Standardized Testing and Special Needs

standardized test We are now in the portion of the school year when students across the country will be expected to take standardized tests. The scores they receive on those tests will be used to determine everything from which schools get funding to which teachers will lose their jobs. In some states, kids who are in special education are allowed to have more time to take those tests. Is this really a good idea?

I have yet to meet a student or an educator that looks forward to the weeks when their school will be doing standardized testing. The results of these tests hold a great deal of power over the fate of the school and the teachers, and therefore, the students who attend the school.

The scores are used to determine which schools are good, and which are failing. Funding decisions will be based on the result of the test scores. In some cases, a teacher can lose her job if her students do not score high enough on a standardized test. Ultimately, this places a lot of pressure on students to preform very well on these tests.

Students who are in a special education program will have an IEP. The IEP might include specific details about appropriate academic accommodations for that student. For example, perhaps an individual student is allowed to do half of the math problems that the rest of the class is assigned for homework. The student might be allowed to take a break by leaving the classroom for a few minutes of time every fifteen minutes or so. It all depends on what is best for the child.

Standardized testing doesn’t typically allow for these types of accommodations. In some states, standardized tests are the only thing that requires all students to be given the test in the exact same way, regardless of what is best for the student. In other states, students with certain types of special needs are allowed to have a longer amount of time in which to complete the standardized tests than the students who are not in a special education program will be given.

The primary purpose of giving students who have special needs more time is an effort to level the playing field. I guess the extra time is to accommodate for whatever special needs the student has. In reality, this does little more than stretch out the amount of time that a student is sitting in a classroom, carefully filling out bubbles with a number 2 pencil.

In my experience, both as a student and as a teacher, standardized testing is painful. It is monotonous and boring. It does not allow for teacher and student interaction beyond the directions that a teacher is required to read out loud before the test begins. It is also stressful to spend so many hours, for days, taking or giving these tests. Imagine how it would feel for your child to be given an additional amount of time to spend focused on doing a standardized test.

There is a group called Change The Stakes that is very much against standardized testing. They have excellent information regarding how go about having your child opt-out of these tests, and plenty of examples of why standardized testing is not the best thing for students, (with or without special needs).

Image by Alberto G. on Flickr