Outlook, Fall 2008, Vol. 40, No. 2, pp.6-7 corrected version Legislative Updatei Kathleen Kosobud, President LDA of Michigan Corrected from an article in the Outlook, Fall 2008, Vol. 40, No. 2, pp.6-7 Testing, testing, testing! It seems like every time we turn around, our children are taking tests. Why do schools do so much testing? It used to be that parentsii could choose to exempt children with disabilities from the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP tests). Many of you can remember when students took MEAP tests in 4th and 5th grades, 7th and 8th grades and in 10th and 11th grades. The MEAP tests were designed as a check of how well schools were aligning their curricula with the stateidentified standards for learning. School districts could look at the results and identify standards of learning that needed increased emphasis, and planned their teacher professional development on increased understanding of those areas. MEAP scores influenced property values and the public’s perception of desirable family neighborhoods. The test scores became linked to a public perception of quality: higher scores meant “good” school districts, and lower scores meant “bad” ones. But, how could families who were concerned about the education of their children with disabilities weigh the value of their schools if their children with disabilities were excluded from statewide testing? What could help them to make the important decisions about the schooling of children who were struggling to learn? If they were able, parents would consult with other parents of children with similar disabilities to get information about special education services in their area school districts. That was pretty much it: they heard about good teachers, bad teachers; ample services, service restrictions; good funding, bad funding; and maybe, if they were very persistent, they might hear about how children with disabilities fared as they grew up and left school. The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) changed all that in 2001. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (Public Law 107-110) requires achievement testing for all children in order to ensure that school districts pay attention to the instruction of all children. Districts are required to show steady improvement in the numbers of children who are meeting grade level achievement standards in language arts and mathematics. Testing is required each year for grades 3 through 8 and once in grades 10 through 12.iii In order to show that the “achievement gap” is decreasing, scores are reported separately for English Language Learners, and by race, disability, and economic status. The policy-makers who drafted this law argued that schools had not been paying enough attention to all of the children in their districts. Therefore, they required federal funding to be tied to the testing of all children, and publicly reporting their performance on tests. This is what is meant by “accountability”. All children are tested to provide evidence that schools are paying attention to the education of every child in their district. Parents no longer can choose to exclude their children from testing, but they do need to have good information about choices about the tests that their children must take. In order to make fairer tests for children with disabilities, who learn at different paces and in different ways, a number of options for testing are considered each time an Individualized Educational Planning (IEP) meeting is held for a child. Their past achievements are recorded and reviewed, and their current levels of performance are identified. Here in Michigan, the IEP Outlook, Fall 2008, Vol. 40, No. 2, pp.6-7 corrected version team writes yearly learning goals and objectives, based on Michigan’s grade-level standards for language arts and math, called Grade Level Content Expectations (“the GLCEs”)iv. For students who learn at slower paces, there are extended learning standards, known as “the eGLCEs”v. These are still standards for language arts and mathematics, but at a more basic level. In order to make the best choice of testing conditions for your child, there are some important things to keep in mind: What the testing conditions should bevi Which of the several levels of tests your child should takevii What the costs of taking a test will be to your child, both now and in the future Parents, in consultation with the IEP team, help identify the accommodations and modifications needed to provide equitable testing conditions, where their child can show what he knows (see the list of accommodations, found in the endnotes to this article). They are also part of the decision about the level of test that their child should take. There is the MEAPviii, a new test in development tentatively called the Access/Modified Full Independence (“MFL”)ix, or the MIAccessx. Information on these tests is listed in endnotes following this article. The most important decision parents need to make has to do with two concerns: how your child handles testing, emotionally; and what might happen to a child who takes either the MFL or the MI-Access instead of the MEAP? The first consideration is a child’s comfort with testing. If a child believes that the test is very important to her reputation as a student, it can make her very nervous. Understanding this, parents may wish to talk to their child’s teacher about ways to make the days leading up to testing as opportunities to take some of the stress out of the testing; to help children see this as a way to help teachers learn more about teaching. Parents need to remember that MEAP tests are a way to gather data on how instruction for all children is progressing, not how one child is doing. The test was never meant to single out any one child. It is only a very small sample of how a child is doing, and should never be considered by itself. The second consideration is a long-range one, one that may have consequences much later. During the IEP, a choice may need to be made about which test a child should take for either language arts or math: the MEAP, or the MFL (or possibly even the MI-Access/Functional). If a child has a disability affecting performance in language arts, it may seem as if it would be a good choice to take the MFL, since it is expected to be adapted for children who might be overwhelmed by the MEAP. Parents need to keep in mind, though, that there is a trade-off. Children with learning disabilities may start at a lower level of achievement, but may make very quick progress to grade level, once appropriate instruction and accommodations are found to meet their learning needs. Parents should always keep this in mind at each IEP, so that the IEP goals are set with an expectation that their children will be moved from the MFL, to taking the MEAP with accommodations as soon as it is appropriate. This is particularly important, since the new Michigan Merit Curriculum plan does not guarantee all children diplomas for credits earned. Outlook, Fall 2008, Vol. 40, No. 2, pp.6-7 corrected version I urge parents to take a very careful look at what IEP teams suggest for their children’s academic goals each year. If our children are to earn high school diplomas, every year of school counts. We, as parents, need to support teachers in keeping their expectations high for our children, while making the needed adjustments to instruction so that our children can show what they know. That’s why we have testing, so that schools promote effective education for all children. Endnotes: i Clarification: This is actually a Michigan Department of Education update; the “MFL” is being developed to bridge the gap between Mi-Access and the MEAP assessments, and is needed to align with IDEA 2004 and NCLB. ii When I use the word “parents”, I mean the people who are responsible for the child’s care and upbringing, including family, legal guardians, or legal representatives of the child. iii 11/30/08 from Education Commission of the States NCLB Website, http://www.ecs.org/html/issue.asp?issueid=195&subIssueID=101/ iv See: http://www.michigan.gov/mde/0,1607,7-140-22709_28463-196282--,00.html for information on the GLCEs. v See: http://www.michigan.gov/mde/0,1607,7-140-22709_28463-162769--,00.html for information on the eGLCEs. vi See: http://www.michigan.gov/documents/Exhibit_B_Accommodations_Table_127886_7.pdf for a list of standard and non-standard accommodations for tests in Michigan vii See: http://www.michigan.gov/mde/0,1607,7-140-22709_28463-162769--,00.html for a decision making checklist and flowchart to help determine which test is appropriate. viii See: http://www.michigan.gov/mde/0,1607,7-140-22709_31168_31355---,00.html for released test items from the MEAP (sample questions). ix See: http://www.michigan.gov/documents/mde/MFL+DRAFT+eligibility+criteria+11-708_4_258498_7.pdf, for a description of what is being pilot-tested in January. x See: http://www.michigan.gov/mde/0,1607,7-140-22709_28463-136385--,00.html for MIAccess performance descriptors.