Wrapping it Up

The Boy has nine and a half more days of school, and where we live, that equates to end-of-grade testing. He has three tests this week, and one next week that attempt to assess everything he learned in the entire school year in all four of his core subjects. I’m pretty sure the educational community determined decades ago that these tests are a poor way to assess any kid’s knowledge, and I can tell you right now, they are a huge waste of time for my kid.

I don’t think he’s passed one since we moved here. Does that mean he hasn’t learned anything in any of his classes? Nope. But they still require them to take them (although, thanks to his IEP, he doesn’t have to pass them to move on to the next grade!).

Testing is hard for my kiddo, anyway. He needs extended time and breaks. All of that means that these tests take him ALL DAY LONG. And he hates them. Wouldn’t you?

This year, for the first time, I’ve heard him self-advocating, complaining about the length of these tests. And unfortunately, there’s nothing I can do about them. But I have offered him a treat after school every day that he has one, as an incentive to “do your best, that’s all you can do!”

Here’s to the teachers and kiddos struggling to slog through the crap at the end of the year so some bureaucrat somewhere can check his box that it was completed. It’s not one of life’s prettier lessons, but it is a life lesson – sometimes you just have to do it, even though it’s stupid. And it’s one we all have to learn, sooner or later.

Good luck!

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The Spirit or the Letter

This post is almost an addendum to yesterday’s. I got a progress report from The Boy’s science class. He has a B-. Great! Except it’s not.  Here’s why: he received 100 percent on every assignment, and a 95 on the one project they have done this quarter. Why a B-? Because he got a 67 on a test last week.

Again, as a teacher, I would look at this student’s grades and say to myself, “Something doesn’t add up here. If my assessment (test) was a true assessment of whether or not this student knows the material, it is not reflecting that accurately. Why not?” In this scenario, either the grading of the homework is not a true reflection, or the assessment is not a true reflection.  And when you add in that the project (which more often shows what a student really understands than a multiple choice test) received a 95, you begin to think the fault lies with the test.

quizAfter investigating, I found out the test had been modified. Great! Except it’s not.  It was only 15 questions. This is a major flaw in test design.  If the teacher made it fewer questions to modify it, she has effectively made it harder to earn an A. That’s a problem.

There’s no easy answer here, and I know in this case, at least everyone is trying to help. But. If my son knows the material, a 67 shouldn’t stand in the gradebook. According to the “letter” of grading, he earned it, but according to the “spirit” of grading, it’s not accurate, and something should be done about it.  I wouldn’t have let it stand as a teacher (you do have the ability to throw out a test and re-do it…), and I’m not sure what to do about it as a parent, except talk to the teacher, and see what we can come up with.  I don’t want to come off as I-know-more-than-you-about-assessment, but at the same time, I’m a stickler for fairness.

What do you think?

5 Tips for Autism Parents for “Dealing with the School”

autism & schoolI’m a latecomer to this.  We were very lucky with The Boy’s elementary school, and his elementary teachers, in particular his ASD teachers who really acted like caseworkers, made sure everything ran as smoothly as possible.  They advocated for the kids with other teachers and with administration, they handled little problems as they came up, they didn’t think the world was ending with every not-so-good day, and thank goodness they were the foundation, the bedrock if you will, of The Boy’s education.

They spoiled us, but they also showed us how it was supposed to be.

When we moved south, I was shocked at how bad a school could handle it’s special education students.  So I fought to get a better placement for The Boy, because I knew it existed, and I knew we would lose him if we didn’t.  And we got it.

Better, but not perfect.  If you follow my blog regularly, you know that even now we have issues with certain teachers who just don’t get it, strange schedule changes that don’t make sense, and administrators all too quick to wash their hands of anything that comes up. In short, I still have to “deal with the school” from time to time, and the following are some of the best strategies I have found over the years for getting what you want from them.

1.  Listen and watch to determine who your allies are.  Before we moved here, I contacted the local autism society who put me in touch with the autism specialist for the county. She was supposed to be this fantastic resource, but I’ve watched her and listened to her, and to this day, I don’t consider her an ally.  She almost prevented The Boy from switching schools, and I’ve seen how she has handled other situations with other parents, and I’m not impressed.  On the other hand, through that placement process, I was impressed with the assistant superintendent for special education – she cut through the bull on the second day of our IEP meeting (with 14 members present), and brought some chart paper to illustrate that this really was a no-brainer, and the best placement was at his current school. If you watch and listen, you can determine who might be a good resource, and someone to turn to when something’s not right.

2.  Never trust anyone 100%.  Unfortunately, you always have to be wary, because in a school setting, people are not always at liberty to say what they really want to say, and sometimes, due to the nature of autism, they will bend the truth about something that happened (or didn’t happen), or not tell you at all.  A friend recently had a conference with two teachers, one of whom was a revered special ed teacher.  The friend and her son walked into the meeting, expecting to meet with cooperative teachers trying to find a solution, and the revered teacher began to yell at the son for disrespecting his mom at home.  My friend was so taken aback, she asked her son to leave the room, and in her words, “if that was supposed to be support for me, it definitely didn’t feel like it!” People are people, and they make mistakes.  They also change, and teachers get tired. It’s a tough lesson to learn, but just because you could depend on someone “on the inside” in the past, doesn’t mean that will always be the case.

3.  Don’t belittle the teachers.  I read on another autism blog’s Facebook page recently something about actual quotes from IEPs she’s been involved in, and it said something like “I am a taxpayer and I pay your salary!”  Ummm, no.  As a former teacher, this is just about the worst and most alienating thing you can say. Many times, teachers’ hands are so bound by mandates and the wishes of the district and administration that they have little to no power, even over what happens in their own classrooms.  Saying things like this ensures that they will not be your allies, and that can turn out really badly, in the end.

4.  Keep a poker face.  It’s ok, and even advisable to play dumb from time to time.  Earlier this year, The Boy got in trouble for making noises when entering his last class, which is supposed to be a social skills class with his autism teacher.  She had decided it was going to be a silent class, and you can imagine how well that went over with The Boy, who understandably feels like he can let loose a little at the end of the day in his little autism community.  And his teacher escalated the situation, making him more and more angry and upset.  She emailed me with a long list of all the things he had done.  Rather than retaliate, and explain to her about autism (as she clearly had forgotten all of her training for that hour), i suggested that The Boy may have needed to *insert any usual autistic reaction here*.  I could have gone off on her, asking her what the hell she was thinking, and didn’t she know that kids on the spectrum stim and make noises, and to make a social skills class a silent period is the definition of stupidity, but I didn’t.  I simply let her know that The Boy may have had a hard time with it.  Don’t tell them how to do their jobs, even if you know better than they do. Play dumb, and remind them that your kid is a kid, and will make mistakes from time to time.  Together we have to teach them what’s appropriate sometimes.

5.  Pick your battles.  Most autism parents are very familiar with this, but realizing school is not the be-all, end-all was a big a-ha moment for me.  I don’t care so much about grades, because they are based on a standardized norm, and my kid is not standardized, and definitely not the norm.  I care if he learns the content more, but again, our home life is more important than the Types of Energy and the Pharaohs of Egypt.  I have given up on the science teacher this year, who rather than modify assignments, is choosing to give my child grades based on effort.  I can’t teach him science, so I guess he just won’t get much out of the class this year.  Disappointing, but not the end of the world.  The teachers (even the autism teacher) are still giving us only a day’s notice about tests and quizzes, so when that happens, we do what we can but I don’t stress. He usually does pretty well, and what do tests show, anyway? Sometimes you bang your head on a brick wall until you realize it hurts, and then you move on.

Some of these tips seem contradictory, but they aren’t.  They’ve all helped me navigate for better resources and understanding for The Boy, and I hope you can use them too.  Do you have any tips of your own?  Share them in the comments, please!

Shared on amamasstory.com – visit her Mama Moments Monday Link-up!

We Are Destroying Our Children

On the news last night, they featured a music program in a California school system that was funded by a grant because there wasn’t any money in the school budget for it.  This is not new, this happens all the time, but while watching this program I began to cry.  Not like, “Oh, that’s so sweet, and isn’t that great for those kids.” No, this was different.  These tears were more like, “This is completely and utterly unacceptable that our schools cannot afford arts programs.”

Do you know where the money is going?  It’s going to Pearson, and companies like Pearson who charge for their testing programs, for their test prep materials, even for their “professional development” programs – “experts” that they have chosen to send to schools willing to pay enough for the wisdom on… you guessed it, how to get the kids to pass the test.  How to teach more, faster.  How to determine what not to teach, so that you can teach the really important stuff – you know, the stuff that’s on the test.  How to get kindergartners to sit still long enough to take a standardized test.  Test taking strategies to teach to the kids to increase their odds of getting a correct answer… on the test.

Let me be clear – testing is not education.  But our kids and our teachers spend so much time on testing, there is very little time left for actual teaching and learning.

And in the meantime, we wonder why the rates of kids with anxiety have gone through the roof.  We wonder why kids are so mean to each other.  We wonder why our kids get addicted to video games, and their phones, and technology in general.  And I hate to say it, but in ten years or so, we’re going to be shocked at the rise in suicides and mental health issues in our youth.

They don’t know how to play anymore because they don’t have time.   They don’t have hobbies anymore because they don’t have time.  They don’t find joy in music or art because it’s not in their school day anymore, and you guessed it – they don’t have time after school.

They have hours – HOURS! of homework. Even in Kindergarten. They have shortened recess because the class didn’t get everything done.  They have silent lunch periods where they have to sit boy-girl, boy-girl so that they do not socialize and cause “trouble.” They are not allowed to have a real vacation – some teacher will assign a project, because kids will just get bored over break, right?  Why not use that time to get some more standards in?

I cried at that news story out of sheer rage and helplessness.  I left education in large part because it was heading in a very wrong direction, and it is only accelerating  toward that really bad place.  And it will have devastating, crippling effects on this generation of school kids that can only “socialize” and escape via technology.

What do we do? I do what I can. When my kid’s teacher assigns homework over break, I tell him it may not get done, and I might tell a little white lie about why.  My kid deserves a break, and he will get it if I have anything to say about it.  When a school in my district enacts these stupid policies about recess and lunch (and yes, those are real policies in place in an elementary school in my district), I will write letters to principals, superintendents, and school boards. And I will speak loudly to anyone who will listen about testing, and what it is doing to our kids and our educational system.

I do what I can.  It may not be much, but it’s better than crying at the TV.