Mr. and Mrs. Gates,
My mother is a powerful and passionate woman, who, for my entire life, has never taken “no” for an answer. I come by this trait naturally. If, by now, it is not apparent that I am and will continue to be an advocate for my students, my colleagues, and my profession, I certainly hope that it will be clear by the end of this letter. With respect, I will continue to write letters until I no longer need to.
I bring my mother to your attention because I wish for you to examine the damaging effects of high-stakes, standardized testing for someone like her. For most of my life, my mother worked as a special education teacher in the public school system and as an advocate for children with Autism. My mother is an extremely gifted and patient woman, and it takes someone with her tremendous skill set and huge heart to do the work that she and others like her do to help the students who need help the most.
We cannot afford to lose people like my mother in our schools. We do everyday. We lost her. She and many others are no longer special education teachers, and one of the primary reasons as to why so many gifted professionals have been forced to leave is the crushing blow high-stakes, standardized testing deals to special education programs all over the country. Try to imagine what it must feel like to a child profoundly affected by Autism, who may or may not be able to communicate his or her own feelings to another person, when that child is being forced to take and pass a test. Try to imagine how frustrating that must be to a child, who, through no fault of their own, simply cannot take the test and do what is required of every other student who is fortunate enough not to have to experience the difficulties of being affected by Autism every single day of their lives.
Now, try to imagine being the professional who has dedicated themselves to helping children like this. Try to imagine the hours of endless drills, extreme frustration, and potentially violent reactions a special education professional must endure all in the name of helping a child pass a test. Is it really worth it? Is it really worth putting these people, both child and teacher, through the tremendous stress? Mr. and Mrs. Gates, I ask that you examine your standardized testing policies and the effects they have on people like my mother and the students with whom she and her colleagues worked.
If things continue as they have for years, you will lose every last one of the angels who walk the halls of our schools and help the students who need their gentle guidance and expertise. Meeting the standards of the tests is hard enough for teachers who do not instruct children with learning disabilities, let alone those who do. It is a tremendous burden.
Remember, for a child with Autism, miracles are the simple tasks in life which we take for granted. Paul Collins, an author and advocate for special needs children, sums up Autism very succinctly and appropriately. He says, “[Persons with Autism] are the ultimate square pegs, and the problem with pounding a square peg into a round hole is not that the hammering is hard work. It’s that you’re destroying the peg.”
People can only be pushed so far. There is only so much that can be expected of both a teacher and a student, regardless of their circumstances. High-stakes, standardized testing does exactly the opposite of its intended purpose. It leaves children behind. It leaves them in the dust. And, it leaves their teachers without any answers as to how to make it better.
Please, I implore you, rethink testing. It simply isn’t right, and it simply isn’t fair.
Very sincerely and respectfully yours,
Mr. Wesley McCall