Special Education

Testing, No Testing, Too Much Testing

By Nirvi Shah — October 07, 2011 2 min read
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Gretchen Herrera expected it would just be her and her son, who has Asperger syndrome and Type 1 diabetes, on the steps of the capitol building in Columbia, S.C., this Saturday, protesting standardized testing.

The reasons for her protest began building last May. She had tried several times to have Anthony, 12, exempted from South Carolina’s annual tests in reading, math, and other subjects when he was in 6th grade last school year. But no reason would do—not even a doctor’s note that explained Anthony’s blood sugar could spike because of his Asperger-related anxiety.

And on the first day of testing, that’s just what happened, Ms. Herrera said. Her son zipped through the test—his mother later learned he scored well—and his blood sugar zoomed to more than 300, the danger zone for diabetics. So Anthony stayed home during the rest of the testing dates.

“I don’t want this,” Ms. Herrera said. “I don’t want my son exposed to this.”

While some parents and advocates for students with disabilities worry that their children are being left out of testing and, in turn, their schools left unaccountable for their children’s progress, Herrera predicts that her initial prediction of a lonely protest against testing Saturday will be wrong.

She recently met fellow South Carolina mother Sarah Johnson, whose son Mattox has an impulsive control disorder. Mattox, who is in 4th grade this year, but whose reading skills don’t match his grade level, can become easily frustrated and physically aggressive, his mother said. Teaching him has been difficult over the years, and making him take a test he is certain to fail and which could trigger aggression doesn’t make sense.

His doctor also agreed, Ms. Johnson said, but South Carolina’s testing policy doesn’t appear to offer any exemptions for her child or Ms. Herrera’s.

Both have filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Education’s office of civil rights, and they have a petition with a modest collection of signatures going.

“There are better ways to measure our students’ progress,” Ms. Johnson said.

Meanwhile, in California, an examination by the Sacramento Bee published this week finds that the tests the state is using with a growing number of students with disabilities are being given to far too many children.

While no more than 2 percent of California students should be taking the test, which would be about 100,000 students, close to 200,000 are taking it, the Bee found.

“The trend has consequences beyond special education,” the reporters wrote.

Because tests on the modified exam are tallied separately from scores on the tests other students take, school districts end up with a greater proportion of high-scoring students taking the standard exam, making those districts appear to be performing better than if a greater number of their students were taking the more challenging exam.

One school district spokesman summarized how some parents of students with disabilities may feel, as may the developers of tests for students with disabilities.

Repeated failure on the regular test was beating down many special education students, Sacramento City Unified district spokesman Gabe Ross told the Bee.

“Is it more accurate to give students who have special needs a test that we know they will not be proficient in?” he asked. “How does that give you an accurate picture of student learning?”

A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.