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Educational Debate


Submitted By anti1313
Words 1867
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Educational Debate
University of Phoenix
COM150 Effective Essay Writing
Shelagh Smith
February 21, 2010

Introduction There is widespread debate about whether or not special needs students should be exempt from graduation and exit-level tests. Many believe that testing will place students where they belong in society. Under this belief pattern, is it fair to judge special needs students by these standards? Many parents and educators believe that it is unfair for special needs children to be judged or tested in the same manner as children who do not have special needs. The major concern here is not so much whether or not special needs students should take exit level tests; but rather how special needs students are classified, whether or not the correct accommodations are provided, and if a single indicator is used for assessment. To identify a special needs students capability levels, multiple indicators must be given. These multiple indicators include: tests, observations, psychological reports, student work samples, and parent and teacher interviews. Because it is difficult or almost impossible for educators to determine what level of accommodation is needed for each student, educators must consider giving students exit level tests according to their individual academic level. This must be done on a case-by-case basis. Timothy Bush, a special education teacher at Sanford high school in Delaware, said it best: “The national demand for high standards and accountability is appropriate for all students. But it is unfair not to make the accommodations that will enable students with special needs to demonstrate their abilities” (Bush, 2000)
Defining Special Needs Children Who makes the rules for special needs children? Who decides the needs of the child to be classified as “special”? At one point in time, special needs children had a handicap or were considered mentally retarded. That stereotypical definition has changed. Some children are physically handicapped but function well mentally. In fact, some of these children have higher IQ’s or IQ’s that equal that of most children with no handicaps. There are also other children who cannot process information as quickly as others; but they are not mentally retarded. Then there are the students not native to English-speaking. These students are also known as English Language Learners (ELL) or English as Second Language (ESL) students. Although students are receiving more accommodations for testing, there is still more that needs to be done. In response to the 1997 revision of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), educators and test developers are trying to design fair tests for the special needs students. According to the Department of Special Education and Office of Education Research and Improvement, “testing administrators estimate that they will need to design accommodations for up to 15% of the nation’s children—11% for students with disabilities and 4% for those with limited English proficiency (Azar, para 6). Educators have had a hard time developing tests for special needs students. One challenge they face is whether or not altering exams changes the validity of the exam. Testing administrators are concerned that altered exams may no longer assess the same ability or skill it was designed to measure. By far the most challenging issue facing testing researchers is trying to decide whether a testing accommodation worked. Testing researcher Susan Phillips of Michigan State says that accommodations must provide a differential advantage. This means that special needs students have scored above and beyond what students without special needs may score. For example, studies done by the College Board have found that special needs students who were provided extra time on the SAT improved their score by 45 points on the verbal section and 38 points on the math portion of the test. Unfortunately, the test was found to be inconclusive because no study has compared these higher scores to how students without disabilities may fare with more time; thus giving way to speculation that providing more time on the SAT damages the SAT’s ability to predict college performance (Azar, para 12).
No Child Left Behind – At What Cost? The biggest implication that graduation tests have had is on that of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. A recent study was done at both Rice University and the University of Texas in Austin. The study concluded that there were a disproportionate number of students who dropped out prior to graduation. Although not all were special needs students, 80% of the ESL students did not graduate within five years. According to Linda McSpadden McNeil, director of the Center for Education at Rice University, “High-stakes, test-based accountability does not lead to school improvement or equitable educational possibilities” (Randall, para 3). This came as a huge blow to schools under the accountability system. The accountability system uses students’ test scores to rate schools and reward or discipline principals. Students not able to make it under the schools accountability system left the school or either dropped out. When these low-achieving students - many of whom may be special needs students - leave the school it creates the illusion of rising test scores that in turn increases the schools’ ratings. This study has serious implications for the NCLB law. It finds that the higher the stakes and the longer such an accountability system governs schools, the more school personnel view students not as children to educate but as potential liabilities or assets for their school’s performance indicators, their own careers or their school’s funding.
Types of Special Needs Students The more important question should not be if special needs students should take graduation tests. It should be more important to make sure the tests are appropriate for special needs students to take. To make sure the students have equal opportunities for passing graduation tests, they should be given all the available materials to pass the test successfully. Of course the only way to find what materials each student needs, the educators, teachers, and test preparers should educate him or herself and study different types and categories of special needs students. “Special needs” is such a broad term; but in truth, it encompasses many types of students: ESL, ADD/ADHD, Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome, Homocystinuria, Bipolar. This is just to name a few. It would be a mistake to group these students together under special needs and give them an exit level test because each of these special needs students has a different need. ESL students will obviously not be able to fare as well as native English-speaking students would. In the state of Ohio, ESL students who have been in the United States for less than a year are not required to take the reading and writing achievement tests. This makes sense. How can teachers expect a student who is not proficient in the English language to read and write English without someone reading it for him or her? The standardized tests given are usually timed and very difficult. Is it fair to ask a child who cannot think at a faster rate, cognitively, and one that cannot process information quickly to complete a test within a timeframe that will guarantee him or her to fail? It is a known fact that children with ADD/ADHD have problems focusing, concentrating, and getting the job done more than would a student who does not have this disorder. If autistic children are taught using different methods, how much different would graduation tests be that would be used to test their abilities? Also, each autistic child is different. How can educators give a set test to a group of children so different from each other? Children with Homocystinuria can be affected in various ways including problems with learning and development. This means they learn more slowly than a normal student. Among the many symptoms of Homocystinuria are: mental retardation, myopia, blindness, acute psychoses, and delayed speech development. The tricky thing about this condition is that not all children are affected in the same manner and not all children are diagnosed properly. Therefore, many students are taking standardized tests and failing them miserably, but they have an unfair advantage: they have a condition that no one knows they have; and it is one causing them to fail. Even for children who are aware that they have this condition, not many educators are familiar with how to teach or test them. How can anyone give an exit level test to a student not properly knowing how to test him or her? These are a list of items to consider before testing students on exit level exams. Conclusion – A Resolution It is very important that special education students get a chance to function as normal as they can. They should be allowed to show what they have learned while they are in school. They should also be allowed to feel as good as a regular student when he or she walks, or is pushed across the stage. This also allows them to believe that they have accomplished something good, which will give them a little extra push as they prepare for the next stage of their lives. No matter what test or what level of special needs the student may have, all students should be treated the same. That is what many special needs or handicap lobbyists have fought for. They have fought for this a long time. This means that standardized testing will not always give the results it is supposed to give. Just like the test given to regular students, it does not always give an accurate result of what a student has or has not learned during the course of his or her school years (Vail, 2008). We must take the time to reevaluate the tests. Educators should break them down and fix them to work on the different learning plateaus. Even with regular education students, sometimes these tests just do not allow them to show how they learned their lessons; and sometimes the results allow them to fall through the cracks. So with that in mind just imagine how hard it is for special needs students whose tests are not fixed for their learning curve. We must make sure that the tools needed are in place to help these students achieve their goals. We as teacher, principles, educators, and school administrators need to have a complete understanding of what students should be required to achieve before they earn a diploma.

Azar, B. (1999). APA Monitor Online. Fairness a challenge when developing special-needs tests. Retrieved December 28, 2009. from:
Randall, K. (2008). The University of Texas at Austin. School Ratings Rise as Graduation Rates Fall, University of Texas at Austin, Rice Study Shows. Retrieved January 8, 2010. from:
Vail, P.L., M.A.T. (2008). Great Schools. What Standardized Tests Do and Don’t Tell You. Retrieved December 22, 2009. from:

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