Uniform competency testing does more harm than good
The paperwork and meetings involved to support an IEP are intensive. They are also worthless, as these kids must pass the same test as "normal" students without all of the accommodations they are familiar with. It is like taking a deaf person's hearing aid away and expecting him to pass an oral quiz.
Before Utah kicks the federal No Child Left Behind law (NCLB) out and installs Utah Performance Assessment System for Students (U-PASS) in its place, someone needs to stop and get some answers to a few questions.
What is the purpose of the Utah Basic Skills Competency Test (UBSCT), the high school exit exam?
If the reasons the Legislature opposes NCLB are because it was not funded and it unfairly assesses student, teacher and school performance, how can Utah mandate the UBSCT without funding required to teach its concepts to all students? Are legislators willing to place the state's districts at risk of costly litigation when parents bring lawsuits for not teaching their students the required test material?
NCLB has divided, discriminated and discouraged. Will UBSCT do the same? High-stakes testing in other states has failed. Why doesn't Utah learn from their mistakes? And last of all, how will this test satisfy employers that the people applying for jobs are better skilled?
I am the mother of a 16-year-old who was diagnosed with a learning disability in elementary school. I hired tutors, a woman with a doctorate in learning disabilities and another specialist who worked on physical activities designed to stimulate brain development.
No matter what we did, he couldn't catch up. He became discouraged and started to shut down. Looking at his peers do easily what he could not produced the attitude, "I can't, so I won't." He needed to be taught on his own level, was tested and placed into the special education program.
As his teachers and I met about his Individualized Educational Plan (IEP), his reports have been favorable and all felt he was succeeding and improving. That is until recently.
The Legislature passed a law to become effective with the 2006 graduating class. All high school graduates must pass a test (UBSCT) in order to earn a diploma. Because he has been served in the special education program, he has not practiced some of the concepts that are on the UBSCT. Nor was he allowed some of his IEP accommodations. It was one more kick in the gut for him.
Special education students are protected and given an opportunity to compete in regular classrooms with an IEP. All teachers are to assist these students with appropriate accommodations. The paperwork and meetings involved to support an IEP are intensive. They are also worthless, as these kids must pass the same test as "normal" students without all of the accommodations they are familiar with. It is like taking a deaf person's hearing aid away and expecting him to pass an oral quiz.
I have been teaching for 22 years in the public schools and have witnessed first-hand the difficulty these students face. I have been involved in the IEP process, and have made accommodations for students to succeed in my history and language arts classes.
Please note, I did not give them a grade, they earned it, based on the skills each student had and compared to peers. I know all students do not develop at the same rate or learn in the same way. Parents of two or more children know what works for one child won't work for the other.
Does one test show everything a student knows? No. Does one test show how well that student does socially? No. Does one test have to discourage instead of inspire? No. Should one test throw out the effort, challenges, and victories a child has experienced over 13 years of their lives? No. Should one test be the only route to a diploma? No.
Educators all over the United States applaud the move Gov. Jon Huntsman has made in addressing the unfair assessments NCLB has placed on schools. Of course students should be evaluated on their abilities and skills and how they achieve educational goals.
However, the irony is the state's (U-PASS) UBSCT test is as bad if not worse than NCLB. If a student does not pass the UBSCT, but fulfills all high school requirements, he/she gets a certificate of completion, not a diploma. No one knows what restrictions the certificate will place on the student who receives it.
Plus, the Legislature did not fund programs to assist these at-risk students so they can pass the UBSCT. So, how can this same group of individuals complain about NCLB when they are advocating the same thing?
Most students will be great citizens if they don't get discouraged. Discouraged by taking a test on material you have not seen. Discouraged by being told you do not deserve a diploma because you have a learning disability and do not test well. Obviously, resource and ESL students need help. They need the Legislature to fund low student-teacher ratio classes designed around the UBSCT concepts. They need the Utah State Office of Education to revise the UBSCT criteria for this diagnosed population.
NCLB is not funded and it does not fairly assess students, teachers and schools. Isn't that why the Legislature and Gov. Huntsman are willing to risk $76 million of federal funding? Perhaps they also should be concerned about the students being refused a diploma because of the results of one test and the possible lawsuits the state will face.
Ilene Davies has been teaching in Utah schools for 22 years.
Salt Lake Tribune
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES