Stop the deception

Bianca de la Garza, Anchorwoman WCVB-TV
Candace McCann, Assistant Superintendent, Brookline School District

Dear Ms. de la Garza and Ms. McCann:

Together we represent the media, my daughter’s school district, and my daughter’s family. I am writing to you concerning the misinformation that the Massachusetts Department of Education is disseminating regarding my daughter directly and the MCAS-Alt exam indirectly. At this point, it appears to be an informed and deliberate misrepresentation and I believe that as a result we are unwittingly passing on false information.

The DOE has given each of us similar statements regarding my daughter and the MCAS-Alt. Here is the direct quote to me from Nancy Hanson, the MCAS-Alt Coordinator for the DOE:

“I want to assure you that participation in MCAS-Alt will not require your daughter to do anything she does not do every day at school.”

Note that on at least three occasions I have asked Ms. Hanson to explain that statement and she has declined to do so. In order to make that statement knowingly, one must fully understand what “participation in MCAS-Alt” means and what my daughter does “every day at school.” Without full knowledge of both, her statement cannot be based on the reality of the situation.

Believing that the employees at the DOE take their jobs seriously, I must go on the assumption that Ms. Hanson is fully aware of what is required for participation in the MCAS-Alt and that she is fully aware of what my daughter does every day at school. I cannot fathom that that statement would be made otherwise: to do so would be unacceptably irresponsible. Note that this same statement was made to Ms. de la Garza and thus repeated on the evening newscast, and made to Ms. McCann and disseminated within the school district.

My information on the MCAS-Alt comes from two sources. First is the 2008 Educator’s Manual for MCAS-Alt available on the MA DOE web site. Second is my daughter’s teacher. Please note that not only has she been trained by the DOE to properly administer the MCAS-Alt, she has also been trained to evaluate the MCAS-Alt that other teachers submit to the DOE. Thus, she has more training then the average teacher in this area.

Participation in the MCAS-Alt requires just that, “participation.” There are times the student is required to self evaluate. There are times the student will be asked questions. There are times where the student’s output is collected. This is all required and documented in the Educator’s Manual. The student must participate in some active form.

What does my daughter do “every day at school?” Unless Ms. Hanson knows differently than the school personnel, my daughter does not self evaluate. My daughter does not communicate at all. My daughter does not answer questions, because my daughter does not communicate at all. My daughter’s only output is physiological and that is not appropriate for collection for the DOE nor MCAS-Alt. My daughter does not write, draw, nor paint. My daughter does not sign: once again, she does not communicate at all.

To summarize, during her school day, my daughter is not asked questions since she cannot answer them, my daughter is not asked to produce independent output since she cannot do so, my daughter is not asked to self-evaluate since she cannot do so. Her participation in any activity is purely by her physical presence, not by any active, purposeful interaction.

My daughter never communicates any comprehension at all of Math, English, nor Science, NOR CAN SHE. The two of you have met Hannah and I am sure agree with me, her teacher, her aide, her medical team, and her family and friends, that my daughter cannot communicate at all. She may very well, however, fully understand her surroundings and often gives indications that she does.

The only way the following statement “I want to assure you that participation in MCAS-Alt will not require your daughter to do anything she does not do every day at school” is true is if the MCAS-Alt requires NOTHING of the student: no output, no answers, no attention, no academic interaction.

My point is that the statement made to the media, the school district, and the family that my daughter’s taking the MCAS-Alt will “not require [my daughter] to do anything she does not do every day at school” is misleading, inaccurate, and, as shown by my repeated request for clarification, evidently indefensible.

Assuming Ms. Hanson must knows what the MCAS-Alt requires, and feels empowered to make that statement, she must know what my daughter does every day at school. I only see two possibilities for the continued dissemination of the statement:

  • There is a direct and specific intent to mislead the community, media, school district and family as to what the MCAS-Alt is with regards to the severely disabled
  • Ms. Hanson has no idea what Hannah does every day at school and yet knowingly made a public statement multiple times with absolutely no facts nor information to back it up

Note again, I have on at least three occasions asked Ms. Hanson to explain the statement and she has continually avoided doing so.

Please help me stop this misinformation campaign by not repeating these untrue statements originating in the office of the MCAS-Alt coordinator.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

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