Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Too scared to think

Too Scared to Think

A test can be an opportunity for a student to show off just how much she has learned.  Or it can be an opportunity for your course grade to plummet or for your high stakes testing to throw you into the pool of students who need an alternative path.
Test anxiety is a very real condition.   People who are afflicted with it can see the work of an entire semester go down the tube in one two-hour period.   Tests really don’t do a good job of measuring how much we know, and students with test anxiety are set up for failure.
We are living in an era when the common wisdom is that standardized tests raise the teaching/learning standard.  That means there is an increasing number of high stakes testing experiences.
There are things teachers can do to alleviate some of the issues.  First of all, prior to the test experience, give students examples of what the test items are going to be like.  Allow kids to answer questions and to question the questions.   Let them break into groups and work out problems together.   If the test is multiple choice, before the test give the students some multiple-choice items on the topic and lead them through the process of figuring out how to pick the correct answer from the several detractors. Directly teach the strategy for eliminating one or more of the detractors and narrowing the field down to the correct answer.
If the test has true/false items, directly teach the children how to look for “red-alert” words such as “never”, “always” and other always words.  
When the test experience is over, review the test with the class.   Ask students to tell you what they answered and why they did.  For items a student got wrong, walk them through the process to get it right.
Some people will tell you that is cheating.  That attitude always confuses me.   If the point of testing is to discover what the child knows about a topic as opposed to tricking the child, why is it cheating to help the child have the best shot of showing what they know.  I once had a teacher tell me that she knew in advance of any test which students would do well and who would not.  I couldn't figure out what the point was of giving the test. 
Of course, there is one more question to ask.   If we know that there are some humans who have such great test anxiety that they literally can’t think straight on  a test- why are we still giving them tests?   Could it be that we are too scared to think of another option to measure learning besides a written test?   Something to think about.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Birds of a Feather

Birds of a Feather


When I was a kid, my mother regularly reminded me of the old adage “birds of a feather flock together”.    Usually this was issued as a warning sign to be careful of who my friends were because if I chose poorly, I would be judged by their behavior as well as my own.
In the course of human events, we seem to have forgotten that old saw. It is both a warning and a commentary on human nature.   Advocates of full inclusion tell us that when children with disabilities are in the same classrooms as plain kids, the plain kids will embrace the children with disabilities and invite them to parties and to hang at the mall with them.  Somehow, these folks have neglected to look at their own feathered friends.   In doing so they will find that their friends are all “of the same feather”.  So it is not at all unusual for people of deep faith to socialize with others of deep faith.   Ditto political progressives, sports fans, and a multitude of other areas around which people affiliate.   It has also been noted by the recently divorced or widowed, that they are frequently now left out of their previous social set. 
So it is with adults with disabilities.  Cast out into the world, often lacking places of employment where they can make new friends, people with disabilities are deeply missing a social component in their lives.   It is not surprising that when an organization is willing to leap into the breach, many are clamoring to come.  Once a month, an organization in Baltimore transforms its setting into a night club event for adults with disabilities.   Folks come with walkers, support aides and parents.   They also come with enthusiasm, excitement, and an eagerness to make new friends.   They are even looking for love in all the right places.  Refreshments are served (no alcohol), music is played, people are dancing, chatting and just having fun.  Attendance continues to grow every month. Attendees pay a fee, support people for the attendee do not.
 Everyone wants to be some place where they are typical.   As humans we want to be like the other folks in our pack.  That is why there are restaurants and clubs frequented by people of similar ethnic backgrounds, socio economic status, or religious beliefs.   Now we have a once-a-month club for people with disabilities. It is the only one regularly operating in spite of the huge need.   Hopefully there will soon be more.  After all birds of a feather do flock together including those birds who are not your typical flock.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Is it really necessary to attend school

Is it really necessary to attend school?

How often does a student need to attend class to receive credit for that course?   That is not a rhetorical question.   Recent reports show that some students in Montgomery County Maryland high schools have attended class only 60% of the time and yet have earned credit for that course.  How can that be?   Isn’t it necessary to be in class in order for the student to learn the course content?
I think the answer is yes and no.
First of all many high school students miss school because of family responsibilities.  Some kids have jobs to help their families survive day-to-day.   Some kids take care of younger siblings so that both parents can work.  Are these good reasons to miss school?  Well it depends on just how critical that student’s contribution to the family's economy is.
Some kids miss school because they are bored to death.   The required pacing guides mean that teachers can’t stay on a topic longer than needed because they have another topic to do on another day.   That also means, teachers can’t dig deeper into a topic if students are really interested or curious.   Tomorrow is another day in the pacing guide.   Each day’s curriculum is carefully laid out.  Like Goldilocks, teachers can’t go too fast or too slow; they need to get it just right.  Smart kids can miss school, come back later, and as with a soap opera, know just where the story is going.
The issue is not whether it is terrible that some kids are graduating this June after having missed 40% of their classes, the issue is why are these kids missing so much school and why don’t we look to see if there are things we can do about that.
On the other hand, maybe the answer is that kids don’t really need to be in school all that much in order to master the material as it is currently being delivered to them.  One of the students who attends school regularly, complained that it was not fair that the students who missed so much school were going to get the same diploma he was getting and he went to school every day.   That boy is totally missing the point of going to school.  While it is true that both kids might get the same piece of paper, it is also true that each student is getting a totally different education.  Hopefully the boy who attended school every day had learning experiences that far exceeded those of the boy who was absent a great deal.  State regulation says that students need to meet the aggregate time requirement of the local school system necessary to earn the credit.  Some school districts have moved away from a set number of hours and instead use an academic standard.   If one looks at the situation from that perspective, maybe some kids only need to be in school 60% of the time. Then again, that premise presumes that all we learn we learn in school.   Maybe we can learn as much or more without being in school.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Might does not make right

Might Does Not Make Right

We live in a world where people and organizations with more power think they can use that power to assert their will on others.  Simply having the power to do so does not make it right.
For over ten years the District of Columbia public schools and several DC public charter schools have allowed students in non-public special education schools to earn a diploma as a private school student.  This past fall, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) for the District of Columbia has stopped that process. (Don't let it bother you that the "State Superintendent" is without a state)  As a consequence, fourteen students are left to find other placements.
The issue is that OSSE requires that students receiving a high school diploma need to have two years of a foreign language.   The Harbour School does not believe that will benefit these students as they make the transition from high school to the adult world.   As a consequence, OSSE has cancelled its approval of The Harbour School effective June 30, 2109.   They have been unwilling to allow those 14 kids to complete their entitlement to a free and appropriate education at public expense without referring any additional students to the school.   The situation is even more unfortunate since a number of those students are not even earning a diploma.
Where does this decision leave these students and their families?  It leaves them with limited choices. There are two students who are graduating in three weeks and at this time OSSE has yet to make a decision as to what kind of award the students will receive.  Additionally, there are two other students who are scheduled to graduate in June 2020 who can’t possibly earn credit for two years of a foreign language in the one year remaining to them.   Both of these situations have been identified to OSSE and their response is not to respond.   
There is no question but that OSSE has the power to do what they are doing. After all, they have the regulation to fall back on.  They also have the power to modify the implementation of the regulation for those few children who need a few more years to finish their education.  But they are not interested in doing that.  
As a consequence, families have few choices.   They can accept the decision and have their children placed back in the public schools.  (OSSE has forced the closure of two other non-public schools within the District so there are very few non-public options.)   Families can pay privately for the placement but that will also mean figuring out transportation.   Or they can enter into a due process claim in the hopes of either winning or of stringing the process along for enough time for their children to finish.  Under the law, children get to stay in the last approved placement during the pendency of due process.  Or they can file a state complaint with the very wolf who is guarding the chicken house- OSSE.
Does OSSE have the might to do this?   You bet.   Does that make what they are doing right?  Not by a long shot.   And sooner or later the piper will be paid.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Maybe there is another way

Maybe there is another way…

Many families who have tried the due process system set up by federal and state law to get appropriate services for their children know that the road is long, expensive and frequently ends in a dead end.
But there is another way to get there that may be more expedient and is definitely less expensive.  The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) also allows families to file complaints directly with the state education agency (MSDE) instead of or, in addition to, any due process hearing.   The state has 60 days to investigate and decide and the decision is not appealable by either side.
A nationwide survey has found that parents prevail in about 50% of the complaints; that is quite a bit better than the prevailing rate in Maryland for due process hearings.  The average national rate for parents success is 24%.  In Maryland it is only about 5%.   See why in last week’s blog.
A complaint to the state department of education can be used to remedy systemic issues which often stand in the way of a child getting an individual program as required by law.
Some of the issues to consider are cut-and-paste goals and objectives, removing goals and objectives without parental permission or after the parents have signed the IEP, and holding IEP meetings without the presence of a school administrator or general ed teacher.
Many of the goals listed are copy-cat goals from goal banks that are so generic as to be unmeasurable.   For example, “the student will read and comprehend increasingly complex literary and informational texts.”   Or, “the student will develop and strengthen writing by engaging in a process that includes prewriting, drafting, revising, editing and publishing.”.   These goals appear to have come right out of something that was put into a bank to mimic Common Core objectives.  The problem is they are pretty much not measurable for any specific student.   How does the parent, student or teacher measure “increasingly complex”.   Does it mean the student will move from pre-reading skills to primer reading or from sentences to chapter books.   Similarly, the writing goal describes a process the child will go through at any level but it does not specifically say what this particular child will be doing.   The use of goal banks that are pulled down from a computer based IEP production system are endemic.   Sometimes the same goals appear year after year.  It is not unusual for the wrong pronoun gender to be used when referring to the student.  
Let’s be clear.   The use of these “cookie cutter” goals for students violate both the letter and the spirit of the law.   They are not ok.   Parents need to learn there is another way to get that INDIVIDUAL Education Program for their child that is required by law.  Of course, parents might have to go back to that writing goal and engage their state department of education.   There is another way.

Maybe there is another way

Maybe there is another way…

Many families who have tried the due process system set up by federal and state law to get appropriate services for their children know that the road is long, expensive and frequently ends in a dead end.
But there is another way to get there that may be more expedient and is definitely less expensive.  The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) also allows families to file complaints directly with the state education agency (MSDE) instead of or, in addition to, any due process hearing.   The state has 60 days to investigate and decide and the decision is not appealable by either side.
A nationwide survey has found that parents prevail in about 50% of the complaints; that is quite a bit better than the prevailing rate in Maryland for due process hearings.  The average national rate for parents success is 24%.  In Maryland it is only about 5%.   See why in last week’s blog.
A complaint to the state department of education can be used to remedy systemic issues which often stand in the way of a child getting an individual program as required by law.
Some of the issues to consider are cut-and-paste goals and objectives, removing goals and objectives without parental permission or after the parents have signed the IEP, and holding IEP meetings without the presence of a school administrator or general ed teacher.
Many of the goals listed are copy-cat goals from goal banks that are so generic as to be unmeasurable.   For example, “the student will read and comprehend increasingly complex literary and informational texts.”   Or, “the student will develop and strengthen writing by engaging in a process that includes prewriting, drafting, revising, editing and publishing.”.   These goals appear to have come right out of something that was put into a bank to mimic Common Core objectives.  The problem is they are pretty much not measurable for any specific student.   How does the parent, student or teacher measure “increasingly complex”.   Does it mean the student will move from pre-reading skills to primer reading or from sentences to chapter books.   Similarly, the writing goal describes a process the child will go through at any level but it does not specifically say what this particular child will be doing.   The use of goal banks that are pulled down from a computer based IEP production system are endemic.   Sometimes the same goals appear year after year.  It is not unusual for the wrong pronoun gender to be used when referring to the student.  
Let’s be clear.   The use of these “cookie cutter” goals for students violate both the letter and the spirit of the law.   They are not ok.   Parents need to learn there is another way to get that INDIVIDUAL Education Program for their child that is required by law.  Of course, parents might have to go back to that writing goal and engage their state department of education.   There is another way.

Maybe there is another way

Maybe there is another way…

Many families who have tried the due process system set up by federal and state law to get appropriate services for their children know that the road is long, expensive and frequently ends in a dead end.
But there is another way to get there that may be more expedient and is definitely less expensive.  The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) also allows families to file complaints directly with the state education agency (MSDE) instead of or, in addition to, any due process hearing.   The state has 60 days to investigate and decide and the decision is not appealable by either side.
A nationwide survey has found that parents prevail in about 50% of the complaints; that is quite a bit better than the prevailing rate in Maryland for due process hearings.  The average national rate for parents success is 24%.  In Maryland it is only about 5%.   See why in last week’s blog.
A complaint to the state department of education can be used to remedy systemic issues which often stand in the way of a child getting an individual program as required by law.
Some of the issues to consider are cut-and-paste goals and objectives, removing goals and objectives without parental permission or after the parents have signed the IEP, and holding IEP meetings without the presence of a school administrator or general ed teacher.
Many of the goals listed are copy-cat goals from goal banks that are so generic as to be unmeasurable.   For example, “the student will read and comprehend increasingly complex literary and informational texts.”   Or, “the student will develop and strengthen writing by engaging in a process that includes prewriting, drafting, revising, editing and publishing.”.   These goals appear to have come right out of something that was put into a bank to mimic Common Core objectives.  The problem is they are pretty much not measurable for any specific student.   How does the parent, student or teacher measure “increasingly complex”.   Does it mean the student will move from pre-reading skills to primer reading or from sentences to chapter books.   Similarly, the writing goal describes a process the child will go through at any level but it does not specifically say what this particular child will be doing.   The use of goal banks that are pulled down from a computer based IEP production system are endemic.   Sometimes the same goals appear year after year.  It is not unusual for the wrong pronoun gender to be used when referring to the student.  
Let’s be clear.   The use of these “cookie cutter” goals for students violate both the letter and the spirit of the law.   They are not ok.   Parents need to learn there is another way to get that INDIVIDUAL Education Program for their child that is required by law.  Of course, parents might have to go back to that writing goal and engage their state department of education.   There is another way.