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Is State Testing Violating Children’s Rights to a FAPE?

Did you know that every child in the United States is entitled to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)? This law is embedded in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), originally enacted in 1977. While revisions have been made to the IDEA Laws since that time, the FAPE has remained a constant thread since its inception.

Over time, however, the FAPE has suffered the consequences of the increasing importance and intensity of mandatory state testing, which at this point, seems to be of paramount focus in public education. Mandatory state testing has spiraled out of control, to the point that most decisions regarding children’s education today are filtered through its lense.

State testing is so ingrained into the thought process and fabric of our American educational system, that Superintendents, Principals, and education decision makers alike seem to first consider the ramifications of state testing outcomes, before thinking about what is best for the student.

State testing controls educational publishing companies. State testing controls curriculum choices. State testing controls the length of recess that students receive. State testing controls student schedules and elective opportunities. State testing controls school funding and its usage. State testing crowds out enrichment and the arts. And, believe it or not, state testing controls students’ IEP options, goals, objectives, accommodations, and modifications.

Case in point: one of my 5th grade students has poor long term memory, and has not been able to memorize his multiplication facts. He is a very intelligent child, with the potential to conceptually understand advanced mathematic operations, and with the ability to perform advanced math problems. His parent asked his IEP Team to allow him to utilize a calculator during daily math instruction, so that he could continue to move forward across the 5th grade mathematics curriculum continuum. She was told that, since the child would not be allowed to use a calculator during the one or two days of state mathematics testing, he would not be permitted to use a calculator during daily math instruction time. Thus, instead of accommodating his disability in the area of memory for math facts, or modifying the expectations for him to learn the multiplication tables, the IEP Team finds it acceptable for him to most likely fall behind in, and potentially fail, 5th grade math, in order to “prepare him” for the end of year state testing. Let’s throw the baby out with the bath water!

A free APPROPRIATE education for this 5th grader would involve helping him to make meaningful progress and pass the 5th grade math curriculum, so that he would be prepared for the 6th grade math curriculum. An accommodation/modification with the use of a calculator for this child would enable him to learn new concepts in mathematics, and work around his memory deficit. By denying this student the use of a calculator, I tend to believe that this student will spend most of his time in 5th grade math instruction trying to figure out what 6 times 8 is, loathing math, and feeling inadequate. It is highly unlikely that this student will suddenly memorize the multiplication tables, which were taught in third grade. It is also highly unlikely that the school will offer this student remediation in this area of deficit. The goal of mastering the multiplication tables is not even included in his IEP!  My belief is: Either remediate, or modify/accommodate!

Memorizing the multiplication tables is a prerequisite skill to higher-level math instruction. A calculator is an assistive technology device which is permitted under the IDEA. The decision to deny this student the use of an appropriate accommodation/modification, merely because end-of-year state testing doesn’t permit this accommodation/modification on the actual day of state testing, results in state testing taking precedence over the student’s needs. This, I believe, is a violation of the IDEA, and robs this student of his right to not only a FAPE, but additionally, of his chance to make adequate progress in the discipline of mathematics. Falling behind in the concepts of 5th grade math instruction sets this student up for failure in 6th grade math instruction. And so it goes.

A student’s  IEP lists the goals and objectives to be accomplished by the student for a given time period. When the IEP is marginalized by decisions relating to year-end state testing goals, the focus of the student’s needs is blurred. The student’s needs should be central and paramount, always: to meet the student’s present levels of performance, and to move forward with reasonable goals. State testing should have no bearing on the content of a student’s IEP. The IEP acronym stands for INDIVIDUALIZED Education Plan, not State Testing Education Plan.

State testing has become the driving force behind most educational decisions, curriculum selections, and usage of school time, across our country. Testing has taken over our system, and created dysfunctional and inflexible rules that violate students’ rights to an appropriate education. Our current hyper-focused testing protocols have induced a mechanical, sterile education system which begs for common sense and compassionate logic.  Decision making, based solely on end of year testing, fails to take into consideration all of the other important and beneficial aspects of education that students can gain from a well-rounded, human-driven educational experience.

Incidentally, since state testing started to drive and control decision-making in our American education system about 20 years ago, student scores have not significantly improved, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Numbers and scores don’t teach students. Teachers do. It is time to focus on the quality of teacher education in our universities and colleges, and to choose curriculums that are research and evidence based. It is time to invest in smaller class size, more teacher aids, and a more flexible system of individualized learning. The current educational paradigm is not working for many of our students, no matter how many tests we make them take.

Jenelle Erickson Boyd, Author of this BLOG, is a State Certified Reading Specialist, a Certified Dyslexia Practitioner, a Certified P-3 Teacher, and a Certified Montessori Educator. She is an avid advocate of students with reading issues, a speaker at educational conferences, a school consultant, and the author of the Lil’ Reading Scientists Literacy Solutions TM Orton Gillingham Curriculum. To reach Jenelle, please email her at info@lilreadingscientists.com.

To view the Lil’ Reading Scientists Digital Downloadable Orton Gillingham curriculum, go to Teachers Pay Teachers, and search for the Lil’ Reading Scientists Store.

To view the Lil’ Reading Scientists TM Multisensory Hard Goods Materials for Literacy, please go to www.lilreadingscientists.com.