Giving tests–the California Standards Test, DIBELS, Woodcock-Johnson NU–all week to my special ed students has made me wonder on more than one occasion just what I’m trying to prove. Okay, I’m a little worn down.  By the end of next week I will have given the End of Year (EOY) DIBELS assessment to 40 kids, the CST to 12 students, and the W-J NU to five kids for IEPs. Am I trying to help them–identify and address areas of weakness–or am I practicing what some disability studies people call “ableism”, punishing disabled kids for not conforming to what able kids can do?

A number of social model theorists argue that the act of problematizing individuals amounts to a form of oppression (Abberly, 1996; Swain, French & Cameron, 2003; Oliver, 2004). In adopting deficit model understandings of disability, institutions and laws reinforce this oppression (Oliver, 1990). Embedded within IDEA is a conception of disabled people as “less than” in comparison to non-disabled people, and therefore not always worthy of equal treatment under the law. Looking again at the phrase “to the maximum extent appropriate,” it becomes clear that its intended interpretation is “to the maximum extent appropriate to an individual’s deficit.” This is one example of how IDEA sends a form of ableism into the educational system regardless of the intent of the individuals within that system.

Well, damn. I hope not. My own son is autistic and I have spent a great deal of time already (he has just graduated from kindergarten) trying to convince the school district and other institutions of just how autistic he is.  Am I being ableist toward him?

When I finished giving the DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills) to a first grader boy, Burst, the instructional piece of my Wireless Generation online suite, advised me that he was falling behind those in his group. Now, I have nothing against Burst or DIBELS or any of it. So far too many of my own silver bullets have been off the mark. If WiGen can help my students, I’m all for it (even if Rupert Murdoch is its new owner). If it works, I’ll DIBELS until I drop. But if all it does is marginalize that little boy (or any other kid) then sorry. I’m not able.

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2 Responses to Ableism

  1. Rebekah says:

    My son is hyperlexic (no official ASD diagnosis) and they have tried to give him the DIBELS test twice recently and he refuses to answer. It’s just so ironic because he’s been able to read fairly fluently since he was 3 (now 5) .. Don’t know if they are going to try again. He took the STAR reading test (computer based) and did fine.

  2. Rebekah: If your son refuses to take the test because he is already a reader I’m not surprised. DIBELS is more about measuring a child’s phonemic awareness and phonics skills. The one component devoted to comprehension (appropriately named DAZE) measures vocabulary more than it does what a child understands. Maybe your son consents to taking the STAR test because it gives him time on the computer. Regardless, he sounds like a remarkable child whose talents cannot be appreciated with simplistic, standardized tests. Thanks for you comment/visit.

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