Tuesday, February 17, 2015

An Open Letter to the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund and The National Center for Learning Disabilities From Parents of Children with Disabilities

We are a coalition of parents who have children with disabilities.  On January 11th a statement was released by 20 Civil Rights groups that supported  each state’s adoption of college and career ready standards, aligned statewide annual assessments, and a state accountability system to improve instructions.  As a coalition of parents we strongly say to you – YOU DO NOT SPEAK FOR OUR CHILDREN!

The idea that students must be tested annually from grades three through eight and once in high school in order to achieve “equity” for all students is fatally flawed.  You presume that high-stakes standardized testing has led to more equity for students but there is NO evidence that it has.  You presume that high stakes standardized tests are valid and reliable measures of what students know and how much teachers have contributed to student progress, but assessment experts have reported to the contrary.  You presume that requiring testing is the only way to ensure that disabled students get attention, but that thinking is fatally flawed.  Which begs the question, why on earth would civil rights groups think that it is a civil right for students to take a standardized test that treats them all the same when each are unique individuals who have a broad range of needs, goals and abilities?

Our children have a broad range of disabilities.  Some are ADHD, some have autism, some are severely delayed, some have depression, anxiety, and some are dyslexic.  We want to be crystal clear on this matter:  We do not support the Common Core, we do not support annual high stakes testing, and we do not support testing that is used to punish our children, teachers, and schools.  

The Common Core State Learning Standards has ushered in a system that has devastated most children with disabilities.  All one has to do is look at the Common Core assessments from New York where 95% of the children with disabilities failed.   The Common Core standards render our children frustrated, defeated, and feeling like failures.  We see this every day in our homes.  Do you?   Why must our children deal with text passages that are too complex and math problems that are 2 to 3 grade levels above their abilities? The Common Core Learning Standards are experimental and not based on research or evidence.  Children with disabilities are entitled to research-based instructional practices yet much of the pedagogy compelled by these experimental standards flies in the face of established educational research.  Additionally, the standards were created largely without the input of special education teachers.  Teachers are forced to teach to a one size fits all script that leaves very little room for modification and a demand that certain standards be taught at certain grade levels that may not be at the grade level our children are working at.  What happens to our children who are not reading at grade level but are forced to learn standards that are taught at grade level?  In 2004, with the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act students with disabilities were required, as much as possible, to be included into the general education curriculum.  For many of our children, this was working and teachers could modify work and tailor it to a child’s pace.  The Common Core Learning Standards demand, and script, grade-specific lessons that leave no room for modification or pacing that  meets the needs of our children.  As a result, the learning moves on and our children are left behind. 

Federally mandated yearly high stakes testing often results in abusive practices.  Mandated standardized testing is often characterized by a lack of access to the testing accommodations indicated on a student’s IEP and forces students to submit to tests that rival the medical boards and SATs in length.  These tests are forcibly administered to children despite the fact that test content is often years beyond the student’s present levels of performance.  All of this is done without any regard for the emotional well-being of the individual student.  One only needs to look at the case of Ethan Rediske, a severely disabled child, who was forced to take the Florida State test while in the hospital.  

Often times these tests are not returned to teachers in a timely manner and yield very little specific information about an individual child’s strengths and weaknesses.  When the test administered is years beyond a student’s current academic performance levels, these tests yield absolutely NO usable information.  These tests are not diagnostic in nature and therefore cannot be used to support our children’s learning.  Ultimately, these harmful tests exist solely for the purposes of accountability.
We do not object to adaptive standardized academic assessments such as the WIAT III and the Woodcock Johnson or benchmark reading assessments that allow the teacher to match the assessment to a student’s projected performance level and move up or down accordingly.  We support these assessments as they minimize the amount of time spent testing while simultaneously limiting the amount of needless frustration experienced by our children.  They provide immediate, detailed and insightful information about a student’s learning profile and their specific areas of strengths and weakness. 
Consider the experience of a 5th grader diagnosed with both a learning disability and ADHD who has the testing accommodation of double time taking the NYS Common Core aligned test.  The English Language Arts test in 2014:  Imagine this 10 year old, 5th grader, receiving double the allotted 90 minutes for consecutive days.  Imagine the anguish of a ten year old who must sit for 9 hours of testing over the course of three days only to experience a similar test a week or two later when he or she is compelled to take the NYS Common Core math test! This is state sanctioned abuse, plain and simple.  Imagine how this child would benefit from spending these 18 hours learning rather than testing.  Shame on your for supporting this!  The fact that you would support such a practice is reprehensible to us.  We as parents DO NOT support this and will tell you that it destroys our children physically, emotionally, and mentally! 

While we support accountability, we believe that accountability should not be based on test scores.  Accountability can be measured when one walks into a school building and sees that our children are being taught by creative, out of the box, compassionate people.  These qualities cannot be measured by a test score.  The use of test scores to evaluate the effectiveness of our children’s teachers will only encourage the best and brightest teachers to shy away from working with the most challenging students as these scores do not reward innovation and differentiation.  In addition, to be forcibly subjected to abusive testing practices our children are forced to contend with the knowledge that their scores are being used to fire the teachers they love and trust.  Annual, one size fits all, testing and test based accountability has created an environment for our children that is about blame, punish, and fail.  Under a test based accountability system for teachers, many children with disabilities enter school and within the first week are subjected to a baseline test on content, that has yet to be taught, only to fail miserably.  Imagine being any child, but especially a child with a disability, who is made to feel like a failure on the second day of school.  We asked one special education teacher in New York, a state that holds teachers accountable based on test scores, how this looked in real life.  Here is what she told us – “In the beginning of the year Student A, a student with anxiety and depression,  got a 28 on the baseline test. We had to give this test the second day of school.  He was very upset and as much as I told him the score would not count, he was still upset.  He was angry when he was taking the test because he felt that he didn’t know anything and it wasn’t fair.  It was difficult to get him to finish the test.  At the end of the year Student A had to show a point growth for me to get credit for him.  In my district we negotiated a 30 point growth (the state test).  At the end of the year this student got a 42 on the state test (the new Common Core exam).  I didn’t get the points for him, nor 15 of the other 18 kids in my class.  I was deemed an ineffective teacher last year and I have been teaching special needs kids for over 25 years.  Many of my students have gone to college or are working successful adults.  We all, students and teachers, feel defeated.” 

No Child Left Behind presumed that teachers and schools simply did not have high enough expectations for disadvantaged students and that was the reason for the education gap.  Factors such as hunger, sickness and violence were not considered in the poor performance of students.  We know now that No Child Left Behind has been an utter failure.  In fact the failure of No Child Left Behind is one of the battle cries of Common Core.  We would like to remind you that civil rights groups, and some of the key people behind the joint statement, were advisers to the key legislators who worked on the bill and supported No Child Left Behind.   You were wrong then and you are wrong NOW.  

We urge you to reconsider your position in support of Common Core and the testing associated with it before more students are needlessly sacrificed as a result of this fatally flawed and harmful policy.
In closing, we will repeat that YOU DO NOT SPEAK FOR OUR CHILDREN. You claim that annual testing is  an essential to further the legacy of civil rights and equality but in fact you are supporting a practice that not only harms many children with disabilities but also discourages our most talented special educators from working with the most challenging children.  You are supporting a practice knowingly and willingly that sets our disabled children up to fail as it ignores learning differences.   It is akin to making a child in a wheelchair enter a school building without a ramp.  WE would argue that you have put policy above the dignity and human rights of our children.  Experimental learning standards such as the Common Core,  federally mandated one size fits all annual high stakes testing,  and test based accountability are in fact impeding our children’s right to a free and appropriate education.   We are asking at this time that you retract your support for annual high stakes testing and support our children with disabilities and their right to a free and appropriate education that meets THEIR NEEDS!


Parents/Grandparents of Children with Disabilities
Kim M. , New York
Marla Kilfoyle, New York
Judith Strollo, New Jersey
Amy Bahena-Ettner, Wisconsin
Jamie Bowsher, Ohio
Ken and Mary Lou Previti, Florida
Martha Bobbit Meyers, Florida
Deborah  Martin, Virginia
Lisa Rudley, New York
Sue Cavanaugh, Texas
Lorri Gumanow, New York
Mindy Cahill, Virginia
Andrea Pratt Rediske, Florida
Tina Andres, California
Julie Ardito, New York 
Jeanette Howes, Michigan 
Lianne Donovan, Oregon
Jeff Bernstein, New York
Katherine Lin, Indiana
Deb Stahl, Maryland
Aaron Sorenson, New York
Shelby Witmer, Pennsylvania 
Kerry Palumbo, Pennsylvania
Daisy Mitchell, Florida
Vikentia Cox, New York
James & Luz Christina Mooney, Saugerties NY
Lana Capps, Virginia
Anna Shah, New York
Clyde Gaw, Indiana
Jennifer Garrity, Florida
Julie and Mike Santello, Florida
Shannon Bryant, New Hampshire
Michelle Cosgrove, Florida
Colleen Daly Martinez, New Jersey
Debbie Rice, California
Sharon Antia, Massachusetts
Jennifer Fox, New York
Kelly Ayen, New York
Jennifer Goodson, North Carolina
Susan Dommer, Virginia
David Walrod, Virginia
Shelley Stover-Ling, New York
Bianca Tanis, New York
Julie and Robert Borst, New Jersey
Ilene Ballato, East Meadow
Cindy Stickline-Rose, Maryland
Jodie Brunn, New York
Judy Woodley, California
Cheryl Denton, Montana
Cathernine Mauro, New York
Christina Montanye, New Jersey
Christine Zirkelbach, New York
Ruth Fuller, New York 


  1. Parents - they need to hear your voice!

  2. It would be great if parents signed in the comments to show support.

  3. Bravo!!! Excellent letter. Common Core Standards must not be allowed to trump IDEA rights, nor should inappropriate tests drive goals and instruction.

  4. Not a parent of a child with disabilities, but some family members have struggled, for years, to ensure access to quality education for their youngsters with disabilities.
    Please carefully re-evaluate CCSS, it means trouble, not only for children with disabilities, but all students.
    Stand against this developmentally inappropriate, over-testing mess!
    Thank you,
    N. Enser

  5. Please add my name
    Marla Kilfoyle, New York

  6. Please add: Judith Strollo, New Jersey

  7. I am not a parent, but an aunt to two wonderful boys with special needs. Please add my name.
    Jamie Bowsher, Ohio

  8. Please add: Ken and Mary Lou Previti, Florida

  9. My name is Andrea Rediske, and my son Ethan passed away a year ago. He was severely disabled due to a birth injury, and had cerebral palsy, epilepsy, developmental delays. At age 11 when he passed away, he was the developmental equivalent of a 6-month old. As a student in the Hospital/Homebound program in the Orange County Public School district in Orlando, FL, he was forced to take standardized tests for two years until we secured a waiver. As he was on his deathbed, the state and local school district demanded paperwork proving he was indeed dying in order to receive the waiver again last year. Both our family and his teacher were harassed by the state and the school district when we went public with our story.

  10. Lisa Rudley
    Briarcliff Manor, New York

  11. Please add my name: Tina Andres Santa Ana, CA

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  14. I am a public school teacher with a son on the Autism Spectrum. He is in 6th grade; in a private school. Last year we we're dragging him out from under his bed to get him to school. The pressure and inappropriate expectations were crushing him. Now he's in a Montessori school.....and liking it. Please add my name; Julie. Ardito

    1. Julie-I, too, have an autistic son. We didn't even consider public middle school (and I teach in public elementary). He would not be able to do what they are asking my other disabled son to do. I am tired of my disabled child being set up to fail. This is uncalled for and inappropriate! End high stakes testing for all!

  15. Please add my name: Katherine Lin, special education parent and teacher, Indiana

  16. I don't think I am the only one that looks at IEP goals and thinks about how to link them into the end of the year assessments, rather than thinking about how the goals are benefiting the student. Driven by testing means we are not individualizing. For shame.

  17. please add me! Liane Donovan, Oregon

  18. Colleen Daly Martinez
    Montclair, NJ

  19. Please add! Michelle Cosgrove, Florida
    Parent of a child who is Gifted/ADHD and Special Ed Teacher--15 years

  20. I could not agree more! Please add Shannon Bryant, NH.

  21. I could not agree more! Please add Shannon Bryant, NH.

  22. Standards presume that children can be and should be standardized. The tests try to measure that effort. Yet we all know we are each individuals with different abilities, learning styles, interests, talents etc. This thinking that if we have nation wide standards they will provide all students equal access to the same content/process and create a level playing field fails to see what is front of us daily .. That so much of the suffering/struggle of adults IS that we are each unique and bring different talents, perspectives, backgrounds to the field. That we are not standardized and in fact we build statues, quote, are inspired by & have benefitted by those who are not! Please add my name Debbie Rice, CA

  23. Please add my name to your list. The devastation to my sons mental health caused by curriculum centered upon high stakes testing is something I will NEVER forget.

  24. Catherine Mauro
    North Babylon NY

  25. Christine Zirkelbach Brewster, NY

  26. Please add my name - Melanie Shearer, Severn, MD

  27. I am in my fourth year of teaching, which I entered laterally. I have come to appreciate the many dilemmas teachers find themselves in with so many conflicting and contradictory mandates. Standards aren't a bad idea, but the CC has been devised and implemented by monied elites such as Bill Gates, and then imposed on the entire US without any democratic debate or input. One of America's greatest flaws is that we respond to problems by creating more centralized, top-down rules enforced by agencies of the government, when what is needed is decentralization, individualization, and true diversity and innovation. This was more possible in the past when education was controlled by local communities. As authority over education moves up to Washington, it is inevitable that the system will decline. As education declines, more top-down authority will be imposed, leading to a vicious cycle. Unless we can separate education from politics and return local control, there won't be much improvement. I don't have an answer, this is just one area where we are losing our self determination in America, there are so many others.

    1. ...well stated....might I suggest that divorcing education from politics, both Washington and unions, would promote an improvement in the education of our most important resource, our youth. Roger M. Clemons

  28. Please add my name: Susan Dunietz, Highland Park, NJ.

    Let me tell you a little story about what happens when this one-size-fits-all approach is applied to special needs children. My daughter, now 16, has both Down Syndrome and autism. She has very significant cognitive and fine-motor impairment. A few years ago, her school decided that the new standards required them to teach her graphing. To do graphing, of course, you need certain basic prerequisites: You need to understand numbers (which means you need to understand one-to-one correspondence), to know your right from your left, to be able to hold the pencil and put it in a specific place on the paper, etc. My daughter can do none of these things, and NOT because nobody ever bothered to try to teach her. So she was already set up for failure here - at the LEVEL SHE WAS AT, SHE WAS INCAPABLE OF LEARNING THE MATERIAL. Furthermore, the school felt obligated to try to teach her the required material anyway, thereby spending months working on material she was incapable of learning AT THE EXPENSE OF THE THINGS IN HER IEP THAT SHE DID NEED TO BE WORKING ON - among them, little things like understanding one-to-one correspondence. All they ever succeeded in getting her to do was to repeatedly throw her pencil and paper on the floor, and get so frustrated that she didn't want to go to school. To evaluate her teachers on how well she ultimately did (or more accurately, did not do) on the graphing test would have been nothing short of a travesty.

    Children in general are not one-size-fits-all, and special-needs children even less so than most. I understand that some form of evaluation is needed, but spending so much classroom time on first teaching to and then administering so many tests is ultimately completely self-defeating. Children with special needs have IEP's for a reason: for one reason or another (or, as in my daughter's case, many reasons), they cannot learn in the standard way, and/or may not be able to learn age-appropriate material in ANY way. If the IEP is not working, the solution is not to disregard it in favor of all this mindless one-size-fits-all teaching and testing, the solution is to find ways of teaching the teachers to write and use an IEP properly. There are other types of assessments that can provide a much better picture of how well a special-needs child is doing, without sacrificing time spent on his/her individual educational needs.

  29. Forrest, you hit the proverbial nail...
    please add Jill Ervin, grandmother to 2 children with cognitive delays and retired special ed tchr (34 years and couldn't take another...)

  30. We just moved to Florida..Seminole county because it had the best schools...my so. Is failing math so bad, I literally cry over it. Don't get me wrong, I love his school. They do many great things with the children to keep them engaged and learning real world things. But my child has ADHD and is on the autism spectrum. He is not the one size fits all learning type. He is very literal...there is no gray area with him and definitely not much critical thinking happening. I'm considering private school for him because I can't take him struggling like this every night. It's really sad! Please add my name Paola Reyes, Florida

  31. Ditto!
    Brenda Hansen, Martinez, CA


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