Thursday, December 18, 2014

THE BADASS TEACHERS ASSOCIATION OPEN LETTER TO SECRETARY DUNCAN AND MICHAEL YUDIN REGARDING SPECIAL EDUCATION 


Dear Secretary Duncan and Mr. Yudin,
Per our discussion in September we are submitting some mid-term testimonials to you regarding the treatment and programming of children with disabilities around the country. What you will read is a letter that was gleaned from direct testimony provided by Special Education teachers and parents who have children with disabilities. They have concerns with the lack of funding, inappropriate testing/assessment of their students/children, and loss of Free and Appropriate Education (FAPE) access for their students/children with disabilities. Under current education policies, students with disabilities are expected to be challenged to excel within the general curriculum. Special education students are held to the same academic standards outlined for all students by age in each grade level. That means that students with even the most severe cognitive disabilities are expected to be taught and learn to “retain the rigor and high expectations of the Common Core State Standards” and are tested on the same without due regard to the extent, nature and actual classification of students with disabilities.
Children with disabilities have unique learning needs. Teachers and parents must be given control of their programming growth and education. Psychologists along with the Teachers, Therapists and Parents currently work as a team to establish reachable goals for a child. Each IEP must be unique and closely adjusted yearly to meet the actual needs of each individual child. There’s even less room for remediation for students who need individual support which is hallmark component of the IEP classification. How students with disabilities will receive the support they need is a grave concern for educators. The consequence is that special needs students are suffering great harm in our schools at an alarming rate. If parents and officials really knew what was going in our schools and why, they would be appalled and outraged. 
Students with disabilities are being over tested and tested beyond their capabilities. Teachers from around the country are reporting this at an alarming rate. What is the USDOE plans for the vast amounts of kids in high school that can't graduate because they can't pass these tests? When students are forced to take a test for 7 hours to evaluate a teacher it is abusive. Detailed and timely test results are NOT returned to educators/districts to help students. Students are being judged and labeled by a test that is, in many cases, several grade levels above what they are capable of doing. The IDEA intended for students to be supported with the general population AT grade level, the legislation never intended that students with disabilities would have to compete with the general population above and beyond their grade level. Moreover, restricting students to curricula that is far beyond their cognitive capacities substantially lowers achievement and puts these students in an unfair disadvantage that intended IEP supports simply cannot be expected to remediate. How does this not violate the student’s rights under IDEA?  For example, the Smarter Balanced has multiple step directions that students find difficult to follow, which eventually frustrates the children, and they shut down. Students with an IQ of 60 are expected to take the PARCC with only minor modifications like extended time. How can any responsible education system subject a child to a series of expectations that 5 or 10 IQ point less would qualify them for a completely different assessment? Children with severe disabilities are forced to take tests on computers when they have NO computer skills. One teacher reports, “My experience administering district benchmark English Language Arts Common Core test to a 2nd grade boy with severe autism: The test was required to be completed online and he did not possess adequate computer skills. I was instructed to sit with him, read the questions (the text he was unable to read as it was several grade levels above his reading level) and enter the answer he dictated. I tried to keep it light, and let him sit at my desk with me in front of my computer where he felt comfortable. As we began, it wasn't more than 2 minutes when he started banging his head on my desk. I immediately truncated the test as he punched me, ran around the room, punched a paraprofessional, punched another student and then writhed on the floor banging his head. I used a bean bag to protect his head as he screamed and cried. It took about 20 minutes for him to calm down, after which he fell asleep on the floor for the rest of the day. This was heartbreaking to me and I felt like a monster. I sent a report to my administrators refusing to test him or any other student in my multiple disabilities class. I called his mother immediately to let her know what happened. The irony is, that this boy had skills and could read. This was not the appropriate test for him. According to my assessments, he was showing growth and improvement in all areas. According to the standardized test, he was a failure.”
Teachers are reporting that children with disabilities are being forced to sit through extensive testing and as a result are self- injuring (hitting themselves, pulling out hair, scratching their faces). Many are being forced into homeschooling and psychiatric facilities. It has been reported that third and fourth grade children wet their pants, soil themselves, and vomit on test days. Teachers are also reporting that useful evaluation tools such as KABC2 and WIAT, which have been used as benchmarks to test for learning disabilities and to test for gifted children, will be replaced by testing that will not be used to inform placement for children.

The IDEA requirement that all students receive a free APPROPRIATE education is being undermined by the insistence that all children learn the same grade level curricula at the same rate and time. In some schools, teachers are being told what IEP goals should and shouldn’t state. Which begs the question, is it appropriate to mandate what IEP goals should and shouldn’t state? As per IDEA, IEP goals are to be individualized learning goals that will enable a student to work towards grade level standards. But, that is NOT what is happening in classrooms across this country at all.
We must support teachers who work daily with our students with disabilities. Their major concerns are that children with disabilities are having needed services cut, being pushed into grade level classes they are not prepared to go into, they are being held back in grade level in some reported cases twice, and that one standardized test does not gauge the growth of a child with disabilities. Perhaps their largest concern is that the testing required of children with disabilities is abusive and educationally unsound. Teachers of Special Education must have autonomy in their classroom and program designs. They must have caseloads numbers that are appropriate and workable (many are reporting up to 90 caseloads). They must be given training so that they can be on top of the latest technology and research they can use to help their children. Teachers of Special Education must be respected and trusted to prepare their children for whatever life course that they, the parent, school psychologist, and child lay out. Teachers are being mandated to instruct students using inappropriate methods and strategies that do not meet their needs. Teachers are told to disregard formative and informal classroom assessment results that should inform instruction. Teachers are forbidden from using research and evidence-based teaching practices because they are supposedly not aligned with the Common Core. The structure and demands of Common Core curriculum tasks and tests focus on the specific executive functioning skills that are a challenge for many students due to neurologically-based disabilities, specific learning disabilities, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Medical, psychological and educational research seems to have been discarded and is no longer considered valid! The fact that national education policy is being governed by non-educators, while the professional expertise of the medical and education community are ignored borders on malpractice!
Let teachers use specially-designed instruction, as they were trained in their university special education programs. Teachers are the people, special educators, who have be entrusted to provide specially-designed instruction, as required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Federal law trumps policy or regulations!
What do BATs Want? 
-->Special Education Teachers, Parents who have students with disabilities, and Students with disabilities must be included in any and all policy making regarding Special Education programming, testing, and law.
-->Growth and progress of our students with disabilities must not be based on one test score. It needs to be a multidimensional growth that the teacher, parent, student, and district create together. The end result of this program will be the preparation of the child for independent living this could be via college, directly to a job, and/or independent living to the greatest degree possible. It is unrealistic to assume that EVERY child will be able to live as a fully independent adult- some illnesses and disorders are so severe that it is simply magical thinking to deny that impact.
-->Direct statement from the USDOE with a guarantee they are NOT trying to eliminate Special Education in our public schools or usurp IDEA/FAPE
-->The ability for districts to have fully funded special education programs that are autonomous from federal overreach
-->A committee made up of Special Educators, parents of children with disabilities, developmental specialists, medical doctors, and special education administrators to investigate the testing abuses of special education children that teachers are reporting as an epidemic around the country.
-->VAM ratings on the basis of inappropriate tests are especially punitive to teachers who teach our most severely disabled children. There is already evidence that applications to teacher education programs are way down, especially those leading to certification in teaching students with disabilities. Teachers of children receiving special education services and the parents are justifiably concerned that soon there will be no qualified and experienced teachers with the expertise to work with this needy population of children.
Thank you
The Badass Teachers Association

2 comments:

  1. We went through this testing boondoggle in OR in the late 90s. Modified tests that actually gave teachers useful information for their students were developed. They worked. Nearly 20 years later, this abusive boondoggle is going on, when other approaches have been PROVEN better. There is no excuse for this.

    ReplyDelete
  2. You really make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this topic to be really something which I think I would never understand. It seems too complicated and very broad for me. I am looking forward for your next post, I will try to get the hang of it!

    Child Care Rebate & Child Care Centre Carlingford

    ReplyDelete