Not All Students Are As Fortunate

Since I first learned to read and write, I was always slow and careful.

In kindergarten during a parent-teacher conference, my teacher remarked upon my perfectionism and slow pace, noting that it might become an issue later on in school. It didn’t seem to be much of a problem then—I was just thorough and precise. It was a non-issue.

But sure enough, when I reached high school, gone were the days of unlimited time on tests and long project time-frames.

Freshman year, I relied more on my innate abilities, earning high marks while struggling to finish timed assessments. I often stayed up into the late hours of the night finishing homework. Many of my teachers that year assumed that I, like my peers, just needed to adjust to the faster pace and demanding workload of high school. One teacher even tried to tell me that I just needed to work faster and more efficiently.

No matter how hard I tried, I still floundered in all of my classes, rushing on tests in an attempt to finish, and running on just a few hours of sleep. I didn’t need to adjust, my schooling did.

After talking to my guidance counselor, she suggested that I get tested as a first step in the lengthy process of requesting a variation on an individualized education plan (IEP).

She warned that the entire process would most likely take a few months and that I would have to seek the necessary testing on my own. The testing, spread out over two weeks, took a few hours each day. The results showed a significant discrepancy between my intellectual/academic capabilities and my processing speed.

In other words, my brain processes information at a slower speed than average, and I take more time to complete most tasks.

After an hour of meeting with my guidance counselor, vice principal, parents, and all of my teachers, I was granted special accommodations, most notably, extra time on tests.

Since then, my anxiety revolving around timed assessments has diminished. However, while I was able to receive the necessary accommodations to help me succeed in school, many others have not.

My parents and I were able to advocate for my education and we possessed the resources to seek the testing required to begin the process. Not all students are as fortunate as me.

Furthermore, a stigma still surrounds those with learning disabilities. For some it may not seem to be worth the trouble; it may seem easier to struggle in silence, especially if they already appear to be successful in school.

Focusing on providing students with the tools to succeed should not be the anomaly—it should be the standard.

barowsky-sophie-1Sophie Barowsky is a senior at Framingham High School in Framingham, Massachusetts. In college, she hopes to study neuroscience or psychology.

Standardized Testing: A Disruption To Quality Learning

On October 24th, President Obama released a statement calling for changes in standardized testing in America’s schools. Although the details have yet been released, it is encouraging the Obama Administration acknowledges that standardized testing has overextended its purpose.

As a veteran of public education, such news is profoundly welcomed.  Over the past 20 years, going back to the Clinton Administration and Goals 2000, through the Bush Administration and No Child Left Behind, to the Obama Administration and Race to the Top, public education has increasingly become burdened by the increase of testing. With it came increased scrutiny and accountability on states, local school districts, and individual teachers. Although the results of these initiatives have been mixed, all now agree there is no correlation between increased standardized tests and increased student achievement.

I firmly believe the first step is to eliminate the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smarter Balance Assessment. Being an educator in a state that mandated that all districts implement the PARCC test, I can speak directly to the negative impact it created. PARCC is a computer-based assessment. The drain on school district technology resources both in the setting-up phase, which began in January, through the implementation phase, the months of March and May, were profound. The length of the tests, both in March and May were extremely disruptive to school schedules and classroom routines.

Many educators across the state questioned the developmental appropriateness of PARCC, in terms of format, length and difficulty. Although PARCC has announced there will only be one test instead of two in 2016, overall test time has not been decreased significantly. In addition, if the purpose of standardized testing is to inform and improve teaching and learning, PARCC is not the answer.

First round of tests were completed by April 1st and the second round by the end of May.  It is mid November, and my school district just now received the results for our high school students; hardly timely if we are to use the information to improve instruction. We have no idea when elementary will receive the results. Given states can’t agree nationwide what curricular content is worth knowing, and given a growing number of states have opted out of Common Core standards and/or PARCC or Smarter Balance Assessment, more and more educators question the validity or purpose of a “one size fits all” test.

Let’s band together and work with our state legislators and create assessments that reflect what we as states have committed to in terms of standards-based teaching and learning. In addition, at the local level, let’s support individual school districts to develop and utilize assessment practices that align with instruction, provide timely feedback, and create partnerships of learning with teachers and students.

Dr. Vicky Tuskenvicky tusken is the Secondary Curriculum Coordinator for the DeKalb Community Unit School District in Illinois. She also teaches at Northern Illinois University as an Adjunct for the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology, and Foundations.