"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never will be...nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe." – Thomas Jefferson

Friday, March 20, 2009

Early Entrance to Kindergarten

On September 18, 2008, in discussion with our administration, we asked what the procedure was for granting waivers for students to enter kindergarten if their birthdays were after the cutoff date. The administration responded that the state cutoff date was September 1 and that our school system does not give waivers. I was pretty sure this was not true since we had a student in our school who was given a waiver.

After the meeting I looked it up. The cutoff date for the State of Indiana is August 1, and we did have a student who had been granted a waiver for early entrance (signed, by the way, by the administrator who told us that "we do not give waivers").

The following week I sent the administration a copy of the waiver for the student at our school. There was no reason given for his early admission other than the comments by the child's mother on his waiver application. Among the reasons given was, "He know his ABC."

On February 19, 2009, having heard nothing in response to our proof that early entrance waivers were, indeed, granted by our school system, we brought it up in Discussion once more. This time we were told that it was not a problem at all schools in the system. It was a unique situation.

Data gathered during February and March 2009 from our elementary schools (9 of which have kindergarten classes) showed that a total of 18 students across the district were given early entrance waivers for the 2008-2009 school year.

Kindergarten registration for next year is over. Currently there are a total of 13 waivers for early entrance for the 2009-2010 school year in three of the 9 schools. There are likely more...we have not heard back from all the schools with kindergartens.

This is hardly a situation unique to one elementary school.

March 19, 2009, the above information was presented to the administration during the March Discussion meeting. The following information was also presented.

Research on early entrance to kindergarten is mixed, but according to the Davidson Institute for Talent Development,
"...at least through elementary school, those children whose birthdays are later in the school year tend to fall short in all indices [grades, achievement test scores, referrals to psychologists and grade retentions]...

"One can conclude that early admission is almost certainly not a bad idea and may even be helpful when selection is careful and admissions criteria relatively stringent (emphasis added)..."
From the National Association of School Psychologists:
"Research on early entrance to kindergarten has shown that [it can be successful], when the early entrants, whether boys or girls, have superior intelligence..."
School systems around the country have stringent requirements for early entrance to kindergarten. The procedures from a neighboring school system were presented. They are:

1. All parents requesting an early entrance waiver for their child must complete two forms with information about their child.
2. Preschool information, if available, is requested.
3. An individual assessment is done with each child which includes literacy and math skills.
4. A group assessment in the form of a "mock kindergarten" is held where adults can observe the children in a classroom setting.

We also reminded the administration that students who are placed in kindergarten before they are ready would likely need interventions, be involved in psychological testing, and be candidates for retention in grade. All these options cost the district money.

It does the child no favor to put him/her in a situation which is developmentally inappropriate.

We're not asking that early entrances to kindergarten be eliminated, rather that the district provide some means of assessing the readiness for kindergarten of children whose parents request early entrance.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Seattle special-ed teachers suspended for refusal to give test

Cheers to a couple of Special Education teachers who stand up for what's right.

~~~

The Seattle Times. March 6, 2009

The Seattle School District suspends two special-education teachers at Green Lake Elementary for 10 days without pay for refusing to give their students the WAAS (the WASL alternative for special-needs students). The teachers say they're honoring parent wishes and that the test is inappropriate for their students, who have severe physical and cognitive disabilities.

Seattle Times staff reporter

The Seattle School District has suspended two special-education teachers for refusing to give required assessment tests to six students at Green Lake Elementary, despite orders from the principal to do so.

Lenora Stahl and Juli Griffith each were suspended for 10 days without pay for not following through with training and reports required for the Washington Alternative Assessment System (WAAS), a version of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning intended for students with special needs.

"I understand that you are taking this position as a matter of principle," says a March 2 letter to the teachers from Seattle Schools Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson. But because giving the test is a state requirement, "you as a member of our staff have a responsibility to do so."

The suspension runs through March 16.

The teachers say they merely followed the wishes of the parents, who exercised their rights — verbally at first, then in writing — to have their children "opt out" of the exam.

"They're sticking up for my kid and what I want for my child," parent Rachel McKean said. "They know what he can and can't do. They're not just going out on a limb."

Goodloe-Johnson's letter said the teachers didn't tell the district of the parents' involvement until disciplinary hearings had begun.

"With any students, but particularly those with special needs, and especially in instances when we have a federal and a state mandate to follow, documentation is essential," Seattle Schools spokeswoman Patti Spencer said.

Stahl and Griffith are teaching partners at Green Lake, with a class of 11 special-education students. Many are far below their various classifications as kindergarten through fifth-grade level. Some are prone to seizures or have respiratory issues.

McKean's son Jackson, 10, has hydrocephalus and uses a wheelchair. In four-plus years at Green Lake, he has learned to feed himself, hang up his jacket and not to scream when he hears loud noises. "My kid is basically the equivalent of a toddler," McKean said. "You wouldn't ask a toddler these questions when they can't do it. ... You wouldn't give a kid a test that is years beyond what they can do."

According to Nate Olson of the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the WAAS can be tailored to students' individual needs, but parents and teachers dispute that. Because the test is grade-level-based, they say, it's inappropriate for students with severe cognitive disabilities.

"It's really not a one-size-fits-all for kids," Stahl said. "It doesn't mean we don't have high expectations; we do. They're just not there yet."

She and Griffith first raised concerns about the test last fall, Stahl said, after parents told them they didn't want their children taking the exam. The two teachers wrote the district asking to work together to create a more appropriate test for their children, but received no response, she said.

Many of the children had taken the test the previous year, Stahl noted, and all received zeros. "They're automatically being set up for failure," she said.

When McKean's son was given the exam last year, she said, he just sat there. "He doesn't read or write," McKean said. "... He's just learning how to draw straight lines. But doing a two-plus-two math problem, he doesn't really understand."

When Principal Cheryl Grinager directed the teachers to complete the required exam preparation, they refused — again, Stahl said, in deference to parental wishes.

She said the "opt-out" process never was explained to them fully, so they didn't know until January, when they were called to a disciplinary hearing, that written parental requests were required. By mid-February, the teachers had collected written letters from the parents, but the disciplinary process continued. The two are appealing the suspension.

While the appeal may restore their lost pay, Stahl said, "we can't get back the time we lose in the classroom. The bottom line is, they're punishing the students."

Marc Ramirez: 206-464-8102 or mramirez@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Waste...

For the last three days I have been administering the Indiana state standardized tests or ISTEP+ to students with learning disabilities. These tests are not valid for these students because they do not measure what they claim to measure.

The test maker, McGraw Hill, claims that the test shows what students have learned and provides diagnostic information for remediation.

However, for these students the tests in their disability area are so difficult that they have 1) no hope of passing, 2) little chance of doing well enough to get a score that would provide anything more than a generalized list of their weak areas.

Students with learning disabilities are enrolled in special education because they are not able to perform at "grade level" in their area of disability. The purpose of special education is to provide extra support for the students so that they will be able to learn as much as they are capable of.

Simply put, the standardized tests that we are giving is not appropriate for all students. There is no one-size-fits-all curriculum or test.

Now, when we're not testing it's my job to help students who, while not identified as learning disabled, have difficulty in their classrooms. I help them with reading and writing...sometimes with math. Some of the students I work with are eventually identified as learning disabled and an IEP is written. Others improve with a lot of hard work on their part and on the part of their parents and teachers.

So, the bottom line is this...

I have 33 years of teaching experience, a master's degree in elementary education, a reading endorsement (specialization), and a Reading Recovery certification.

I'm not working with students who need my help because I am busy administering an inappropriate test to other students.

Something is very wrong with this picture.

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