Neal Kingston, director of the Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation at the University of Kansas, believes there’s a better way to evaluate what special-education students know, and don’t know. In October, the U.S. Department of Education awarded his center a $22 million grant – the largest in the university’s history – to develop a new assessment tool, called the Dynamic Learning Maps Alternate Assessment System. Kingston describes a learning map as an “electronic portfolio” that breaks down a set of core curriculum standards to “an almost atomistic level.” The result is a collection of “thousands” of different tasks or skills that the student will have to acquire in order to eventually meet those standards. The hope is that this tool will help teachers more precisely identify which skills the student needs help with, Kingston said. “So when a student needs remediation, we can be as diagnostic and prescriptive as a physician can be,” he said. Eleven states, including New Jersey, have agreed to implement the new system, on a pilot basis, in the 2014-15 school year. Kingston believes these maps can help parents keep closer tabs on their child’s progress in school.

I ran across this in a very interesting article on “special ed innovation,” a concept  that gets me reading between the lines. Innovation. Are we talking about slash and burn? Or are folks like Dr. Kingston on the up and up? His Dynamic Learning Maps Alternate Assessment System makes me nervous. Sounds like more testing to me.  More testing and professional development, and fewer services for kids with special needs. Why? Because once the doctor and his colleagues have gotten everything sussed out, what need will there be for smaller classes and more teachers? Like robots kids will get lazer accurate repair work and sent their merry way. Call it a hunch. Call it paranoia. Tell me I’m wrong.  Please.

4 Responses to Dynamic Learning Maps Alternate Assessment System, Oh My!

  1. [...] Dynamic Learning Maps Alternate Assessment System, Oh My!. [...]

  2. Neal Kingston says:

    I am happy to tell you that you’re wrong — our goal is more of the RIGHT services for our children. Our goal is to give teachers, parents, and students tools that support learning rather than the blunt cudgel of a test at the end of the year.

    Your summary (and perhaps some of sources of information on which it is based) missed a couple of key points of this new approach that are intended to prevent the nightmare you rightly fear. Perhaps foremost is the idea of instructionally relevant tasks — tasks designed to model good instruction rather than traditional test items. A related concept is instructional embedded assessment. Rather than a stand alone activity at the end of the year users of this system will gather information through instructional activities.

    I am a strong proponent of parental skepticism. All of us must advocate for our children. To this end our project has partnered with The Arc to facilitate our getting good parental input. Also, once the project gets started we will be providing information to the interested public on our website, http://www.dynamiclearningmaps.org.

    As we move along and provide more information, please let me know what you think.

    Best regards,

    Neal Kingston

  3. Dr. Kingston, Thanks for your comment. I look forward to learning more about your work. What I’d like a sense of is what your system will look like on the ground. How will it help a fetal alcohol student who can’t attend or an SLD student with visual processing deficits? What will it do for my autistic boy, whose challenges are more social than academic? If it relieves young children who suffer through inappropriate high-stakes testing and allows me as a parent and teacher to address their true needs, I’m all for it. If it doesn’t I’m not.

  4. Karen S. Molbert says:

    I wrote a letter that appeared in our local newspaper. Free Lance Star. I thought it might interest you. As a teacher I wanted parents to be aware of this new process and how it might impact their children. Here is a copy.

    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?
    Sincerely,
    Karen S. Molbert

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