Wednesday, July 11, 2012

On Test Scores and Attempts at Intervention

I received a letter from our school district's Executive Director of Instruction. Here's the opening paragraph.

"Your third grade student was given the Ohio Achievement Assessment for Reading last October and April. With both administrations your child's Reading score was below the 'proficient' level identified by the Ohio Department of Education for both test administrations. Therefore your student is being invited to participate in a week-long reading intervention class that will target your child's areas of most weakness and address those in a focused manner."

Hmmm. "With both administrations...for both test administrations"?  Redundant redundancy.

My child's "areas of most weakness"? Most awkward.

"[A]ddress those in a focused manner"? Oh, good. I would hate for them to waste his time in an unfocused manner.

Methinks Madam Executive Director could use a little English 101 tutoring.

While I feel a tad mean-spirited calling her out for "below the 'proficient' level" composition skills, I'm not sure how I feel about Jack's being invited to participate in reading intervention.

Not sure at all.

Here's why.

1. Jack's OAA reading scores are essentially meaningless. Children with autism often score well below their ability simply because tests are boring and pointless, and the OAA focuses on an extremely artificial curriculum mandated by bureaucrats in the state of Ohio. The reading scores, in particular, are far below Jack's actual ability.

Allow me to give an example. Jack scored low in vocabulary acquisition. Third graders in our district do word-of-the-day worksheets and are tested once a week on this vocabulary. The first month of school, I helped him study for these tests, but I very quickly realized this was an utter waste of our time. The artificiality of the vocabulary meant little to Jack, and he couldn't retain the few words he got right on the tests even a week later. For instance, the word drought didn't stick. We did a worksheet together and I asked Jack to use it in a sentence, but he replied, "Uh. Mommy. Maybe later. I'm bored." I made him do it, but he still missed it on the test.

Jack actually does a lovely job acquiring new vocabulary in more natural ways.Yesterday, we were outside, and I pointed out the cracks in the dirt and crackling dryness of our grass. I told him we were in a drought, and that meant we weren't getting enough rain to keep the grass alive. He replied, "Wow. The drought makes all the plants thirsty and dries up the mud in the river." He used the word so easily and with the delight of a child learning something powerful and new. I'll make a point of repeating the word a few times this week and invite him to use it. Then he'll have it down.

Worksheets only teach--really teach--children who are enthusiastic pleasers. I loved worksheets in school. For that matter, I loved standardized tests. Jack, however, can't understand why a teacher or his mom would be pleased if he did well on a worksheet. Worksheets are, to him, boring. So are tests with bubble forms. What is the point?

If a child isn't doing his or her best work on a test, how meaningful are the test scores?

Not very.

2. Jack's scores in October and April were low (as they have always been). I question whether one week, 12.5 hours, of instruction will have a significant impact on Jack's reading level--either as tested by the OAA or in real life. The letter states that the intervention will target Jack's "areas of most weakness," and such individualized intervention is certainly preferable to a one-size-fits-all program. Our district has some very talented reading specialists although I don't yet know who will be teaching this class.

But how will that targeted program carry over into the regular school year? Will his special education teacher get a report of Jack's ability and disability as assessed by the reading specialist? Will his teacher then act on that report in meaningful ways? Will these meaningful ways focus solely on raising test scores or will they encourage and foster life-time reading?

You might guess which sort of focus I would prefer.

3. Jack likes to read books of his own choosing. He happily spends hours reading his books, most of which are below his actual reading level for school. But he enjoys them. He begs me to buy them. He saves his allowance to buy them himself. He is also able to read signs, menus (even when he won't eat off of them), road signs, and packaging labels. He remembers reading things several years ago...things most people would forget. He activates closed captioning on movies he watches and studies the words.

Sadly, there are no 4th-grade chapter books on Thomas the Tank Engine, although we do have A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh books on schedule for reading this summer. As Jack's interests mature, so will his reading. I am not worried at all about the long-term prospects for Jack's reading ability.

With nurturing and encouragement and natural development, he'll read just fine, with or without 12.5 hours of intervention.

4. Jack's math scores on the OAA were even lower than his reading scores. A jump-start to his math learning for fourth grade would be helpful because, unlike the reading scores, his math scores actually do reflect a serious disability. Why is there no math intervention program?


Of course, I enrolled Jack in the reading intervention class. If the reading specialist is good, the 12.5 hours of additional instruction certainly can't hurt him and may help jump-start his school year in a very positive way. He is happy in the school building and enjoys the school routine.

But I will ask lots of questions. And I will be in the school building every week this coming year. Last year, I didn't volunteer much and felt out of the loop. In April, I realized that Jack's reading wasn't progressing as much as I hoped largely because his teachers focused too much on oral fluency. They also weren't pushing him as hard as they could have.

Perhaps my being in the building wouldn't have changed what the teachers did last year, but it would have given me a chance to advocate sooner on his behalf. I'll be there this year.

Because one way or another, Jack will be a life-time reader. Of that, I am certain.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Performance Miracle

I hope you can read this. Click on the picture to bring up a larger version.

Found this posted on FB and have not been able to verify it, but how completely cool that a performance might elicit this sort of response from a locked-in child? If this is true, I'll bet his parents are wigging out trying to leverage this into some sort of therapy!