Saturday, June 27, 2015

USED Sticks It To NY Disabled Students

The United States Department of Education ordered New York to keep making life miserable for students with special needs.

The state had asked for freedom to test some students based on their developmental level rather than their chronological age. They had also asked to give new English speakers two years before giving them the 3-8 grade tests, rather than the current one.

Arne Duncan's department said no on both counts.

U.S. Assistant Education Secretary Deborah Delisle said the requirements are "necessary to ensure that teachers and parents of all students, including (English learners) and students with disabilities, have information on their students' proficiency and progress in reading/language arts and mathematics" and "to ensure that schools are held accountable for the academic achievement of all students."

The first reason is raw, unsliced baloney. First, as always, the department assumes that teachers and parents are dopes who have no idea how the student is doing until the student takes the magical test. Second, exactly how much information can really be gleaned by a test that a student cannot pass, either because it is far beyond the students intellectual capabilities or because it is in a language that a student has been using for less than a year?

The second reason is, at least, more honest. Duncan's has long expressed the belief that special needs designations are used to warehouse undesirable, difficult or underserved students, rendering them effectively invisible and allowing the schools to give up on them. Very well. Those of us who support public education need to not pretend that such things don't ever happen. But I don't believe that it happens nearly as much as the feds seem to fear, and I especially don't believe that the solution is to drag every single student with a challenge out into the center of town to be forced to fail visibly and completely.

There is nothing to be gained by forcing students to associate education with failure, to turn school into that place where they go to hear about how much they suck. It helps nobody.

Oh, I know. The most bizarrely stupid idea to become lodged in this department of education is the notion that students with special needs only do more poorly because teachers expect them to-- if teachers just expected harder, all students would do great. When it comes to English Language Learners, presumably the department is staffed with the same people who believe that when speaking to people who don't speak English, you can close the gap by speaking English at them louder, slower and harder.

So congratulations, New York, on being reminded that the feds have mandated failure for some of your most vulnerable students, and your teachers must continue to ignore their professional wisdom and personal empathy and instead continue throwing students with challenges under the bus.

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