Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Suffer the Children

Oklahoma has failed it's children.

The state of Oklahoma enacted a pathetic, punitive law that seeks to retain any third grade student who doesn't pass the reading portion of the state-mandated reading test. The law was passed, disregarding the wishes of the thousands of citizens in this state who opposed and lobbied their state legislators to vote against it. To add insult to injury, an amended version of the law that would restore the decision to retain students based on a portfolio of student work, multiple assessment, and determined by parents, teachers, and reading specialists, passed solidly in both legislative houses, but was vetoed by a governor who is playing politics with our children's futures. This law is discriminatory. It punishes children because of their disabilities and differences. It forces all children into a "one-size-fits-all" assessment of their "abilities."

The fallout of this law is huge, and it is only the beginning. Parents and citizens are joining educators across our state in expressing outrage over the compulsory retention of students based on a single, high-stakes test score. They are furious that the stakeholders closest to our students -- the parents and educators who know these children and their abilities -- have been indiscriminately replaced by arrogant legislators who think they know best. It's government intrusion at its worst.

Today I read an article in our local newspaper that extolled the tragic results of this law on our children. All of the stories of "failing" children are heart-wrenching. But one story hit a personal chord with me. All ten of the deaf children being served in my district's deaf education program were deemed "unsatisfactory" and will not be able to go to the fourth grade. They received unsatisfactory scores on a test in reading that is largely based on phonological knowledge of words and language. Now remember, these are children who are deaf and cannot HEAR those phonemes upon which our language is based, and who have limited knowledge of what our language sounds like. Their primary means of communication is American Sign Language. They could be held in the third grade for two more years. That would mean they would be 20 when -- or if -- they graduate from high school.

Imagine yourself as a nine year-old child, sitting in a classroom, and being subjected to your first ever standardized test; a test that is taken for two days, for approximately two hours each day, and knowing that your future career as a student is dependent upon this single test score, no matter who you are or what you have done up to this time, or what you will do after this time. It is a single score on a one-time, high-stakes standardized reading test --regardless of your individual disabilities, learning differences, native language, or extenuating life circumstances --that will make or break you.

Now imagine that you have never heard a single word, or even a sound, in the language of the test you are being subjected to take. You are deaf. Alone. Without modifications. Without help.

And now, you will be forced to endure it all over again next year. Because you have been deemed unworthy. You are unsatisfactory.

What have we done to our children?

Elections have consequences. And we are paying sorely for the decisions we, as citizens, made in the voting booth. It is time for things to change.

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