Thursday, May 24, 2012

My heart is breaking......

My heart is breaking for my students.  We received our FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test) scores back today.  In my self-contained class of thirteen third grade students with special needs, one student participated in the alternate assessment, two students passed the FCAT (yay!) and the other ten failed the FCAT reading portion. 

My heart is breaking for them because they have worked so hard this year.  My assistants and I spent the entire year talking to them about their:
  • gains in our SuccessMaker Computer Lab
  • successes in being able to take AR tests independently
  • sight words they knew at the beginning of the year versus the number of sight words they know now
  • gains in their oral reading fluency probes and how many words correct per minute they can read
  • reading selection tests and how they have improved
  • robust vocabulary grades and how they have improved 
  • ability to read by themselves for twenty minutes without any help
I have all of this data that shows their growth and their progress towards IEP goals, but none of it is reflected or documented on FCAT.   In my heart I know it matters.  I know that data is important and it keeps my students and me going.  It gives us the proof that they are learning and moving forward.  But as it relates to FCAT, it feels as if it doesn't matter.

Tomorrow I have to sit down with ten students and tell them they failed. Six of those ten students now face a mandatory retention in third grade.  (Of course I won't use the word failed, keep reading to see how I plan to explain this to the kids.)  The other four who don't face mandatory retention had already been retained once and have intensive instruction in reading, so they meet the eligibility criteria to waive the mandatory retention and can move on to fourth grade.

This is such a frustration for me!  All of my students have been through a comprehensive, individualized series of standardized assessments to show their academic levels and their processing strengths and challenges.  Many of the students in my self-contained class are significantly below grade level norms.  If they were not, they would probably not need my setting.  Since I have a whole year of classroom data and a whole stack of individualized, standardized  assessments that document their current levels of performance, why do we continue to force them to take grade level standardized tests?

I do not have a problem with FCAT.  I think it gathers an important piece of information for us.  And to be perfectly honest, if I had a choice, I would have recommended six of my students take the FCAT because these students were systematically moving through and showing success on below level third grade materials.  I thought they deserved a shot at it (and of those six, two passed and the other four who failed, actually came pretty close to the cut score for passing.  They might be able to pass the Stanford 10 when they get a chance at that next week.)

However, I do have a problem repetitively administering a test that continues to document failure rather than success.  I had six other students who just do not yet have the skills to pass a third grade level skills test.  I don't have the answer to this problem.  If we never give them the opportunity to test in the actual testing situation, we seem to be tracking them for a special diploma. 

How would they be able to pass the high school test if they never experience it in elementary or middle school?  But, if all of a student's experiences with a test result in failure, how confident will s/he be going into the high school test?  What are those failing experiences teaching?  Are they really preparing a student to pass?

It just seems to me that we should be able to match the standardized testing environment, format and language to a test that is based on the skills a child was actually able to systematically learn and master throughout the year. 

By this I mean, I wish my third graders who are reading at a mid-first grade reading level could take a standardized test that is off-level normed.  I wish they could be assessed on the first grade reading skills.  Over time, this would actually show their growth, rather than continue to show that they have failed a grade level test.  I know, it's a big wish.

So now I'm gearing up for tomorrow.  It's our Reading Celebration Day at school (how ironic!) and at one point during the day, I need to have individual conferences with all of my students to discuss their FCAT results. 

My plan is to show them their developmental score and explain this to them. 
  • I'll remind them that tests give teachers more information about what we need to teach.  
  • I'll remind them that this was their first time taking FCAT and now next year we will really be able to see how their developmental score improves.  Just like we saw how their SM score improved throughout the year and their mastered sight words improved throughout the year.  
  • I'll remind them how proud I am of their hard work and all of the goals they have mastered this year.  
  • I'll remind them that they are readers!  
But, my heart will be breaking just a little bit with each student conference.........

photo courtesy of MicroSoft Clip Art


kjohnson4 said...

I can feel your heart breaking all the way up here in Northern WI. My thoughts will be with you tomorrow while you tell your students this tough news! Hope they still have a little enthusiasm left for your Reading Celebration Day!

We are ALL Special!

Ruth Morgan said...

Hopefully someday very soon, the pendulum will swing away from this rigid end-of-grade testing model. In the meantime, breathe in and remember that you and your kids will persevere in spite of it all.

Anonymous said...

I'm reading this Friday night, so I suppose you have already had to share the news with your students. I teach high school special education in Louisiana, and we experience this inhumane humiliation of our students as well. It seems that someone could create a standardized assessment that actually tests what these students have worked on all year. If we could do grade level work, then we wouldn't be in a sped self-contained environment. Even the alternate assessment given to my 11th graders, is horribly unfair. When a student functions 6 grade levels below, he should not be faced with this frustration. I understand how you feel. At my school, the scores are sent straight to parents and never shown to the student. We just brag and tell them they did well, but they cry throughout the test knowing how impossible it seems to them.

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Michelle_special_ed_teacher said...

@kjohnson4, Ruth Morgan and anonymous,
Thanks for your comments! I agree with you and Ruth, yes, I do hope we swing away from high stakes testing. I remember as a kid taking standardized tests, but I don't remember any of my friends or me being stressed about it. I wish we could just treat it as they are intended to be treated: 1 piece of information to help us make educational decisions. Not the piece of information that is the determining factor so we essentially CAN'T make a decision, it's made for us.

kmachi said...

I just found your blog. I teach in Ohio and I totally understand your frustration. We do NOT have self contained classrooms at all in our district and I work with all the kids, IQ's range from 51 to average. We have a state test that our kids only take once, unless they are in 3rd grade. I had 17 kids this year, 5 on our states alternate assessment. I have had kiddos cry during testing, and ask later if they will really have to stay in 3rd grade. I pray for the day that the states realize that they preach differentiation and individualization for ALL kids, but not when it comes to the test.

Anonymous said...

After reading your reflection, my heart is broken for your and your students. I stopped teaching and started a company to help students learn ALL OF THE TIME. Well, at least until they fall asleep. It was this deep emotion that led me to believe that we were missing a way of teaching children. As teachers, we teach, we push, we pull, and squeeze in all that we can. But we can't go home with them, and we can't sift anymore into the day as it seems. I started a t-shirt company with the hope of stealing one moment of practice that may have been used for something else (looking at the ceiling, doodling). I hope you can use the principle ideas in your classroom and maybe share with other teachers.

Dr. Frederick B. Covington said...

Perhaps Dr. Seuss would say,

"As children grow, abilities show.
And they began to prosper.
But if they pause, it’s a concern for all.
So assistance we must foster."

As a child grows so do their abilities to perform and achieve age appropriate tasks. These age appropriate tasks/abilities are known as developmental milestones. But what happens when these developmental milestones are not met or missed, and a child can not accurately perform age appropriate tasks? Knowing which specific areas that any developmental delays exist is the key to correcting any problems. Identifying these areas is the sole purpose of iOT Screener.

iOT Screener is a FREE multiplatform app developed by Dr. Frederick B. Covington, OTD, to assure and assist in the proper development, well-being, and intervention (if needed) for children. The app does this by allowing a user to input general information about the child and themselves and answer a series of simple Yes/No questions. For children under the age of five, the app’s questions pertain to developmental milestones and progress typical to the child’s age. For children over the age of five/school aged the app looks at maladaptive traits or behaviors that may affect academic performance or everyday tasks.

When the questions are completed, the user is presented with an analysis. For children ages under 5, the app reveals what percentages of developmental milestones are currently being met. For the children over five/school aged, it reveals the percentage of maladaptive traits observed. The ratings are categorized as;

No Concern: Functioning Within Normal Limits
Minimal Concern
Moderate Concern
Maximal Concern

Having this knowledge not only informs a caregiver but allows for any needed intervention. Any individual that proceeds through life without successfully achieving developmental milestones is a recipe for academic failure and scholastic latency. We must begin to look at children the same way an architect looks at building a home. If the architect has a million dollars to build a home, he would not spend a mere $1000 to lay the foundation. If so, everything that is built on top of that faulty foundation is bound to fall. Using iOT Screener allows for that steady foundation to be laid. This allows parents, educators, therapists, and any caregiver to later build upon that solid foundation and have assurance that progress can and will continue.

For more information visit: or contact Dr. Covington at