Several weeks ago I sat down with my son's teacher and listened to her tell me what her priorities are for him for this year. She revealed that she is largely focused on reading comprehension and, to a lesser extent, writing. It is indisputable that those are areas of high need for him. But what she had forgotten and said very little about, until I mentioned it, was language and social interaction. I could see a light bulb go off in her head. Suddenly she understood. Yes, of course, I must work on those too. Then I saw something else. It was something I can only describe as concern, although an insufficient descriptor. She started talking about all of the third grade standards. She handed me copies of the standards which she had already printed out, tucked safely inside page protectors. The teacher began to ponder, how will I address the core deficits of his disability in the midst of teaching the standards? Oh, maybe there would be a few minutes during group work or perhaps during a pull out session, but there's so much to work on academically...
We are over half way through the first nine weeks and, although every member of his team is working hard, Jackson is so lost. He's lost in a sea of standards and expectations for him to think critically and explain every answer. It takes much more than raising the bar or saying you believe students with disabilities can achieve for them to actually achieve. You see, he has only answered a why question a handful of times in his life. Now he's asked why, how and explain your answer all day long. What do you think is going to happen when you test and assess him? He is going to fail. It will look as though he cannot and has not achieved.
Let me tell you what he has done, though. Jackson had been permitted to isolate himself from all the children on the school playground for the last 2 years. We were less than one week into the school year and Jackson was no longer standing next to the wall, far away from his peers. He was under a tree next to the playground. Fast forward a few more weeks and he has played on the equipment a few times, but more spectacularly, he is engaging and playing a game of "I see you" with a little girl in his class. She enjoys him. She likes him. He likes her. They play together for a few minutes every day. No standardized assessment he will take this year or any year will reflect that progress. No teacher or related service provider will be rewarded for their role in facilitating this achievement. After all, it's not one of the standards. It's not on "the test."
As an advocate, some days are very challenging when both working and living in the disability world. There are no breaks. There is no escape. I sit in rooms with educational leaders who make statements about the 43% (of students with disabilities who passed the tests last year) and then I come home to the sweetest little boy who falls in the 57%. A boy who has an amazing ability to tolerate the world around him, but who no longer wants to go to school. How will it get any better? When will it get any better? It only seems like we're heading in the opposite direction of improving outcomes for kids like Jackson.