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Tailoring Tests to Individual Needs

Why we need to tailor tests to the individual needs of students, particularly those with cognitive disabilities, and to measure individual student progress over time.

"ESEA needs to be changed to meet the needs of my students! My high school students are functioning at the first- and second-grade reading levels and cannot take the at-grade-level standards tests. They are only able to write five- to seven-word sentences (and that is on a good day). Instead, I must give them tests for their reading levels at the ninth- to twelfth-grade level (to match their peers).

"School should be more than just teaching to standards."

Mary Ann Niemoth
Special Education High School Teacher
Hastings Public Schools
Hastings, Nebraska


"As a teacher of children with special needs, I am desperately aware that the students I teach will never attain adequate yearly progress, according to the standards as they are now written. No law can change the ability level of these precious students. Most of them, however, will be able to enter society and perform tasks that will provide-if not a living wage-at least a level of proficiency that will allow them to feel pride in a job well done. 

"ESEA in its current form does not allow for the exceptional child (beyond one percent of the population). Please contact the teachers in your area, and ask them how to correct the unreasonable requirements of ESEA-before it is reauthorized!"

Connie S. Myers
Middle School Teacher
Shelby County
Ashville, AL


"Our children are already being left behind. We teach the most severely disabled students in our county, and yet we have to teach at least 10 objectives in math and reading after we have reviewed the state standards and curriculum's. Appropriate education is not one of the objectives. Our students need to learn the most basic functional life skills, but we have to spend most of our time putting together and creating a test based on math and reading (soon to be science and social studies).

"It has broken the spirit of many of the teachers in our school and many schools in our county. We are told to start September 1.

"One teacher asked if she could transfer to another class that does not have alternative Maryland assessment (alt-msa), so she can go to graduate school (so she can be deemed to be highly qualified). She cannot do both. "We have visited the state's department of ed to share our stories, to no avail. I have presented information to our MSTA board of directors, including the state director of special education, who had been asked to attend. But we have not made any major changes.

"It is very difficult to teach math and reading skills to students who are so disabled that toileting, feeding, and language development are more important in their daily life. Our stories would make any teacher want to leave our profession. And many are.

"I spoke to our negotiating team and, due to my presentation, we were to include a half day of planning for each student that a teacher has to provide alt-msa. The story goes on and on. We are not giving up yet. We are planning to visit the state education department during one of their open meetings in September. We will not be quiet. We need help. Please listen to our stories.

"We do want accountability and appropriate education for our students, but NCLB has been a disaster to our schools, especially for the special education students in our system. So many of our school programs have been canceled, professional development has been canceled, all due to the amount of time and work needed just to create the alt-msa testing. Please help us. Where is the common sense?

"I could go on about the amount of money spent on materials, substitutes, and copying, money that could have been spent more wisely on good education. I do not have enough time to tell all the stories."

Carol Petrosky
Special Education Teacher
Anne Arundel County
Severn, Maryland


"I am a special education teacher who teaches the severely emotionally challenged. Due to their disabilities, many students have a very difficult time with standardized tests and will either just give up or become extremely agitated when they encounter a question they do not know. One of my students two years ago encountered one of these questions and tore his test up into very small pieces.

"With the implementation of NCLB, however, his scores had to be counted and without an alternative measure of achievement, his ability to learn will not be correctly measured."

Steven Horner
Middle School Teacher
Clark County
Las Vegas, Nevada


"I am writing to you today as the parent of a special education student. My son, now 12, has endured years of humiliating tests and test results. He already knows that he does not perform at his classmates' level, yet to be repeatedly tested throughout the year to assess his progress towards success on grade-level tests-even though he is not performing at grade level-is demoralizing for his teachers, his parents but, most importantly, for him.

"We are always doing damage control after these tests are administered and the results are returned. This madness must end and we need realistic methods, objectives, and goals for our students."

Lynn Warne
Elementary School Teacher
Washoe County
Sparks, Nevada


"NCLB has had a negative effect on my students, rather than improving their education. I work with the most difficult students in the district, those with severe emotional and behavior problems. These students have serious problems with which to contend, without the poorly thought-out demands placed on schools by NCLB.

"A prime example would be Quatavius, a fourth-grade African-American boy who comes from a low-income home. His father had been in prison for several years and was slated to be released this year, but he recently passed away while still incarcerated. His [Quatavius's] grandfather died one week later from a heart attack.

"Quatavius has been in special education for most of his school career. He has difficulty in most academic areas but still is eager to learn. What I should be doing for this child, in addition to assisting him in receiving couseling, is providing him with a high-interest curriculum with multi-sensory approaches to help further his progress. I do as much of this as possible.

"In the past year, we ran a class business as a part of our study of economics, we grew a vegetable garden as a part of our science unit on plants, and we set up our own classroom planetarium as a part of our study of the solar system. These units included activities from all of the curriculum areas and were highly motivating to my students. Unfortunately, with the emphasis on high-stakes testing for student promotion and school grades in the state of Florida, I have had to divert a great deal of time to test preparation.

"The anxiety created in already emotionally fragile students is incredible. Quatavius will frequently shut down and will refuse to try, rather than risk failure. This just exacerbates his current situation. While he and other students in my classroom have shown more than a year's growth in a year's time, they still do not meet the criteria set by NCLB. This leaves me feeling discouraged and disillusioned about my role in the education of these very needy children.

"Florida has established stringent guidelines for measuring success and promotion. While my students and my school have shown progress and have received good grades from the state, we are still listed as failing to meet AYP.

"I think the federal guidelines were created by uninformed individuals who lack the perspective to develop realistic, practical goals for schools. I also believe that education is the responsibility of the states and that we should not have to deal with additional and often conflicting demands placed upon teachers and schools by the federal government. Learning should be interesting and fun and teaching a joy. NCLB has taken this from education. Lawmakers should look at the unintended consequences of their actions and let those of us on the frontlines have a voice in deciding what we need for our students, rather than having our hands tied."

Barbara Miller
Techer of Exceptional Students
Hillsborough County
Riverview, Florida