Monday, April 11, 2011

On Report Cards, IEP Progress Reports, and Standardized Testing

The boys' third-quarter term ended, and the school sent out report cards and IEP progress reports. We also recently received their results from the Iowa standardized testing conducted in our district.

It's a good thing I'm somewhat comfortable with ambiguity.

Jack's report card was surprisingly good, but second-grade report cards do not feel like data to me. For instance, Jack received an A in social studies, yet I decided early in the year that we would not do social studies homework. The second-grade vocabulary list included executive, judicial, and legislative; I'm not wasting my time or Jack's to study these abstract terms. I learned about government in 7th grade. It was easy to learn at that time because my brain had developed the ability of abstract thought. Neurotypical 2nd graders in Jack's class learned the words but, when questioned about their meaning, did not understand what they had learned.

Is this education?

Well, it passes for education in Ohio because it's part of the curriculum mandated by the state. But the reality for Jack is that he is more than a grade level behind in math, and while his reading skills are good, his reading comprehension is hampered by short attention span and impaired ability to communicate understanding of what he reads. Consequently, we focus on math and reading homework.

I saw the enormous effort Jack put into reading and understanding a lovely story about Hellen Keller, but because the story doesn't repeat the fact of Keller's blindness and deafness, Jack didn't understand that she could not see or hear...even after reading the story numerous times at home and at school. How, then, could he understand the three branches of government? He hears branch and thinks tree.

Last night while we played snuggle-bunnies before bed, George spoke for Jack's stuffed Stitch doll. Jack said, "Stitch doesn't talk, Daddy. He's a stuffed animal." Then, George joked, "What!?! I didn't get a talking alien? The Disney store ripped me off. That was money down the drain!" Jack said, "Don't do that to Stitch!" He thought George was going to flush Stitch down the drain. We tried to explain what George had meant, but I don't think Jack really got it because he kept a death-grip on Stitch until George left the room.

Jack earned a B in science. This actually seems more reasonable to me. He loves certain things about nature, so he's willing and able to learn. For instance, he was fascinated with the phases of the moon...because he can see it in the sky, see how it changes each night. It's a real, concrete thing.

Jack's grades are the result of a modified curriculum to accommodate his needs and must be affected/inflated by the aides he works with. When he was given the Iowa Achievement test, he had no accommodations other than a teacher at his side to keep him focused. She couldn't help in any other way. The scores, needless to say, were very low.

This standardized data isn't useful either because Jack's academic skills are nowhere near as low as the standardized test would indicate. These low scores merely tell us how poor Jack's attention span is and how hard it is to motivate him to do things he does not want to do.

In the broader picture, these failed attempts to quantify Jack's academic achievement symbolize the failed attempts of neuroscience to describe exactly what causes autism or what therapies can help any given child. The experts can't even come up with diagnostic criteria that make sense, despite their dedicated attempt in DSM-V.

We parents in the world of autism are essentially forced into a world full of ambiguity, irrelevant data, uncertain courses of action. We make decisions to act, wonder if these decisions are right, fret over uncertain evaluations of our decisions, and try hard not to scream with frustration.

I crave data. When I get it, however, it tells me little. And I move on.

There's really no other choice.

How do you feel about your child's grades and test scores? Do you feel they accurately reflect his/her ability?


Patti J said...

Susan, I was a school secretary for 20 plus years, and I should probably not tell this, but nearly on a daily basis, I heard teachers voicing the same type of things that you have addressed above. Totally frustrated by the 'system', they would go to the administration, who would understand their concerns, be equally frustrated with the 'system', but because these things are required curriculum items, their hands were tied as well. When is someone in the 'big chairs' ever going to realize that all children are not alike, and cannot learn 'alike'? "Someone" needs to personally spend some time IN the classroom if they are going to mandate what is taught in it. We had a student in our middle school who was LD. He absolutely could NOT learn many basic curriculum points. The teachers, of course, had to continue to try to teach these things, adding them to his IEP along the way, etc. By the time he was 16, he'd been in and out of the office, and was so burned out that his parents let him drop out of school. A local equipment company picked him up and had him sweeping floors, etc. He'd stop by some men working on a dozer or hi-lift, and say, "that pin's too small - try this one" or something similar. The boss asked his parents about trying to give him more responsibilities. He is now a supervisor at this same equipment repair shop, many years later, and is doing a wonderful job. When I think of how hard he tried, but could not learn and/or remember science or history, totally could not ace a standardized test, and how much of a failure HE felt, it makes me so angry. I know the situation is not the same, but it's an example that stays close to my heart, and I just felt like venting! I'm so glad that your kids have such wonderful parents! God bless you both for being so patient, and knowledgeable about their educational issues. Hugs!!!

mcaldera said...

Dear Susan,

I am new to the world of autism. My son is a few signatures away from being labeled Asperger's, and I have finally gotten to the point where I can see it, and accept it. He is getting some wonderful support locally, and will be entering kinder in the fall. I am currently going through all of your previous blog entries, getting caught up on your journey. Thanks for writing and sharing with us, it is so helpful!

Susan Raihala said...

Patti, thanks for your rant. It always helps to know that others see the stupidity and damaging effect of curriculum issues, too. If only we could DO something about them!

mcaldera, big, big hugs. I hope all is going smoothly getting your son set up for treatment.

Karen said...

Susan ... I can't believe I was that tired I didn't realise you had this blog as well as your simplicity one, doh!! Anyway I am a crafter and a parent to Ben who is profoundly Autistic. He goes to a Specialist provision in the UK after the County shut the Infant and junior part of his special school which was for severe learning difficulties. 5 weeks of him sick with shingles and stress from moving school he is now over a year later started to accept the change but now even though he should be moving classes into the junior they have decided he needs to stay in infants (he is 8 in Oct) with the little ones. Needless to say ben doesn't have and grades but I shall look forward to keeping in touch with your blog now I realised it exists, Doh again!!.
Thanks, Karen xx

Chris Simon said...

My older daughter - going into 8th grade this year - was finally diagnosed with Aspergers and dyslexia this spring after years of being unsuccessfully pounded into the ADHD box. Every single time she has taken standardized tests, the teachers tell me ahead of time that they're worried about her. When I ask them why, their answer is always, "we're afraid she'll either get a zero or a hundred." And I say, "Precisely. Please don't bump her chair during the test!" She's aced them all so far. But her grades are another story. Homework is a mighty struggle. We often spend five or six hours a night on work that could have easily been completed in class by a neurotypical child. This will be our first year with any kind of real accomodations. We have an IEP to start the year off with, to be revised as soon as we get some idea of what's working. The old ADHD diagnosis was completely worthless to us - the school district would not help us at all, so we're going to be playing catch up to some extent this year. Hoping for a much easier time than we've had in the past.

Donelda said...

Hi Susan, I've been browsing and reading some of your entries. You mention the DSM-IV. Have you had any US information regarding Autism and the spectrum being part of the new DSM-V (whenever it is due to come out)?? and what that might look like??