Testing (or: when a morale-booster ends up being demoralizing)

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This past week, we got the results of Julianna’s “re-eval.”

Now, for those of you who are not immersed in the world of special education, part of the process is that every three years a child must be re-evaluated to make sure they still qualify for special ed. There’s a whole battery of tests, and I guess the team has some leeway in which ones they think they need and will actually be useful.

Julianna just went through this process, and I’m blogging about it because this is the first time I ever understood the antipathy among special needs parents to the whole concept of IQ testing. (Check out this link–the first one to come up–to realize how people thought of those with low IQs when this first became a thing.)

Truthfully, I was kind of curious. Julianna was tested when she went into kindergarten, and at that time we were told that in the first couple years of elementary school the number can shift. I don’t remember exactly what her first IQ was—I think it was middle/high 60s.

Three years later, they didn’t retest her IQ. I was slightly unhappy about that, because I was sure it would go up and let’s be honest, I wanted that morale booster.

Well, this time they did the IQ testing. In fact, they led with those results when we met last week.

40s, people. She tested in the 40s.

They were quick to say they didn’t think this was representative of her actual intelligence. They had to pull her from class to take the tests—all of them. And she was not happy about that. Not happy at all. She loves school. There’s not one single thing she doesn’t like about school. So the entire time she was being tested, she was grouchy and focused on getting back to class, where she belonged.

But they kept going around the table, and every one of those global numbers came out in the 40s. It was all the same caveats:

“She showed she understood the question, but the instructions said to use the cue word, and she didn’t use it. She used other words instead. So she got counted off for that.”

Or:

“Some of these areas she scored really high on—in the 70s or 80s—but the comprehension is her problem.”

Or:

“She was really focused more on what we were doing after the test was done rather than the questions.”

You get the idea. And I found myself stopping the meeting to say, “Hang on. If these tests are not indicative of what she’s actually capable of, why are we doing them?”

They hastened to add that they chose some more…descriptive (I think that’s the word they used) tests that they felt would showcase her strengths, to supplement the standardized tests. So that’s good.

But for me, this has put the whole question of standardized testing in a new light, which is why I’m sharing. Too many of us just take many of these things for granted.

I totally get that standardized tests are standardized for a reason. Everybody gets the same instructions. Nobody gets clarifications. Nobody gets alternative instructions. That’s the only scientific way to say everybody got exactly the same opportunity. My whole life, people have complained, “Standardized tests don’t test knowledge. They test how well you take tests.” I always thought that was hogwash, but then, I’m a darned good test taker.

Now, I understand.

And here’s the thing: for most of us, those standardized tests are really not that important. But Julianna’s going into the 5th grade. In the next twelve months, the entire shape of her middle school experience will be decided. The whole purpose of this battery of tests was to help direct that process.

So now what? Will she be walled off in a self-contained classroom where her focus will be “essential skills”, and no longer be able to interact with her typically-developing peers for any academic work whatsoever? How much inclusion is possible? How much can we fight for?

It would be very easy to use that 40-something IQ and related test results, and put her out of sight-out of mind for the rest of her educational experience. And she would be poorer for that. Even more importantly, her peers would be poorer for it.

Now, for the first time, I understand why all those parents said, “Don’t ever, ever, ever, EVER let them do an IQ test on your kid!”

I said to our IEP team: “We have always had a really good experience, we’ve never felt like the relationship with the school was combative, we’ve always felt like we were on the same page. I need you guys to stand with us as we go forward in this process. The reality is, Julianna is never going to be a high academic achiever. Sticking her behind a wall isn’t going to change that. She won’t accomplish any more there than she would outside it. What she’s good at is people. She needs to be around people, and they need to be around her. I need you guys to help us discern what is the appropriate level of inclusion, and I need you guys to advocate for us.”

So that’s where we are. We have a true IEP meeting in a few weeks. I’ll update after that.

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What I Learned From A Kindergarten SpEd Re-Eval

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J birthday 034

Carousel birthday Cake, a la Mommy

About a month ago, Julianna’s school finished her “re-evaluation.” This is required every three years under the IDEA, presumably to ensure that kids who are receiving expensive special ed services still need them.

Julianna entered the mid-kindergarten eval with a diagnosis of “young child with developmental delay,” a dx that does not carry into the elementary/secondary years (for obvious reasons). So, beginning mid-fall and lasting until Christmas or thereabouts, she underwent a battery of assessments for language, behavior, speech, motor, and academic skills. Even an IQ test, about which we were intensely curious. Hearing the number 60 was a bit of a reality check; it’s one thing to recognize that your child is and will always be delayed; it’s another to see it quantified. Somewhere deep inside, you keep hoping your kid will pull out a 69 and almost squeeze into the “normal” range.

In any case, the end result of this re-eval was–wait for it–an IEP meeting in which we went over the report and incorporated the results into a new plan. Ten people in the room, copies for everyone–nauseating amounts of paper, because the god Privacy forbids electronic dissemination. We moved quickly, with many interruptions caused by the three children in the room (one of whom was trying to eat every toy block in sight), so it wasn’t until the formal report came that I sat down to really read and process it in depth.

carousel craft

Apple, straws, peanut butter & animal crackers = a great, edible carousel birthday party craft.

When your child goes off to school, you automatically lose a certain intimacy. No matter what you do, you can never quite pry out of them what their day is like now. Their routines are unremarkable to them, so they don’t see anything to share. You ask “What did you learn in science today?” and you hear: “We didn’t have science.” You know they must have, they just didn’t recognize it as such, but without a beginning point there’s no way to pry the layers back and understand exactly what’s going on in the hours he or she is away from you.

If it’s that hard with a verbal child, imagine the dearth of information when your child doesn’t communicate by speech at all, or at least, only at the most surface level. So this report was really enlightening. It didn’t tell me about the school days or the routines, but every so often a nugget would pop out that I recognized so clearly, I could picture the entire scene:

“It was often unclear whether she was simply repeating the presented words rather than making an attempt to respond to the items.” Check.

“When asked to write numerals in sequence, Julianna wrote the number 1. When asked to write other numbers, she wrote the number 1 again.” Ouch.

“Julianna would sometimes point to several pictures on the page and was reminded that she could only point to one. This test was given over 2 sessions as she would start pointing randomly.” And giggling with a sly Miss Charming look on her face, no doubt.

“Julianna appears to enjoy socializing” (you think?) “and will wave hi and bye to many adults and peers.” Yup.

“She is a risk-taker.” Uh, yeah.

Concurrent with this is the formal discernment by the Catholic school administration as to whether they can realistically serve Julianna there. I am so torn on the subject. I want her in an environment where faith formation is “in the air,” and I want to have one PTA, one fundraiser, one school calendar to deal with.

And yet…she really needs speech intervention every day, and I will have to transport her myself (barring carpools, but you can’t count on that.) The public school has been wonderful–I love all the people. Her speech therapist calls her “chickadee,” and it makes me all warm and gooey inside. Her para and her teacher are particularly wonderful, and all the necessary infrastructure is right there. Her classmates are incredibly sweet to her. It has been a wholly positive experience, and even considering moving her feels disloyal.

It’s a good position to be in, so don’t take these reflections as complaint. But this is a part of the special needs parenting process, so I share it for the benefit of…well, whoever needs it.

I am being paged for a game of Spot-It. Bowing out for the day.