Where Ladybugs Roar

Confessions and Passions of a Compulsive Writer

Monday, September 26, 2011

Standardized Testing and the Non-Standard Kid

As most of you probably know, B has been diagnosed with both Autism and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, but she is fully mainstreamed, and the school dropped services for her right after Kindergarten because, among other things, her IQ was too high. Her teachers have definitely filled in any gaps this might have caused and been all around awesome.  B has thrived and regularly gets awards for citizenship as well as academics.  Her teachers have said she is the best math student in their class every year. It doesn't, however, change these disorders that hide under the surface. The teachers adjust and learn to accommodate. We adjust and learn to accommodate.  Most of her peers probably don't know she has Autism; though, some sense that she is different and either gravitate towards her because she's sweet or try to bully her. 

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. 


  1. Poor B. She could have rocked a one on one/ person to person test. No Child Left Behind hurts everyone. The kids who "get it" are sitting there while the ones who need more help are dragging them down. Not that the ones who don't "get it" should be left in the dust... but they need to find something that works. And No Child Left Behind isn't it. For us, we E-School. That way, we can go quickly through the "easy stuff" and work on what MY kids need to work on.

  2. My husband was shuffled around the 1970's version of "Special Education" as a child after spending most of the 2nd grade in the hospital with double lung pneumonia. He was "left behind".

    I think people meant well when they created NCLB

    The reality is not so bright. Even with the assistance my daughter receives under her IEP with the standardized tests, she still tests far at the bottom end of the scale on everything. At least with her, she does receive the special services she needs. I agree with your (and so many other people's) low opinion of spending so much time in standardized testing. But I also wish there was some other way to make sure no child gets left behind. I also feel bad that my daughter's very understandable low scores might endanger her school's overall score.

    We have so many wonderful, creative teachers who care about every child and go out of their way to make sure each student gets what they need. But we also have some uncaring and/or overworked teachers who just want to get through the day without... well, all kinds of terrible things some teachers have to put up with.

    I agree it's broken. I don't have a solution. I can just take care of my own child, and push her and the system whenever it seems that she's not getting what she needs.

  3. You're right Wendy, a very unfair system.
    My 10yo suffers such a learning delay he is exempt from standard testing. My 7yo, who is also autistic, will most likely do the tests because he still scores "average" academic marks.
    It blows my mind that with Autism numbers growing every year, that society still seems to sit on its hands and not do anything. What will our world be like when 1% or more of these kids are adults? If we don't help them now and steer them in directions they can excel at when they are young, we will lose them as adults. No child left behind? It sounds like a bit of a joke to me.
    If they really don't want your daughter to be left behind, they should have a system that allows her to grow using her strengths. Why do we punish children for being poor at one thing when it's clear they are brilliant in another. Our society is so obsessed with conformity and creating "well-rounded" people that we punish those who are gifted in only certain areas.
    Wow, sorry, got a little ranty there. Guess you can tell this is a common argument I get into.
    Public school systems are not fair. Not in the US or Canada. Especially for special kids.

  4. Wow, I love that you all came to rant about it with me. I love rallying rant fests. LOL.

    Jessica, we might try eschooling in Jr. High when kids turn mean and dramatic. B needs the social interaction right now when kids are moderately nice to kids that are different. I suspect, though, that B would rock at eschooling because we could cater so much easier to her learning methods.

    Amy, I agree. I think the intention of the program was good, but it has failed so completely in the implementation. I feel like you do, and I'm so grateful for the wonderful teachers my kids have had... who have to do a lot more work due to a lack of funding and support.

    Justus, EXACTLY! My daughter is fricken brilliant in math and actually in a lot of other things, but I wish there was a way for her to spend as much time as she wants excelling in the areas where she is brilliant. On the other hand, I pushed through year after year of math and while I was good at it, I despised it. Even in college they wanted me to take MORE math for an English degree. UGH! Thanks for ranting with me. *hugs*

  5. We ended up homeschooling because of rigid but stupid government rules.

    TechBoy was born a week past an arbitrary cutoff date and wasn't allowed into Kindergarten despite being able to read a bit and knowing not to eat paste.

    Education is too important a thing to trust the government to manage.

    We want to be able to SHAKE the principal / superintendent if they make the wrong decision when it comes to our childrens' education. Thankfully, we can - we changed over to an at home charter school which has generally been wonderful.

  6. Jay, my sister had been working with her son at home for early entry into Kindergarten and even though he was ready for 1st grade really... they wouldn't let him into Kindergarten early. Our children are too important to trust the government to manage, so I'm the squeaky wheel as much as possible. They know me well in the office. BAWAHAHAHAHA!

  7. Nicely written.. Amazed while reading ! Keep writing such stuff.. I am a freelance writer and cover women's see one of my story -

  8. I don't know how the writing test is in Washington, but here in Oregon it is EFFED UP. Lots of kids who should be able to pass don't, and I'm mostly talking about neurotypical kids. So I'd be inclined to blame the test myself.

  9. the way the system is designed it wont hurt the school if your special needs child can't pass. The school is only hurt if they have a lot of kids who don't pass.

    standardized testing is not really that big of a deal, It should just serve as the bare minimum for a school to call itself a school.

    Maybe it should simply be pass fail instead of letting people know how they supposedly measure up against other people.

    no child left behind is what happens when Republicans try to act like democrats.

    Republicans should stick to being responsible and Democrats should stick to thinking that caring about people means doing everything for them with the money they confiscate from republicans.

    Antonio Angelo

  10. At least B has an awesome mother :)

  11. The No Child Left Behind program and standarized testing have done more harm than good. To measure every child with the same yardstick is just wrong. I could rant about it all day if I let myself. I have a son (now 36, well adjusted and successful) with a learning disability. I worked with him as much as he would let me and we hired tutors, but school was a nightmare for him. It took years for him to regain his self-confidence after he finished school. His son also has a learning disability and was diagnosed with borderline Aspergers, but fortunately the programs in place for him at school are much improved over what was available for my son. Even so, the NCLB policy and standardized testing needs to be trashed.
    I wish you the best with your kids. They're lucky to have a mom who cares as much as you do.

  12. Kathleen, it really is messed up here too. *sighs*

    Antonio, your comment made my husband laugh... because it was so right.

    Wendy, aww... thanks. *hugs*

    Diana, I've yet to hear a single person call the program useful. I don't understand why they don't find another way when it's universally acknowledged to be a failure.