This post is part of a series of guest posts on GPS by the graduate students in my Psychopathology course. As part of their work for the course, each student had to demonstrate mastery of the skill of “Educating the Public about Mental Health.” To that end, each student has to prepare two 1,000ish word posts on a particular class of mental disorders.
No Child Left Behind and the Intellectually Disabled by Skyee Gibson
Today is a very important day for Tom. He is taking his standardized reading test mandated by No Child Left Behind. He is anxious, afraid, and unsure of his capabilities. Tom is a student with an intellectual disability and his performance on this test is critical for his success, the success of his teacher and the success of his school.
No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is a federal mandate designed to leave no child behind academically. However, what this legislative policy has done to the education system is an outrage. President Bush claimed that he would “develop the most influential education plan in the nation’s history.” He guaranteed that each and every child in the United States would reach academic proficiency in reading, writing and math. He also promised that every student would read on grade level and develop higher-order math skills. To achieve this goal, teachers should be “highly qualified and schools will be held accountable through Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).”
It means that students are expected to score within a certain score range to show “proficiency.” That range used to vary for students with Intellectual Disabilities but because of new mandates, the proficiency gap has tightened. Ask any parent of a child with a mild or severe intellectual disability and the answer will be eerily similar – some parents hope for their child to be a productive member of society while other parents strive for life skills training.
Students who are already struggling in math and reading are now struggling to perform. The burden of this yearly ritual falls most heavily on the intellectually disabled student who are often tested with the same rigor and standards as regular education students. Yes, students with intellectual disabilities do receive “special accommodations” during standardized assessments. However, most often, those accommodations do not meet the needs of this population. No Child Left Behind is asking students who struggle academically, to sit for longer periods and perform at a similar level as their peers. No Child Left Behind is setting them up for failure and “damaging their self-concept and motivation to succeed.”
However, the federal government continues to focus on achievement through testing. All students, even those with an intellectual disability, must show improvement through state testing. That means different things for different students but ultimately the paths are very similar. Why is this important? Because we have special education teachers across the state of Oklahoma who are focusing on test prep instead of life skills prep. Instead of students with intellectual disabilities learning important life skills and participating in enriching school activities and opportunities, students and teachers are being held accountable for reading, writing and arithmetic. Which is important for some students but may not be as important for a student with a moderate or severe intellectual disability.
No Child Left Behind state exams are “simply too densely written, too long in duration and too difficult in terms of readability and the required level of conceptual understanding.” This is extremely overwhelming and challenging for a student struggling to read and write. Yes, we must hold stakeholders accountable for student learning and achievement; but I am a firm believer that No Child Left Behind is leaving students behind. A one-size fits all approach to learning does not fit all students and our students, teachers and schools are paying the price for No Child Left Behind Legislation.
Tom deserves the opportunity to be successful in the classroom and the current standardized testing approach does not take into account his specific learning needs. During prolonged testing, students with mild to moderate intellectual disabilities, “even with the best instruction, coaching, appropriate accommodations and genuine effort- simply give up and begin to guess.” The author, Claudia Meeks states that,” As adults, we would feel uncomfortable if asked to sit hour after hour and complete a task that even with our best efforts we were physiologically incapable of performing.” She further states that we are asking student with intellectual disabilities to sit twice as long as the time it takes to complete the General Record Exam (GRE).
NCLB is creating a situation that makes students feel powerless instead of empowered. Students with intellectual disabilities are overburdened with performance expectations and student achievement similar to students without intellectual disabilities. Students, like Tom are being held back, held accountable and forced to perform academically, similar to their peers. No Child Left Behind is creating chaos in the education arena and children with intellectual disabilities are at the center of the storm.
Gone are the days where students with ID are able to “work” part-time with a job coach in such programs as Goodwill and The Dale Rogers Training Center. The stakes are just too high and many schools have opted to keep students in the classroom. Therefore, we continue to measure success the same for everyone and our students are missing out. Yes, I believe we do have a job to provide a quality, equitable education for all students. However, that equitable education should vary depending on the student and the student’s intellectual capacity. If this sounds harsh, that is not my intent. I am merely stating the importance of a holistic approach to education. One size does not fit all and yes, we are leaving students behind.
Testing is big money. Schools that show improvement receive incentives and merit-based pay increases. Districts that perform receive bragging rights and more tax dollars from the community. Finally, students receive a stamp of attainment on their diploma that says they have attained satisfactory progress on state mandated assessments. Even schools who do not perform adequately receive additional funds for student remediation and, improved student performance.
The data available for monies spent on NCLB testing is very sketchy for the nation in general. The data is varied and no one is able to estimate the true cost of testing for our students and our schools, but standardized tests generate millions of dollars annually for various entities. As reported by the Barbara Miner, 5.9 billion dollars were spent in the year 2008 alone. Standardized testing has become an expensive addiction that legislators and administrators do not want to kick. Each state employs a team of consultants, executives and managers to oversee state testing and to monitor student and teacher progress.
Students are not benefitting from standardized tests. Too much is at stake to rely on learning, schools across the nation are teaching to the test. Students are missing the opportunity to learn through exploration and to develop a natural curiosity for knowledge. Students have become less interested in school and, less motivated to learn.