Last year, B's fourth grade teacher brought up a concern at Parent/Teacher conference. Though my daughter's creative writing is exemplary, the teacher said B is struggling with technical writing. When presented with technical writing, B tends to list things rather than keep to the accepted protocol for a paragraph. As a fiction writer, my first thought was, "And? What's the problem? Technical writing is boring." The reality is that, of course, technical writing is the bulk of your schooling output. (*whispers* It's still boring.) We discussed how she was presenting the assignments and the wording of the assignments and how it might be perceived by a very literal child with Autism and OCD. The teacher began rewording things and B's understanding of what was expected increased.
Then came the standardized testing. The government program No Child Left Behind has made standardized testing into a monster lurking in every teacher's closet. It's all they talk about in class for the last quarter of school. All. They. Talk. About. Parents are sent home notes about how to help their children prepare for the testing days. (Getting enough sleep, eating breakfast, and so on.) These tests are made out to be the beginning and end of all testing. Schools get closed or students can be sent to other schools if a school's overall scores aren't high enough--so schools take these tests very seriously. This means a very literal child will also take the scores very seriously.
B got her scores back last Friday in a sealed envelope which she excitedly brought to me. She'd told me over and over throughout the summer that she just knew she'd gotten everything right on the math portion. I kept telling her, "You might have missed some." She'd give me a serious look and say, "No, I didn't. I checked my answers." I'd respond, "It's okay if you missed some. Sometimes it's hard to understand directions." B would blink and say, "I didn't get any wrong. I checked my answers."
I opened the envelope, and stared... and stared. First of all, her math and reading scores were listed as advanced (though she did miss some on the math test despite "checking.") On the other hand, her writing score was listed as "not passing." My daughter was watching me with excitement so I said, "Sweetie, you rocked the math portion!" "I got them all right, didn't I?" "Not quite, but close." I hoped she wouldn't ask about the rest, but B isn't like that. "How about Reading and Writing?" "You did really well in Reading too!" "How about in Writing?" "Not quite as good, but that's okay." She wandered off, satisfied with my answers, but I've just been upset since.
I don't care about the score to be honest. I know my daughter can write, and her teachers are aware she has circumstances which will mean directions need to be worded in a certain way, and they can't expect her to learn in the same way as her classmates. Teachers accommodate. The world in general accommodates. Tests don't.
What offends me to my soul is that an autistic child's scores will be taken at face value, and a school's funding will be based on the fact that she failed a standardized testing section. Theoretically, her school may receive less funding because they have a Special Needs child and because a test wasn't worded in a way that an atypical child can understand. It boggles the mind that THIS is the monster that No Child Left Behind has created. THIS was meant to ensure that no child was left behind.
When B was in Kindergarten, she shared an aide with another Autistic child. When Kindergarten ended, the administrators decided that the other child's needs were too much for them to accommodate, and that B was no longer in need of specialized attention. The other child was sent to a special school though he'd previously been considered a good candidate for mainstreaming. B was sent on to her first "full day" year without even an aide in with her. Why? Because there isn't the funding for individualized attention. Why isn't there the funding? Because of a super special program called No Child Left Behind which caters to kids who are typical and test well.
Standardized testing has hurt my children time and time again. My daughter was given an IQ test in Kindergarten. An IQ test in Kindergarten. Her IQ was too high for her to receive individualized attention. We complained that Autism is a social disorder, and they replied that such needs weren't the responsibility of the school AND COULDN'T BE TESTED.
What has happened to our society that the only proof we deem worthy and the only success we measure is found in numbers? If it isn't in the numbers, it doesn't exist. It was what they said when they took away my son's services even as they were telling me he needed to be kept in services, but it would be my responsibility. "I'm sorry. He really needs these services, but the numbers just aren't there."
Standardized testing on non-standardized kids doesn't work. How do you explain a child who scores highly-advanced in reading and math, but fails in writing? Perhaps it wasn't the child but the test that failed. Maybe it wasn't even the test that failed, but the people who have elevated that test to be an indication of success. Perhaps all of us fail just a little bit when numbers become king like this and needs of individuals are lost in the process.
I don't have any answers, but I know those right answers won't be found in bubbles on a scantron sheet.
If you've never seen Matt Damon's speech on standardized testing, it's brilliant and you should really check it out here. You'll want to go find him and hug him.
Thanks for listening to me rant about this. I wanted to cry when B looked up at me and asked about her writing score. Some moments aren't fair... and that was one of them.