Last year, I had the privilege of meeting Andrea Rediske. Andrea’s late son, Ethan, was born with brain damage. He had cerebral palsy and was blind. Not only was he forced to take Florida’s standardized test (which, by the way, required him to visually identify objects—impossible for a blind boy) but the district was pressuring the family to make Ethan take that exam on his death bed so they could make their 95% No Child Left Untested mandated quota of kids taking the test.
Last winter, I posted a video of Andrea telling her son’s story. If you haven’t seen it, it will break your heart.
Ethan’s story is maddening and heartbreaking and absurd. But here’s the really absurd part: it is the law. It’s the freaking law. Your child was born without a complete brain—too bad. Who decides who takes the test? People who have never met your child, but who nonetheless have the power to enforce the one-size-fits-all testing mandate.
These people—the test bureaucrats—are NOT in the classroom working with our students every day. Parents and teams of educators—the real experts—work hard to develop IEPs (Individualized Education Plans) for students who cannot follow the standard curriculum in the standard way.
These IEPs take time and use care. They are developed by the people who work most closely with students: the student’s parents and their team of educators. These IEPs are not standardized. They are the opposite of that—they are individualized.
So does it make sense for a student with an Individualized Education Plan to take a standardized test that has nothing to do with their learning goals? It doesn’t. Let me be very clear: decisions about how to assess students with disabilities ought to be made at the school level by the dedicated team of educators who work with that student and their parents. Not by some bureaucrat who has never met the child.
I am not against tests—I’m against tests that make no sense. I’m against tests that don’t help students. It is clear to me that if a student has an IEP, then professional educators should be able to use their professional judgment to consider whether it’s appropriate to assess that student with a grade-level standardized test.
So here is my call to action: NEA urges the Department of Education to provide IEP teams the flexibility and decision-making capacity to do their jobs on behalf of their students. The Department of Education must allow schools to use whatever assessment process or method is most appropriate for each individual student based on their needs as indicated in their IEP.
Let the real experts determine how to assess students.
Related information on Individualized Education Plans here.