Imagine a standardized test created for kids that can’t talk or use their hands to point. Now imagine my non-verbal son – who cannot use his hands to point/choose – being assessed by such a test. A page of 4 picture choices. ‘Which one is the boy?’ He looks at the boy on the page immediately and then back to the school psychologist. She didn’t see him look at the boy. So she goes through each photo and asks ‘is this the boy?’ It’s a dog with a green blanket. Then a chair. Then the boy. Then a bike. Sebastian likes bikes and dogs so he smiles at those choices. According to him, he’s already identified the boy. He’s done with this page but she presses on.
Proving your worth/knowledge when you can’t communicate like everyone else is not only a challenge but incredibly unfair. The next page has 4 more pictures and while he’s still scanning each one she asks him ‘which one is the farm?’ Again he looks at the correct picture and she only sees now because she’s watching him like I ask her to; while I’m holding the incredible awkward book file with more pages like this and outdated instructions. I’m holding it at his level so he can see it. She realizes that perhaps she should have someone helping her so she can watch his reactions rather than focus on holding the book. I’m wondering why she hasn’t realized this before now. By the 4th page he wants to have his lunch. Me too.
I’m wondering several more things. ONE: why contact me NOW, only two weeks before your report is due to ask for help? To show me that he can’t do your testing the way you want him to? To demonstrate why you are going to write in his report that he is not able to be properly assessed at this time; though we both know this report will follow him through the education system forever. TWO: Why hasn’t a test been created for a boy like my son? Why do you have an outdated book, with a binding that forces you to flip each page over each time, cumbersome and distracting. Why don’t you have a program on the computer that my son can access independently with a switch or partner assisted, like he communicates. Why isn’t there a program on the computer that can be accessed by eye gaze? THREE: How can a standardized test created for kids that are verbal and have some fine motor function, be used for a child without either physical capabilities? How can you believe that you will get a clear understanding of my son’s cognitive abilities by using a standardized test created for children using entirely different standards to my son? FOUR: Why are you asking my son his colours? And what a boy is? Why do you assume that you have to start at the bottom? Why can’t there ever be an understanding that there is a base knowledge? Or that your questions are boring because they are too easy? Or that maybe you’re not giving enough processing time/scanning time for some of the more complicated questions.
I’m thinking of the scene in St. Vincent, you know, that recent film with Bill Murray? When he’s recovering from the stroke in the hospital and they are holding up basic cards to help him regain his speech while testing his knowledge. When she (Melissa McCarthey) shows him the tree and he says money (because she owes him money for the tree). I understand that you have to test basic knowledge. But honestly, I’m tired of professionals not believing in my son. Not knowing that he has a base knowledge of his colours and the gender of his friends. I’m tired of professionals not communicating with my son. And I’m angry. I’m angry with the system. I’m angry about the standardized tests.
I’m also anxious. I’m anxious because a group of individuals whom have never met my son will sit down with a pile of reports. In that pile with be the report from the school psychologist. This group will recommend a school placement for Sebastian based on what is written in these reports. Having never met my son, they will decide his future education needs with the input from the professionals that work with him on a daily and weekly basis. Plus that report from the school psychologist that says she can’t get anything from my son to show his cognitive awareness, knowledge, or functioning. Will she write that it’s because the test isn’t ACCESSIBLE to him? Will she let them know that she doesn’t know how to ACCESS him based on his physical needs and abilities? Will she let them know about her own inadequacy in understanding how to communicate with my son? I’m doubtful.
As a former educator myself, I fundamentally and philosophically do not believe that standardized tests tell us much of anything at all. And I certainly don’t want the future of my son’s education to be based on the results, or lack thereof, of one.
Next week we have our ‘Transition’ meeting with Sebastian’s school team. They will provide us with a pile of assessments to pass on to the principal of our community school, which is across the street from where we live. That school does not have a program suitable for Sebastian’s physical and medical needs. Nor are they willing to accommodate those needs because they don’t have to! That principal will call together a group for a SEPRC meeting. The group will look over the information and recommendations from the team currently working with Sebastian and they will then present their recommendation to us. We can agree with their recommendation or ask for another meeting. What do I want for Sebastian? I want Sebastian to be included in an environment where he is wanted and his learning/physical/medical needs can be met and supported. I believe in inclusion but I also understand that teachers need tools and training to accommodate his needs. I hope for a program within a community school that can accommodate his needs while also being included with typical and non-typical peers.