and socially.
That same teacher will have high expectation and teach him how to swim. It doesn’t mean that he has to learn the breast stroke correctly (some may never put their head in the water, thus the need for special education accommodations and modifications), but we as parents want to see measurable progress. And sometimes that progress begins with having a teacher who takes the time to better understand the diagnosis – digest huge files of test scores, evaluations and school to parent communications; attend a special needs-related conference; or ask for a recommended book from a parent. If I had such an parent-teacher experience, I might fall in love on the spot.
Here’s some exciting suggestions from Thomas Armstrong, a former special education teacher in both the US and Canada, who offers ways to “activate the strengths” of special needs students in Education Week’s “7 Ways to Bring Out the Best in Special-Needs Students”:
1. Discover your students’ strengths
Armstrong suggests ways to do this that would make any special needs parent excited: from talking with previous teachers, discussing strengths and abilities and focusing on the highest testing scores and positive teachers comments. This is why, in my opinion, when teachers tell me that my child is love of her life or write on a report card that he is a pleasure to have in class, it doesn’t make me happy. I need more. My child is above his years in oral retrieval and can repeat things that he has heard, even when looking 100 percent disengaged, and if a teacher knew how to tape into this strength, I would cartwheel. And if a teacher does this, I want to know. The author also recommends doing a strength-based inventory – and has one in his book, Neurodiversity in the Classroom: Strength-Based Strategies to Help Students with Special Needs Succeed in School and Life.
2. Provide positive role models with disabilities
Suggests creating a curriculum unit for both neurotypical (NT) and special needs students, entitled “People with Disabilities who Changed the World,” including Carol Grieder, Steven Speliberg and Temple Grandin. Heck, I’d even do the research for my son’s teacher, and she could teach this as she finds appropriate. This is way to show special needs students that despite their challenges, they can be successful in life.
3. Develop strength-based learning strategies
Teachers can do this by combining strengths with a deficit and uses examples such as:
Strength + Deficit = strength-based learning strategies
Drawing + Reading = illustrating vocabulary words
Knitting + Place value in math = knit rows of ten
4. Use assistive technologies
Apps such as speech-to-text programs can help students who speak well yet struggle with writing skills.
5. Maximize the power of your students’’ social networks
Goes as far as suggesting teachers “create a graphic representation of a student’s peer network, identifying both strong and weak relationships,” and use peer teaching, cross age tutoring or another social-learning approach. Over and beyond? I’d gladly settle for a budding relationship to be paired up for class partner activities.
6. Help students envision positive future careers
By recognizing a particular strength, let’s say art, help students see where they can use a talent or skill in a career, like graphic design. This is something that I do at home, but if a teacher can also do this, results can be far-reaching. Recommendations can be used as early as age 15, when IEP transitions (from school to “real life”) begin. Parents are always looking for this information and would love to have a teacher’s insight early on.
7. Create positive modifications in the learning environment
Suggests a child with Down’s Syndrome “who loves to humorously mimic others, build a simple puppet theater where he can act out math word problems in front of the class and get positive feedback.” The point is creating a positive contribution to the class while increasing learning opportunities.
Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
As a parent of a reluctant reader with an Individualized Education Program (IEP), I am always looking for ways to motivate my little guy to read. And if I can encourage him in a practical, fun, or silly way, I am going to try it. Last night we sang, instead of reading, a nonfiction book about mountains. I can’t take credit for this — my son started it. So I topped him with my worst Opera voice. After laughing so hard that our stomachs ached, we were finally able to get back to the book, although the giggles hit as we turned each page.
Ann Logsdon, a school psychologist who helps parents and teachers with special needs students, writes that children with learning disabilities often avoid reading and, as a result, don’t get additional opportunities to increase their reading skills and comprehension. She does suggest five practical ways to motivate your struggling reader at home in Top 5 Ways to Motivate Your Child to Read: Encourage Reluctant Readers with These Easy Strategies:
- Try a Variety of Reading Materials – Pair Books with Unabridged Audio Books
By simultaneously using a hard copy book and audio-book, you can follow along. Listening to audio before hands-on reading helps readers understand main ideas before beginning reading. And turning the audio on after reading serves as a “self-check” for comprehension. Another source for audio-books is Big Universe’s Read Aloud books.
- Watch More Television
What a great idea to increase sight word recognition by viewing closed captions on tv or DVDs! That’s one way to turn screen time into a relevant reading exposure. For example, my son is now excited that he can recognize some words on the big screen and is trying to read commercial and programming text on the TV.
- Create Their Own Books on Tape
Ann suggests children can read a book into a tape recorder – and when playing it back, even silently follow along with the book. She recommends, “Some research has indicated that as your child listens to himself and hears his own reading becoming better, his skills will likely improve. Reward your child for the errors he finds and corrects as well as for his successes.”
- Have a Family Reading Night
By dedicating thirty minutes per night, everyone can read from the same book or different ones. If you are a competitive family, you could even track number of minutes reading and reward the winner who reads the most with a special meal or choice of favorite family activity.
- Adapt Reading Materials to Your Child’s Reading Level
In the classroom, it is possible to attain textbooks on tape and CD ROM versions of textbooks, although you need to work with the IEP team in order to make this possible. Another way to reduce reading frustration is to identify unfamiliar vocabulary before reading and help him or her understand the meaning. Also modeling pronunciation is great for those who have articulation issues, and creating new sentences increases contextual understanding. When it comes to reading literature, there may be lower-level reading versions that will help your child to comprehend the fiction better, in order to keep up with classmates and reading assignments. And another great fall-back plan on is simply sharing the reading, especially when the reading becomes cumbersome and frustrating.
Let us know if you use any of these strategies and how your reluctant reader responded. And try singing a book to each other. At the least, you’ll share a silly moment. But you’ll know that you made reading fun.
Image courtesy of thanunkorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Parents and teachers can easily recognize struggling readers – they hesitate before reading, guess at words that are written, and drag out the sounds, hoping for an adult to jump in with the answer. I honestly don’t remember “learning” how to read in school or at home. I just remember reading and loving it. So watching my son struggle with something that seemed so easy for me is difficult.
Sue Watson, a writer for about.com Special Education who has worked in special education classes and in the regular inclusion classroom, outlines how to help children, who struggle with reading, attain confidence in reading, leading to self-confidence (http://specialed.about.com/od/literacy/ss/reluctantreader.htm).
She writes that there are three steps to teaching reading for student with reading difficulties:
- Select books with predictable text (patterns)
- Provide lots of exposure to the same book (memorize)
- Identify specific words (out of context)
These steps led to increased confidence, and as I watch my own first grader struggle to read, he is using his “reading clues.” He, by school standards – and his own standards, is considered a successful reader by repeating the sentence pattern since many early reading books begin each page with the same sentence pattern. My son recognizes that the main difference on each page is the subject, and book illustrators provide the clue on the reading page. But as a parent, I have to get over the feeling that this is “cheating” and not real reading.
I also need to embrace him memorizing texts. As much as it irritates me, this is a way for my child to increase his own self-confidence in reading. Knowing that he has “successfully read” a particular book in his classroom, and bringing it home to read to us is his moment to bask in his reading accomplishment. So my husband and I do have to put our own frustrations with his reading aside, allowing him feel successful.
I personally find the third step of Watson’s list — reading out of context — one that I can fully embrace. She suggests “put[ting] the words from the book on blank cards and ask the child to order them.” My son’s special education teacher does this with him and I find it more effective than memorizing sight words, another reading strategy that my son still struggles with. He comes home from school with a red folder, filled with “mastered” books and one of his homework assignments is to cut out a patterned sentence from the book (printed on a sheet of paper) and rearrange it to form the correct pattern. Then he has a space to illustrate the sentence, something that he looks forward to doing.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
There was an article in the Washington recently, which discussed portfolio assessments. A portfolio assessment is an alternative assessment, which the state of Virginia and some other states are choosing to allow instead of the annual standards of learning exam for some students with English language deficiencies and students with learning disabilities. Are they fair? Do they give a real picture of what’s occurring in our schools? No, but not for the reason that non-educators think.
Within the walls of the school buildings teachers are working harder than ever to teach each and every child. The “standards” that each state has decided all children must be held to, though in theory is a good idea, and are in reality having a negative impact on our children’s education.
Teachers have less time to prepare students now for the material they should know than ever before. So much time is spent on teaching test taking strategies and practicing taking standardized tests that there is little time left for teaching the depth of a topic that makes up the real education our kids need.
Right or wrong, the way teachers are teaching today is to pass the standardized tests. WRONG, yes. Is it going to change just because it’s wrong, NO.? Is it the teacher’s fault? ABSOLUTELY NO!
I’m a special education teacher, so if I don’t feel like some of my students can demonstrate their knowledge on these multiple choice standardized tests adequately or fairly but can demonstrate them better via a portfolio assessment, in the state of Virginia, I can choose to do a Virginia Grade Level Alternative Assessment. It’s not just my decision; it’s a decision between me, the parent and the classroom teacher, and an administrator. But, ultimately, in my opinion, it comes back to whether I feel or see that the child is successful in taking a standardized test.
The alternative portfolio is a collection over the whole year (though it has to be done about 3 – 4 weeks before the actual standardized tests are given!) of a student’s work showing that the child was able to complete the work required in those standards. The teacher is able to give the child multiple opportunities and the testing can be done soon after teaching a concept. The method of testing is very open including oral question and answer, anecdotal notes by the teacher, and teacher created worksheets just to name a few.
The Washington Post article says that the scores on the alternative portfolio are falsely inflating the test scores for the schools. If you were a teacher turning in a portfolio for a child, given the time and knowing that this book was being graded, would you turn in a portfolio that wasn’t going to pass? Really?
The amount of work that goes into a portfolio assessment is tremendous! No teacher takes these on lightly and if we decide that they are right for a student then we are going to make every effort to teach the concept to the child so that they can pass that standard at the moment in time that we test them.
This is where the flaw comes in! Students with special needs have a variety of disabilities that keep them from retaining much information long term. Though we say they can’t take a multiple choice test, I believe the real reason they are not suited for an annual standards of learning exam is they cannot retain the information necessary to be tested at the end of the year for an entire year’s instruction. This is why we choose to use the portfolio assessment for some students!
Luckily, there are some websites that are making my job a bit easier. Big Universe is adding assessments to their books. I can now have my children read one of their books and take the assessment online. This is a tremendous help in preparing them for the knowledge they need for the standards. Many students with learning needs are visual learners. Computers become the answer for these children so finding quality websites is my number one job as a teacher when it comes to instructional planning.
Standardized testing has changed the way we teach in our schools. It takes up too much instructional time and takes away the depth of the education that was once taught. It isn’t going to go away because politicians are running the testing, not the teachers. In order to test everyone the portfolio assessment is the only option available at this point for special needs students in many states. It’s a rigorous collection of evidence that proves the student has mastered the concepts of every standard being tested. Is it fair to put the two test scores together to indicate whether a school is meeting its annual yearly progress? That’s the real question we should be asking.
One of the outcomes of standardized testing in our schools is the way we handle the assessment of our special education population. Because No Child is to be Left Behind, our children with special needs are held to the same standards as all students. All children should have the same educational opportunities and should not never be looked upon as limited simply because of a disability. However, testing some of these children annually just to say that they have been tested is ludicrous.
States have been given the opportunity to create alternative assessments so a special education student does not have to take the one day question and answer test, but I have to question whether anyone creating these assessments have ever worked with these children or ever come into the classroom and asked teachers if these assessments are working. The answer is NO.
In Virginia there are two alternative assessments for the special education student in elementary school. They are both based on the premise that a student can’t take a multiple choice test (read my last blog). The first assessment is the VAAP, the Virginia Alternative Assessment Program. The student being considered for this must have a significant cognitive disability, which requires that he have individualized instruction most of the day among other criteria.
The second alternative assessment in Virginia is the VGLA or Virginia Grade Level Alternative assessment. The VGLA allows the student (in reality the teacher) to collect a portfolio of his/her work in place of the standards exam at the end of the year. The teacher actually collects an extensive portfolio of material that shows the student has met a wide range of criteria for all of the standards for their grade level in reading math and sometimes other academic areas.
The grading of the portfolios is very open-ended though there are guidelines but since no child’s binder is exactly the same a lot is left up to the discretion of the graders. Often it is how well the teacher has put together and collected the material. Did the teacher grade each document? If the answer is no then it isn’t supposed to be counted. If the evidence shows 3 correct answers and 3 wrong answers on a worksheet with 6 questions then the average scorer won’t take the piece of evidence as adequate but, the teacher can turn in a work sample showing just the 3 correct problems that meet the criteria and get a good score. As a teacher I’m better off cutting and pasting the correct answers and submitting just those, but is this teaching?
A teacher could teach and assess a student over and over again on the same information until they get good evidence. For many of these kids there are memory issues so the only way to get an assessment of their knowledge is to teach a topic and assess their knowledge shortly after the teaching. They won’t remember what you taught tomorrow. Is this learning?
The average math portfolio for a fourth grade student requires approximately 100 pieces of evidence to demonstrate standards have been met. For example just one strand of one standard in math is the student must “solve problems involving 1.) addition and 2.) subtraction with 3.) fractions having 4.) like and 5.) unlike denominators of 12 or less and with 6.) decimals expressed through thousandths using various computational methods, including 7.) calculators, 8.) 9.) paper and pencil, 10.) 11.) mental computation, 12.) 13.) estimation.” I probably lost track but there are at least 13 items that need evidence in this one strand. There will probably be at least 3 or 4 pieces of paper.
As a teacher, the process is exhausting and as a student I’m sure it’s not much better. The VGLA is no guarantee of a pass but it does show what a student can do. In the end the teacher and school never get the graded binder back so we can’t truly see how our student did, we only get numbers.
I definitely believe that all students need to be given the opportunity to learn and achieve to their maximum potential. As a teacher, that’s my goal for every student. The state and federal government have stepped in and said that they now need proof that shows I’m teaching these children to the highest standards possible. Why would I want to be a special education teacher, which pays no more money than a general education teacher, which pays very little, if I didn’t want to help these children reach their highest potential?
Here are some sites where VGLA type materials are available. Unfortunately it isn’t going away.
Math worksheets at Eraser Dog, Good Example of VGLA type questions on a California standards outline, Practice Problems for California Math Standards, which can be used in all states. These are examples only and should be matched carefully to your state’s standards. Good Luck!
Posted on September 4, 2009 by Big Universe in Uncategorized.
Tags: Asperger, assessment, Autism, Big Universe, learning disabilities, Online Children's Books, special education, Special Needs, Standards of Learning, VGLA
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The school year has begun and so have the thoughts of teaching in order to pass tests and meet standards. Did your school meet AYP? That’s Annual Yearly Progress. It’s determined by the tests given at the end of the year. In Virginia they’re called the SOL – Standards of Learning. AYP is determined by looking at many things including the progress of many sub groups of students such as those with learning disabilities, minority students, economically disadvantaged and English Speakers of Other Language students, etc. Each year America’s teachers are held to stricter and stricter standards and each year the tests change and new tests are added.
There’s also NCLB. No Child Left Behind. That means that all children will be held to the same standards regardless of disability, economic status, language spoken, etc. As a special education teacher I can tell you that there are numerous flaws to this but I’m not going to go into that now.Each state has been allowed to come up with an alternative assessment(s) for those children with disabilities who cannot show progress by taking the standard assessment. In Virginia this alternative for students with learning disabilities and other disabilities that are not considered profoundly disabling is called the VGLA or Virginia Grade Level Assessment.
The VGLA is a portfolio assessment that can be used in place of the SOL for each subject area being tested. One of the questions that must be answered as part of the qualification criterion is, “does the student demonstrate his/her individual achievement of the Standards of Learning content by means other than multiple-choice test format?” Typically this has been interpreted as, “the student can’t take multiple choice tests.”
Here’s the problem. That’s not the major difficulty with these children and the SOL. The major difficulty in judging these children via the SOL is in expecting them to remember an entire year’s worth of learning and then regurgitate it on one day in one test through 50 or so questions! Multiple choice questions aren’t necessarily the problem! Many of these kids can take short multiple choice tests after learning material, just not 6 months after learning the material – many have memory issues! However, because of the interpretation on the multiple choice question issue, the portfolio assessment only allows minimal multiple choice type questions, and as a teacher I can tell you that finding material that is not in multiple choice format is extremely difficult!
The VGLA or Virginia Grade Level Assessment is basically a notebook binder for each subject area that a student is going to be assessed on in place of a standardized test. Then within that subject area there needs to be at least one piece of “evidence” to support the fact that the student has properly demonstrated their knowledge of this standard. The job for the teacher is to try to make it as interesting as possible for the child. In my next blog I’ll give you a few worksheets and book links that will get you started with your students. If you haven’t decided whether or not a VGLA is right for your student(s), keep reading I’ll give you more insight next week.
Writing and thinking are inseparable. Thinking writers are able to examine the ideas in their writing and support the main ideas with supporting details. As the writer develops his or her ideas, being clear about the hierarchy of ideas is important. Children can have difficulty differentiating main ideas from supporting details.
As writing teachers we need to help students organize their ideas in order of importance. Finding the main idea can be the same as asking, “What is important about…?” The Important Book provides an entertaining way to introduce the difference between a main idea and supporting detail by specifying what is important about each topic in the book.
The Important Book by Margaret Wise Brown is a classic book by a noted children’s author. Each section of the book describes something unique, in beautiful, poetic detail. Children will enjoy the metric language and the wonderful imagery. Brown’s patterned writing inspires children to write their own descriptions of things in their lives, applying her pattern in their writing. But the important thing about The Important Book is that it provides a teacher an entertaining way to introduce the difference between a main idea and supporting details!!