By Mike Linn: CNJ news editor
School officials believe modified testing of special education students will better measure student knowledge and increase a school’s chances of meeting state education standards.
Most special education students have average intelligence, and are smart enough to pass standardized tests for their grade levels, just as long as the tests are designed to meet their needs, officials say.
“Ninety-nine percent of the six million students nationwide who are in special education do not have cognitive learning disabilities that prevent them from learning,” said Jude McCartin, communications director for U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-New Mexico. “They may learn differently, but they have the same capacity for learning as their peers.”
The problem nationwide and in Clovis, McCartin said, is that the tests they take are a poor measurement of their knowledge.
“What we need to do is develop a test that is equally rigorous but addresses the learning disability needs of students,” she said.
In the Clovis school district, six schools failed to meet state requirements (adequate yearly progress) for the 2003-2004 school year, according to a recent amended report from the New Mexico Public Education Department.
Of those six schools, special education students at Marshall, Gattis and Yucca junior high schools and Clovis High School failed to meet state requirements.
Bingaman is supporting a bill that if passed would provide $50 million in additional funding for schools to improve the quality and scope of student testing, especially for students with special needs and limited English skills.
“I would endorse that whole-heartedly,” said Ladona Clayton, assistant superintendent for instruction. “Many of our special education students don’t take the pencil/paper test well.”
Clayton said she’d like to see more performance-based testing for special education students, where they can demonstrate learning by oral discussion or building something.
Most special education students take the same tests as their peers, even though they are taught differently.
“Most students with learning disabilities have average intelligence, they have a processing problem that needs to be addressed … (but) they ought to take the test” for their grade levels, said Don Watson, assistant secretary for assessment and accountability division of the New Mexico Public Education Department.
Students who severely mentally challenged can take an alternate test, Watson said. There is however a small group of students who are mildly or mentally disabled that must take the same test as their peers with accommodations, something Watson says is flawed.
“They didn’t think it through when they were writing the act,” Watson said. “There’s been a lot of criticism from across the country trying to get the federal government to find a different way of testing those kids, and so far there hasn’t been much work in changing that.”