Assessment of educational goals and objectives is, in theory, designed to be pretty straight forward, but sometimes, you notice in your child’s homework/test/project something like this:
Directions: Draw four birds on a fence. Now draw three more birds. How many birds do you have on the fence?
My personal way of dealing with this problem is to politely send the homework/test/project sheet back to school with a post-it on it that says something like this “That’s not math. That is art. If you want my son to do math, please ask him to do the following: 4 + 3 = _____. That is math. He does not have the fine motor skills to draw.”
You see, the publishers responsible for much of our work sheets and lesson planning materials have gotten cleverer, but very often the products our teachers are using are not useful for SPD kids because the products themselves are not clear about exactly what is being taught and tested. “Whole language” ideas from thirty years ago crept in to our classroom teachers’ available materials and have created what I call “murky teaching, murky testing.” Murky because the relationship between goal/objective and method of assessment are very very muddied by excessive creativity and a reckless combining of what should be separate subjects, especially at the elementary level.
For a child with SPD, who is by nature compartmentalized, and often has motor skill delays and expressive language issues, these combination activities are practically impossible for them to decode. In my son’s life, every time I spot one, I politely send a note back, trying to explain with as little fanfare as possible, that what the worksheet/test/project is asking of my son is more of a frankenstein-mashup and incapable of assessing the isolated skill that was originally listed in the objectives of the state curriculum.
Backstory (brief, I promise): Once upon a time, I was a teacher. I had to write weekly, complicated, detailed lesson plans which the principal at our school mercilessly “graded” and returned to us for revisions. The one thing that was always stressed was that objectives had to be simple, and written in a way that could be quantitatively assessed (leading to bulky and often moronic sounding statements like “the student will write 10 spelling words with 80% accuracy after 30 minutes of direct instruction and 30 minutes of home practice.”). So, I know a thing or two about what can go wrong with murky objectives and assessments. It took me my entire first year of teaching to master the language of objectives and assessments in practical application (…it’s such fun to have the principal–AKA, person responsible for my salary and raises—nitpicking hours’ worth of hard work dutifully done every week while my daughter slept beside me in her crib; nitpicking, mind you, in bright red pen scribbled across every one of the ten pages of lesson plans… <sarcasm intended>). DO hug a teacher today, btw…the work they do when your child is not there is often a mine-field of mind-crippling bureaucratic gibberish.
So, back to my son’s life this year at school. I got his progress report yesterday and he is making a steady stream of B’s in spelling. I have sent an equally impressive steady stream of post-it notes on the matter each week as this was happening, which were met with pleasant, but uncomprehending responses…
So, what to do?
First you should ask me, why do I care about B’s? Shouldn’t I be happy with B’s? Well, not when he knows how to spell and it is the assessment method that is flawed. Unfortunately, his IEP has most of his goals and objectives set to 60% competency. It could be argued that 60% competency should be the line at which his assessments reach an “A” but that doesn’t always compute for a classroom teacher who is “trying to be fair” to everyone.
So the dilemma is this: how does a parent politely protect their child from franken-assessments without causing a defensive reaction in your child’s teacher?
Here is one real-time example of the problem, process and resolution of a franken-objective/assessment issue which the teacher and I are right this instant working out together (the post-its weren’t working, I had to go to email):
- there are 10 words to learn to spell each week
- the spelling test is a large double-spaced paragraph story with blanks for the spelling words
- the spelling words are called out for each blank by the teacher
- the child must put the correctly spelled word in its blank inside the sentences in the story
On the surface it seems like a reasonable way to go about testing spelling. It’s published and has little pictures and looks “cool”. However, those sentences contain story-content. For a child struggling with relationship comprehension and expressive language issues, his focus when faced with a paragraph of blanks which make a story is on “How do the blanks make the story mean something? What does it mean when it’s finished?” Any hope of correct spelling assessment is lost at that point.
The solution? I requested only one small change: Give my son a blank sheet of paper and let the NT children have their story sheet. Let him write the words you call out without the complex distractions of the story and blanks. See what happens next.
So that is what we are trying now and I am confident he will finally be able to prove he can spell.
My point is that as parents of SPD kids we need to understand a few critical things about how education goals and objectives are written, and then recognize how those goals and objectives are assessed and then evaluate for ourselves whether or not any given method of assessment is a reasonable way of demonstrating our child’s mastery of the material.
When looking over signed papers or homework assignments, we should always ask ourselves…. is that homework/test/project actually assessing the intended goal, or is it so loaded up with other subjects for creativity’s sake that is is in fact assessing proficiency in something else entirely? If the answer is “that’s not Math, or, in my case today, “that’s not Spelling” then you may be the one who has to raise the teacher’s awareness of the issue and suggest how to refine the assessment method so your child can be allowed to demonstrate where his/her proficiency level really is, good or bad, and go from there.