Spoke to Commissioner of Education today! (nice guy)

Commissioner Chester:

I want to thank you for your time on the phone today. I believe the exchange of information between us was a good one and will bear fruit with regards to the MCAS and the severely disabled. We appear to agree fully on what the alternate assessment should be.

At this point I would like to respond to a couple of points that came up and to put them in writing as a way of verifying that I heard what in fact you were saying and vice versa.

The part of the law the I refer to in asking you to waive the exam for my daughter is 603 CMR 30.03(3)(b) and is found on your web site here: http://www.doe.mass.edu/lawsregs/603cmr30.html?section=03. I am not a lawyer, and actually I am a bit surprised that in fact you are given this option, but there it is. Please let me know your interpretation of it.

Since you do not know my daughter, one must keep in mind that she not only has no known form of communication, she has no known movements that are done with intent. She cannot scratch where she itches, cannot point, look somewhere on request, etc.

You stated several times that the test “should be tailored to the child” and that it is “not appropriate to ask the student to do something she cannot do.” Additionally, you mentioned that what my daughter “should be experiencing in terms of assessment should be very much tailored to her conditions.” I could not agree more with all of that. My issue is that the guidelines that the teachers must follow are completely void of those ideas.

This all brings me to the 2008 Educator’s Manual for MCAS-Alt. All the quotes to follow are from that document. My issue is that that document makes firm statements, has requirements, and demands things that now appear to be in complete contrast with your view of the what the alternate assessment should be for my daughter and for my son. All the page references offered are to that document.

The first quotes show that the assessment must assess to the Curriculum Frameworks. There is no apparent “wiggle room” here, so anything done with the test MUST be to the Curriculum Framework. Hence any observation of my daughter must be with regards to Math, English, and Science.

“the purpose of the MCAS Alternate Assessment (MCAS-Alt) is to assess the achievement of students in relation to knowledge and skills specified in the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks. … These students participate in MCAS through the alternate assessment portfolio, which in accordance with the law, must be compiled and submitted in the same content areas and grades as those in which standard MCAS tests are administered. (Commissioner’s Forward)

The No Child Left Behind law and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 reinforced that all Massachusetts students, even those with significant disabilities, must receive instruction that is aligned with the skills, concepts, and knowledge supported by the learning standards in the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks. (page 10)

The No Child Left Behind law requires the administration of statewide MCAS assessments (including alternate assessments) in ELA/reading and mathematics in grades 3-8 and in grade 10. Science and Technology/Engineering assessments are also required by law at least once in elementary, middle, and high school. At the high school level, MCAS and MCAS-Alt will assess Science and Technology/Engineering in specific disciplines (either Biology, Introductory Physics, Chemistry, or Technology/Engineering) either in grade 9 or 10. These requirements will allow for the documentation of each student’s academic performance and progress, and will ensure that students with significant disabilities are receiving instruction in important areas of the curriculum. (page 11)

My daughter’s introduction to the MCAS-Alt “must include”:

Student’s Introduction to the Portfolio produced as independently as possible by the student using his or her primary mode of communication. This introduction may be written, dictated, or recorded on video or audiotape and should describe “What I want others to know about me as a learner and about my portfolio.” (page 33)

How does my daughter do that? She cannot. As you stated to me, it is “not appropriate to ask the student to do something she cannot do.” So then that “must include” requirement is … what? To be ignored? Is “must include” just a suggestion?

The student then has over 50 data charts and data points to fulfill. These must be in English, Math and Science and then required by the Commonwealth:

A completed data chart must be included that measures the student’s accuracy and independence in performing tasks on at least five different dates based on a single skill or outcome in the learning standard being assessed.
Data charts must show that the student attempted to learn a new skill. (page 36, emphasis by DOE)

How do you show (it is mandated) that a student “attempted to learn a new skill” with a student who cannot control their motion, cannot communicate in any manner? This is required and is judged against the Curriculum Frameworks.

Step 9. Student self-evaluates.
At the end of a series of instructional activities in which strategies for reinforcement and/or consequences are used, it is important to provide opportunities for a student to evaluate and reflect on his or her performance. … (page 43)

How do you do this with my daughter?

Finally, and most important, how does this next piece get fulfilled with my daughter? Her portfolio is scored based on the level she learns, understands, and applies skills and knowledge. Stating this in your manual is stating that my daughter (or her portfolio) will be scored on her application of skills and knowledge of the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks. Your words, not mine:

The scoring of MCAS-Alt portfolios reflects the goal of standard MCAS tests, which is to gauge the level at which a student learns, understands, and applies skills and knowledge outlined in the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks. MCAS-Alt is intended to ensure that students with significant disabilities have been given access to the general education curriculum (i.e., the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks), as required by law, and to measure how much of this material they have learned. (page 49)

From the start, she cannot show any of that. How will any of this, that she cannot do anyway, ensure that she has been given access to the Curriculum Frameworks, as required by law?

Again, my issues are with the implementation, the mandates, and the guidelines surrounding the MCAS-Alt, not the fact that an assessment should be done.

My request for my daughter, and my son, to be exempt from the MCAS exams still stands. Additionally, I will gladly work with you and your team in any way appropriate to make the assessment be what both you and I seemingly agree it should be, that is “tailored to the individual functioning of the student.”

Thank you for your time and consideration.

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