I've been doing staff development workshops for the special education teachers in my cooperative of 11 districts the past few weeks. I talk about NCLB and the state mandated accountability tests that all students must take. We have a test for students with significant cognitive disabilities that is aligned with grade-level standards, but reduced in breadth, depth and complexity from the general state mandated test. Since all students must be tested according to NCLB, this test allows students with significant cognitive disabilities to also be assessed. This week, during one of the workshops, I was asked how we are supposed to test grade-level standards to students with multiple disabilities who are also non-verbal, unable to use a switch device (assistive technology) or move their limbs on their own. How are we supposed to test them? How are we supposed to know if their response is proficient (the level that our state says must be reached in order for the school to make Adequate Yearly Progress)? Can these students really be taught the grade-level standards so that they can participate in the test? How are we supposed to do that? Since I'm asked these questions as the director of special education, it begs the unspoken question - are there some students who just can't learn? If the answer is "yes", then are they "left behind" according to NCLB standards? If the answer is "no, they just learn differently", then what are we doing about it?
If you have students with significant cognitive delays in your school, what do you think about their ability to learn? If your school is struggling to make progress towards NCLB's end goal of having all students be proficient by 2014, do you wonder if there might be some students who just can't learn? Or do you look towards your teachers' ability to teach differently for those that learn differently? Or do you just hope NCLB will go away and you don't want to think about it?
I may be asking a politically incorrect question on an educational blog, but as a new administrator who must look at the data and figure out how to get all students proficient on the state mandated tests, I bet I am not the only administrator to be asked this question from teachers or community members.
I do think all students can learn. If I didn't, I shouldn't be in this position as special ed director and director of an alternative school for students in both general ed and special ed. The challenge is figuring out HOW they learn and giving the teachers the tools and training to teach them differently. This isn't an easy challenge.
Can all students really learn? Yes, I think they can. Can all students be proficient on the state mandated tests? No, I don't think all of them can. But I do think NCLB has raised the bar on what we have typically expected from students with cognitive disabilities and that is a good thing.