Who thought of forcing children on IEPs to take grade-level high stakes standardized tests anyway?

Dear Bill and Melinda,

Katie and Susan would like to ask you some questions about this powerful video created by a parent:

Katie: In this moving video, a 3rd grade boy with special needs struggles to complete just one of the math problems given to him for homework. It resembles test prep work and the student ultimately shuts down. Imagine what it must be like for his teacher trying to give him individualized instruction with 26 other kids in the class. This is our reality: teaching-to-the-test to a diverse group of students and overcrowded classrooms, to name just a few of our struggles. This boy needs meaningful work that addresses his particular needs, not standardized test prep.

– Katie, ESL teacher whose students include ELLs with special needs (they have IEPs like this boy)


Under IDEA, as a special education teacher, I am responsible for writing Individualized Education Programs [IEPs] for my students in all of the areas they qualify for based on the standardized testing in the evaluation process completed by the school psychologist and all related service professionals.

Students who qualify for an IEP have already demonstrated they are 1 1/2 to 2 years behind grade level in specific skill areas: Cognitive: Reading, Writing, Math – Social/emotional – Behavior – Adaptive – Communication and Motor [Gross or Fine Motor].

If a child already demonstrated [evaluation results] they are 1 1/2 to 2 years behind in a specific skill such as Math, as is the case for this child in the video, then why are they subjected to the high stakes grade level standardized test and test prep for that skill area at all?

The child in this video has IEP goals in mathematics. That means he is 1 1/2 to 2 years behind his typical peers in math skills. He has individualized goals and objectives for math skills at his present levels of performance in math.

Special education teachers are already required by law to maintain frequent data, as well as monitor and report progress at stated reporting periods frequently throughout the year.

Are the high stakes standardized tests forced upon this child through No Child Left Behind against IDEA law?  This article, Are NCLB and IDEA in Conflict discusses that possibility.

“Which law takes precedence?  And who decides? Parents, lawyers, educators, judges, or politicians? Will IEP [Individualized Education Program] teams decide which law to follow at every IEP meeting? I’m not sure.  I’ve asked several people who know much more than me, and they don’t know…

Politicians pass laws and educators implement them – [or say they are] – laws intended to improve educational outcomes.  But it seems the apparent conflicts between NCLB and IDEA are having the opposite effect on many students with disabilities.” ~ Kathie Snow

Why aren’t more parents objecting?  Why aren’t more teachers objecting? Why aren’t ACLU and the Office of Civil Rights involved in protecting children with disabilities from the damages of high stakes testing?

Why would we want to frustrate children who are already stigmatized by society, then make them feel like failures by forcing these tests and test prep on them? Clearly, children who are on an IEP have already proven they are not meeting grade level standards in this/other skill area/s.

Students who have already qualified for an IEP should be exempt from these tests.

Who thought of forcing children on IEPs to take grade-level high stakes standardized tests anyway?  Are NCLB and IDEA in conflict or not?

-Susan, Dual Endorsed – Special Education and General Education teacher, IEP Case Manager for children like the young boy in this video

About Highlighting Members' Needs

We are running for the following Renton Education Association positions because we believe in the following planks: Becca Ritchie, Candidate for REA President, Nelsen Middle School, Computer Tech Susan DuFresne, Candidate for Primary Executive Board, Maplewood Heights Elementary, Integrated Kindergarten ✅  Demanding a healthy work-load/life balance. ✅  Bargaining competitive professional compensation. ✅  Challenging the status quo test culture with: Less is more! ✅  Emphasizing our professional expertise. ✅  Prioritizing equity and access for all. ✅  Utilizing 2-way 21st century communication tools. ✅  Acting in solidarity with all unions. ✅  Supporting ALL members. ✅   Implementing developmentally appropriate K-3 curriculum/assessment.
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32 Responses to Who thought of forcing children on IEPs to take grade-level high stakes standardized tests anyway?

  1. jeff canady says:

    Writing your Senators would be more effective in my opinion Gates stands to make billions don’t think letters going to obscure or discourage him. Weak responses have always led to teachers getting steamrolled.

    • livingbehindthegates says:

      Hi Jeff,

      Thank you for your comment. I respectfully disagree with you. We’ve been writing our Senators. We’ve been writing to Congressmen. We’ve been writing Teachers’ Letters To Obama for years now. Another letter with 1,000’s of signatures will soon be delivered to Obama. The problem is, the corporations are running the government. Bill Gates has many, many former Gates Foundation and Microsoft employees in the US Department of Education where he pulls their strings to get what he wants. The time has come to make the public aware of his un-elected and uninvited influence over public education. This is OUR profession, these are OUR schools. He can send his children to private school and control that school with his money and power if he wants to experiment, but he doesn’t. He experiments with “other peoples’ children”. We are here to begin a dialogue with him and get the public’s voices back in public education.

  2. My daughter has a diagnosis of ADHD and Autism. As a result of inadequate evaluations (for which I have yet to see the results or the summary of what was evaluated), she no longer has an IEP. On top of her diagnosed disabilities she is a chronologically a year younger than her classmates (she doesn’t turn eight until the end of third grade) and she’s emotionally closer to five or six. She’s just started imaginative/imitation play and she’s seven years old.These tests terrified me as a child. I have Asperger’s Syndrome, but wasn’t diagnosed until I was an adult. I fear for my daughter and these tests. I’m looking for a way to opt-out, but haven’t found anything for our state yet (we live in TN). It baffles me too, that they can force these tests on children, like my daughter, who may be physically, emotionally, or chronologically too immature to understand the questions, may get too focused on how much time is left or may lack the fine motor skills to fill in the scantron bubbles accurately. It breaks my heart that good teachers are rated poorly because some students simply cannot take the test. It breaks my heart that wonderful students, making straight A/B’s can be retained because they failed these high stakes tests. These are good kids who deserve a quality, stress-free education. Too bad politicians don’t see it that way.

    I’m working with my daughter’s K12 homeroom teacher to get her, at least, a 504 with stipulations that she not take the TCAP. If I have to get her developmental pediatrician to right a note explaining why she shouldn’t take them, then that’s what I will do. She deserves an education that is fun, exciting and tailored to her. Not some “standard”.

    • mary says:

      You may not have an opt out in your state but you can refuse the testing which is what I
      have done for my special needs son

      • Our state does not have an “opt out” per se. However, one can just refuse to sit for the tests. There are many instances where the Supreme Court has backed parents and asserted they (the parents) have a responsibility to be involved in their children’s education. Using those rulings and state laws (which only explicitly require states to administer the tests, not that students actually take them), we have successfully refused to test in all grades so far. We homeschool our children now and the state only “requires” homeschool students to test in certain grades, however, loop holes written into NCLB and RTTT leave room for these students to not be tested because under federal law, their scores cannot be used to acquire funding, thus data mining by the state is the only reason for them to even be tested at all. I even wrote a blog post a while back that included a copy of my refusal letter as a template for other parents. 🙂

  3. Deb Escobar says:

    I agree with this post. I am a teacher, but have seen firsthand special ed students who cannot even write a sentence be forced to sit and comply with a three-hour state exam. This is child abuse. They end up crying with their heads down on the desk. The problem is that the school is limited to opting out 1% of the population but the special ed students make up much more than 1% of the population.

    • Teachers'LettersToBillGates says:

      Thank you, Deb! We have posted your comment as a letter on our blog. It is getting shared frequently via social media because it is such a powerful message. “Students in Special Ed who cannot write a sentence – forced to sit for 3 hour state exams: This is child abuse.” ~ Deb Escobar http://wp.me/p3CDkl-2U

    • WorriedMom says:

      That’s what their telling me to. He’s 13, in the 6th grade but mentally on a 3rd-4th grade level but forced to take 6th grade. He doesn’t even have all his very basic stuff down but they said he doesn’t meet the criteria to take the only other option because his disibilites aren’t profound enough because he can write a sentence and tell you what a # is. Yeah… I asked them why don’t you just mark him failed now because he’s failed it before he’s even begun!! Yeah!!

    • Jenn says:

      Thanks you very much for this. My son is one of many.

  4. Teresa Webb says:

    Another organization that supports high stakes testing of students with special needs is the
    Council for Exceptional Children.

    • Mary says:

      Which is why I stopped reading their news briefs. I don’t understand it.

    • Dawn Scott says:

      Have they explained why? If the price of a free and appropriate education is to cause a child stress and anxiety and emotional damage, why would anyone advocating for exceptional children support this?

  5. Mary says:

    I as a teacher of Special Needs students have asked repeatedly over the years why my students have to take these tests. Always the same answer-it is the law and we can only have a certain amount not take them, take the alternate assessment, the modified standardized form, all other must take the regular form. I am forced to decide which ones that will be. At the conference I may recommend one form, and then later be forced to reconvene to change it-all because of numbers. Most of my students are 3-4 grade levels below their peers and others much further below. They are hard working wonderful children who stress out every time they have to take these tests. They can’t read it, comprehend it, calculate the answers, write enough to make sense, spell well enough to be understood, or follow the directions to complete an essay correctly. I spend far too much time teaching these type of skills at levels too far above them. These students need skills taught to them that they WILL use in the real world. Now my evaluation will be tied to their results on these tests, and the rest of the school-who I never teach. But that is the least of my concerns. My BIGGEST concern is the effect I have watched on these students. Yes, it is abusive. The anger, depression, and low self esteem increase every year during these testing periods. Is there someone out there who truly believes that a child with cognitive disabilities can pass these tests at grade level? Yes, there are some who do-and I am thrilled when they do. I am quite good at knowing which of my students could do this. As a teacher, we have very little voice in changing this. We are told what we must do. We are threatened when we speak up. And, when we have spoken up, then are words fall on deaf ears and hearts.

    • Good job, Mary. I have been in your shoes, and completely understand. Margaret

    • Amy says:

      This is exactly how I feel. I teach high school math in a resource room. When I started teaching seven years ago, I was told to teach the kids (most functioning proficiently at a 2nd-4th grade math level) what they needed according to their IEP goals. With the introduction of common core, the philosophy changed from teach them what they need to teach them Algebra 1, Geometry, Algebra 2 and college prep math. It is just crazy.

  6. SCCNY says:

    Reblogged this on stopcommoncorenys and commented:
    Grade level? Common core tests are proven to be about three years above grade level. Awful.

  7. WorriedMom says:

    That’s what their telling me to. He’s 13, in the 6th grade but mentally on a 3rd-4th grade level but forced to take 6th grade. He doesn’t even have all his very basic stuff down but they said he doesn’t meet the criteria to take the only other option because his disibilites aren’t profound enough because he can write a sentence and tell you what a # is. Yeah… I asked them why don’t you just mark him failed now because he’s failed it before he’s even begun!! Yeah!!

  8. ANNA says:

    It amazes me that parents do not make a bigger statement, especially when they see their children in the state (and much worse) that this young man is. The teachers…as a teacher, it is implied that your protest is because you are afraid of being found out to be not very good. It is catch 22, because if you fight for the children, it must be because you are not able to teach and if you just work your soul to dust for them, you will still be judged as a poor teacher because they still didm’t do well enough. There are moms and dads out there that really are hoping, well, if her job depends on it, she will get my child to this level, so let the tests ride. Then when the child does poorly, well, it isn’t the child’s difficulties or the fact that the teacher was prevented from following the IEP, it is all the teacher’s fault. It is wrong, it is mean, it is not at all useful to anyone and it is bad, bad educational practice. No one will listen.

  9. Leigh bradley says:

    This is a serious problem.. So sick of hearing about how the U.S. Educational system lags behind other nations. It’s like comparing apples to oranges. In those nations, you are are comparing a homogenized, upper income demographic to the diverse (economically, culturally, racially, ethnically and developmentally) student population in the US. Stop torturing our children for God’s sake!

  10. Dawn Scott says:

    My son, who has special needs and learning disabilities, was hospitalized With a mental breakdown at 9 years old on the heels of his first FCAT test in third grade. He was years behind his same age peers in reading and math. The stress and anxiety nearly destroyed him. Instead of exempting him from any further testing of this nature, the school district dug in harder and gave him more work! He just needed to “try harder” and “work more” and get “more interventions” so that he could catch up and be able to take that damn test. Not so that he was actually learning and banking away knowledge and information. He is now in 6th grade at a private school and doing so much better, grade level gaps are closing and testing is not a “big deal” like it was. THAT is how we helped him. But not before a whole lot of suffering and emotional damage for nothing.

    • Tamara says:

      So the solution was to put him into a private school that was exempt from the tests. Public schools are fighting two fronts: standardized tests and the public perception that private schools are so much better. I am not saying your decision was a bad one, but the standardized testing pushed you into paying a private school to escape them because private schools do not have to meet those state standards. I am not much of a conspiracy theorist, but it does seem interesting that those who can afford to go private are the ones whose children will escape the anxiety of these tests but those who cannot escape will be labeled failures for not being able to pass tests that are completely inappropriate developmentally. Sometimes it feels like we are being “played” by two masters: the one who makes billions selling the tests and the one who makes billions offering private (but non-union) schools to those who can get away.

      • Kathryn says:

        Who makes billions of dollars offering private schools? Over the years and in two different states, I have enrolled my six children in a variety of schools, 1 home school, 2 public schools, 1 public charter school, 3 private non-profit schools and 1 private for-profit school. I have never encountered a private school system that netted billions. You’ve piqued my interest.

  11. Lauren says:

    My youngest has an IEP. When it’s time for his standardized test, he gets extra time and the test isn’t the same as the test for the “normal” kids. His test is for students with significant cognitive disability. There are concessions made.

    • Trish says:

      In my state concessions have been removed. The modified test is no longer allowed. Special education students take the same tests as A.P. students. Period.

    • Melanie says:

      My oldest is 16 years old and has been diagnosed with ADHD and ODD. He has an IEP and is a freshman in high school in Massachusetts. When it is time for him to take standardized tests, they remove him from the classroom and he takes the test with an aide and is given longer to take the test than “regular” students. They’ve made concessions for him and other students like him.

  12. sarena1964 says:

    Thank you for this article and video. My son has an IEP for his dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia and ADD. He is between 1-4 grades behind in several areas and is in the 7th grade. Schools refused and denied to see his learning differences, and there was no accountability they were held to. Now they expect my child to take a standardized test that his peers take – no way. This is just cruel and further damages his 7th grade self esteem which is already damaged from years of harm.

  13. Jill says:

    I am a special education teacher. Most of my 8th grade kids are reading 5+ years below grade level but are still expected to pass an 8th grade ELA reading comprehension exam. I have seen my kids who feel intelligent in class and contribute regularly to class discussions push their tests off the desk and tell the proctor with tears of frustration rolling down their cheeks that they always knew they were stupid. These tests destroy the spirit of these children. Spend just one day in a special education classroom and meet my wonderful kids and then show them how stupid they are by giving them a test that will MEAN NOTHING once they’re out of school. But by then the damage will already be done to them; they will leave the education system feeling like failures with no self-esteem and no confidence. THIS BREAKS MY HEART!!!

  14. I’m still wondering what is the point of having special needs kids in with regular kids in the same classrooms. My Mother was a special ed teacher for middle-school in Harlem in the 1960-1995. They had all three grades rolled into one classroom 7-9. She would tell about how most progress the students made would be lost when there had been a traumatic event at home or there was an extended school vacation time, and she sometimes would have to start all over. If the point of having them all go to school with regular kids was to un-stigmatize them that’s an epic fail. Whether those kids are in a classroom by themselves labeled as special needs or lumped into a classroom with all kinds of kids their differences are still evident and the regular kids will still make them uncomfortable for those differences. The difference between then and now is now you have regular teachers trying to cope with teaching all kinds of kids at different levels in the same classroom instead of teachers specializing in special ed teaching only the kids that need that kind of person that understands and wants to cater to them. I’m sorry but in my opinion it takes a very special kind of person to want to teach these kids, they have more patience and have a bond with these kids that makes all the difference in the world. Back then it was understood just how traumatic it was to have a new teacher every year so the special kids only changed teachers every 3 years, now shoved into the regular schools they have the added stress of yearly changes and getting used to new teachers and kids in their classrooms. So progress is all that matters on paper but to heck with the effects on all the others in it’s path. If this shoving ahead with blinders on continues I foresee very few young people wanting to become teachers. After all, all people who study to be doctors don’t just stay as a general practitioner many specialize in one or two areas of medicine. I have a grandson who has special needs, but I really don’t have any idea of what those needs are because since he was little when my husband and I would try to point out that he wasn’t progressing at a normal rate ( we also have a grandson three and a half months younger to compare him to) our daughter’s answer always was the Dr said he’s just fine and right where he should be. I couldn’t wait for him to go to nursery school so someone trained in toddlers and their milestones would mention he needed special attention, but no that didn’t happen, he got kicked out of school because he wouldn’t potty train appropriately. Finally he ended up in a preschool that sent him for testing and he qualifies for special concessions in the classroom. Luckily my daughter had 3 grade schools to choose from and he was able to get into one where his needs are met on a daily basis whereas the other two schools only addressed those needs a few times a week. But still no diagnosis on paper because apparently we no long “label” kids with autism or other labels. I’m not sure that helps anyone because it leaves us as grandparents without any guidelines on what we could be doing to help him when I babysit. Instead he gets his way and is spoiled often just to avoid his outbursts and temper tantrums at family functions. But what it does do is get the government off the hook for seeing to that there are all the helps there used to be out there for the families of these kids. All the disabilities act funding and such can’t be applied for without a “label”, so families struggle often at the cost of the other kids in the family to make ends meet. But lets us hand out freebies to all the non citizens funded by us the taxpayers to make sure that the illegals don’t miss out on free food, free housing and a free education. When will we learn to take care of our own before we think we qualify to save the rest of the world. I think every politician and higher up people who decide what we expect to accomplish in our schools, and I mean everyone right up to the president, should have to take home and take care of 1 to 3 special needs kids for an entire month without any aid from nannies or babysitters and if they as a family don’t have kids of their own then they need a few of those thrown into the mix as well. Then let them come back and figure out this education thing from a hands on point of view.

  15. But wait- what is even more fun is when a child has an IEP because of language issues, and are handed these tests. Even in subject where they are not behind, the tests are so language- heavy that they cannot demonstrate skills they actually have (such as math). It becomes insanity. The tests tell me nothing about my child’s actual skill sets, because the test itself is not appropriate.

  16. Pingback: Teachers Ask Questions Of Bill Gates | Our Children Deserve A Good Education

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