High Stakes Testing, Special Education: A False Picture of Failure


Dear Bill and Melinda,

I am a retired teacher from the Rhode Island School for the Deaf.  I taught English Language Arts in the middle school and high school until retiring in the fall of 2011.

One of the events that precipitated my decision to retire was that the RI Department of Education labeled the RI School for the Deaf a Persistently Lowest Achieving School, based largely on students’ scores on the standardized state assessments.

I’ve been researching the Common Core and high stakes testing for several years. The information from the American Psychological Association in my comment below is from the work a former colleague of mine is doing as part of her responsibilities with the RI Teacher Advisory Council. She is researching the impact of high stakes testing on students with disabilities.

According to information from the American Psychological Association, potential negative consequences of high stakes testing need to be identified and minimized, as well as monitoring the impact, particularly on racial and ethnic-minority students or students of lower socioeconomic status.

Special accommodations may be needed to ensure that test scores are valid for students with disabilities. Test developers should include students with disabilities in field testing and document the impact of particular modifications for test users.  Has this ever been done?

Helen Keller 3

Challenging students, having high expectations for them, encouraging them to reach their full potential, does not mean that they should be able to show the same proficiency in the same time frame on the same tasks in the same format (primarily multiple choice) as students without the various obstacles that students with special needs are dealing with.

Anyone who has ever worked with children would know this. It is a travesty that those foisting these unreasonable and harmful practices on teachers and children not only shield themselves from reality but treat with disdain those who are trying to provide meaningful instruction to all students.

Even with accommodations, the necessary scaffolds are not in place to validly evaluate the learning of many special needs students, due to the sophisticated linguistic demands of the tasks. Also, testing students at their grade level, as opposed to their actual academic level as determined by specially trained teachers and written into their IEP’s, cannot possibly provide meaningful information for teachers to use to benefit the students.

Appropriate diagnostic testing is essential to provide program supports and to challenge the students in their zone of proximal development.

High stakes one-size-fits-all mass administered, grade level testing accomplishes nothing beneficial, and only gives a false picture of failure.

Sheila Resseger,  Retired Teacher


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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3 Responses to High Stakes Testing, Special Education: A False Picture of Failure

  1. Michelle says:

    As a special ed teacher, AND as a parent of a young person with special needs, I wholeheartedly agree with this author! Well stated!

    • Teachers'LettersToBillGates says:


      Thank you for your thoughtful comment. We encourage you to write your own letter, tell the story of how testing impacts you and your students.

      Our voices can no longer remain silent.

      Susan & Katie

  2. Debi says:

    As a kindergarten teacher I have seen my job change dramatically in the 26 years I have been in the classroom. Years ago my classroom was a joyful place where young children painted, sang, played and explored. Today we have reading groups, writing workshop, math benchmark testing and MAPS testing. I still have blocks and play areas in my room but my younger colleagues do not. I am thankful my son with high functioning autism is in his senior year of high school and nearly finished. We were blessed to find a private school for kids with special needs where he has flourished. But, they also put zero emphasis on standardized testing! I wonder how long they will be able to continue that…

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