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October 8, 2012
To whom it may concern:
I am a National Board Certified Special Education teacher in Spotsylvania County Schools. I have taught here for 10 years and have been a Special Education teacher for over 20 years. I am writing to you because of concerns that I have for the new alternative assessment (VAAP) for students with significant cognitive disabilities.
The expectation of the No Child Left Behind Act is that the majority of students with disabilities can and should participate in and achieve proficiency on state assessments. I teach a small percentage of students with disabilities who may not reach grade-level standards, even with the best appropriate instruction. These are students with the most significant cognitive disabilities (about 1 percent of all special education students.) The Title I regulations allow these students to take an alternate assessment based on achievement standards that are less difficult and more tailored to their needs. Their proficient scores can be counted in the same way as any other student’s proficient score on a state assessment. This alternate assessment is used for students who have IQs of 55 or lower. (Average normal intelligence is 100.)
My concerns are for the new changes to VAAP that have been put in place this school year. I teach at the high school level, and previously my students were held to an aligned standard in accordance with their academic level. The VAAP curriculum was aligned only up to the sixth grade SOL standard. Currently, they are being held to the same high school proficiency level as general education students. We are expected to increase our students’ knowledge by many years within a short period of time. This is not acceptable for students with significant cognitive disabilities. General Education students would not have to attain these levels in one year. All of my students follow an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that provides for a combination of functional and standards based curriculum that will allow them to be as independent as possible and promotes life-skills learning which will help them be self sufficient. (My students’ functional grade levels range from pre-K through third grade.)
Is it realistic to expect students with significant cognitive disabilities to meet the same level of achievement as all general education students? We cannot expect all students to be the same. This does not follow the IDEA guidelines of a free and APPROPRIATE education. There is nothing APPROPRIATE about a student with a 55 IQ or lower trying to learn Algebra. How will that help them in the future? Academic cognitive testing for these students is done by standardized psychological testing which provides the IQ scores. The outcome for many of my students will be staying at home with guardians, sheltered employment or employment with coaching. The IEP is established for the “individual” educational goals. When an educator is forced to look at grade level and not academic level, they are not really meeting the student’s needs.
We are speaking of the students who are not in SOL classes and have not had the prerequisites to attain those SOL standards. They are receiving an IEP/Special Diploma. With this in mind, I need to focus my efforts on skills that will help them with self help skills (i.e. cooking, personal hygiene, laundry, household chores,) functional vocabulary (i.e. survival signs, grocery words, restaurant words/fast food words, job words, community signs,) functional writing (i.e. thank you letters, personal information, expressive journals, ) functional math (i.e. money skills, basic add and subtract, measurement, time, calendars,) functional science and social studies (i.e. animal care, plant care, weather, maps and globes, character education, holidays,) and vocational skills (i.e. following directions, community jobs and expectations, time management.)
I feel that with the focus on these extremely high standards that my students will lose the skills that will help them be independent and thrive. Please take a look at the new VAAP guidelines put in place by the Virginia Department of Education. Ask yourself, if you had a child with significant cognitive disabilities, what would be important for them to learn?
Karen S. Molbert
Yes they can, but it is far more than salary scale that brings teachers there. In fact, any district with the brains and soul to do the right thing can. More than anything, what draws teachers to that district is how they are treated as professionals, working collaboratively, autonomously, creatively, with more time to meet with students, plan, and work more professionally than any other district in the USA….and, just like Finnish schools.
Chris, and the union leaders before him, understood how to work together with a board who represented a population that wanted teachers respected and to be able to work as professionals. Together they created that time, a mentoring program, more creative approaches to staff development, an inspired Teacher Institute that brought in gifted and noted researchers for our benefit, and an evaluative system that was non adversarial.
In fact, when you read Finnish Lessons, by Pasi Sahlberg, explaining why Finland’s school system ranks at the top, it is because they believe and do just as Scarsdale does. They attract teachers like Chris Douglass by the thousands.]]>
LIving in that same town and raising 3 children, I know there are still extraordinary examples of how a teacher can change a child/young adults life. and yet there are greater pressures now. Everything about school is much more intense than during the times in which you could have World Civ and learn about meditation and Batik. The push to succeed and by that mean get into a specific college shapes the curriculum. This is not just this town but its the other side of schools that can afford to pay what teachers are worth.
We were lucky to grow up in a time that greater freedom to create curriculum was supported by a culture that mirrored that value.
I loved reading your blog, it brought back wonderful memories of that class-
Thanks for sharing your thoughts and life on the internet.