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Testing can’t account for special education students’ needs, home lives

In these tough financial times, with city budgets being overhauled, there are many issues that have come up, but we must remember that our educational system must be a priority if we are to help our children achieve their best potential in these trying times.

Recently, I have noticed that there is a trend toward “teacher evaluation” as a means of the administration’s quest to get rid of “unsatisfactory” teachers. Although I agree there are some teachers who are unsatisfactory, testing children is not the barometer of a teacher’s effectiveness. In addition to Mayor Michael Bloomberg and city Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, state Education Commissioner David Steiner has come up with a plan to evaluate teachers using student tests.

There are many reasons why children are failing in schools, the most important being parents’ participation. Remember that many of our children are new immigrants whose parents do not speak English and therefore cannot help their children at home. In addition, there are some irresponsible parents who do not nor wish to help and for a variety of reasons cannot help their children at home. This must be factored into why a particular failing student is not doing well.

In addition, we cannot forget special education teachers. How can we give them a grade when so many of their children cannot, due to physical or mental handicaps, keep up with the curriculum? Remember there are many children in the special education section that cannot remember, from day to day, what is being taught. Some are so severely handicapped they cannot focus for minutes at a time and there are some who simply have a slower rate of comprehension that cannot be tracked simply by testing over and over.

This new proposal of giving teachers report cards, to see how well they are doing by tracking how well their students are doing on standardized tests, is simplistic. There must be a more objective way of judging a teacher’s effectiveness in the classroom. Testing students is simply not going to do it, especially in the special education area. Perhaps one special education student learning one word or learning to add effectively is a major hurdle for that one child, depending on that child’s handicap and learning disability. But how is a test going to show that?

Perhaps Steiner, Bloomberg and Klein should come down from their ivory towers and out of their cubicles and stop looking simply at spread sheets. They will not get many answers from those. Perhaps they should visit some schools and sit in on some classes, especially the special education classes, so they can observe first-hand how difficult a task confronts these teachers each day.

One child’s progress cannot be measured by the progress of the child sitting next to him or her. One must factor in the child’s home environment. A child from a dysfunctional or broken home will test quite differently from a child raised in a happy home. There are children being taken out of school to visit their homelands without any thought to the child’s schooling; whose parents regularly leave the country to visit their home or on business, leaving the child with relatives; living in homes where physical abuse is the norm; being raised by parents who are on drugs or alcoholics, etc; and being raised in an environment of emotional and psychological pressure with legal, social and poverty issues.

All of these affect the child and the child will not be able to concentrate on homework and schoolwork. How is a child to do well in school when his or her whole world is exploding around him or her? Each child is an individual and learning curves vary from child to child, depending on many factors. Are parents involved in the child’s school activities? Is the child able to, mentally and physically, meet the curriculum of his or her class? Is the child’s mental state up to the daily routine of the curriculum? Is the child’s physical handicap a handicap in achieving the goals of his or her class? There are many questions, but none of them can be answered simply by a standardized test.

What makes a good teacher? The answer to that is still unknown. There are teachers who can inspire students and there are teachers who simply do their best with the students they have and there are teachers who should choose other professions. The principals who have daily contact and the upmost knowledge of teachers are the first people who should be able to evaluate teachers and weed out the bad ones.

How is the teacher’s effectiveness going to be rated? Perhaps by observation, but definitely not by testing and testing students. We are now in an era of testing. Our children are only being taught to pass tests. They are not being prepared for the future. They are in a pressure cooker all the time, waiting for the next test. They are not being inspired to learn, they are being browbeaten to take tests after tests, which prove absolutely nothing, in many areas.

You cannot expect the same results from all children. They are all different and have different backgrounds, home lives, skills and learning potential. This is a complex situation and not simplistic, as Bloomberg, Steiner and Klein would like us to believe.

I have seen firsthand in my own family how a child with special needs progresses at a different rate and with different skills than his sibling. Look at your own family and, if you have two or more children, you will see how different each child is and how different their progress is in school and in life.

Carla Dozzi

Flushing

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