My oldest daughter took the NJ Graduation test today. She takes it with several accommodations to support her success. I know as I write some people will throw shade on the word "accommodations" as if she is being given an advantage in a reward challenge on Survivor. However, the truth is that her accommodations simply make the test accessible to her. It is the educational equivalent to ensuring there is a ramp or a lift for someone who requires a wheelchair or scooter to go up an incline. You'd never leave them at the bottom of the stairs and say "figure out how to get up," would you?
One of her accommodations is the ability to listen to the long written passages. This is for word problems, which are testing her ability to solve a math problem and not her ability to read a math problem on her tiny iPad screen. This is also for reading comprehension, which is testing her comprehension ability and not her ability to focus her eyes on long text and long questions. Today, the "listen" to the questions function stopped working.
I got a call from the school that I needed to give permission for a proctor to read the questions to her. Some of the passages were from Shakespeare. I gave permission because the only other option was for my daughter to lose the answers to the first section of the test and restart the test entirely.
The good news is she had all the time in the world because she is also allowed extended time.
The bad news is this is hardly ideal and while it is technically accommodating, it stripped her of her independence. With the "listen" function, she could replay, rewind and review as she needed. With the human vision, she had to direct an adult to do all these tasks.
She is pretty good at directing adults and advocating; but this creates such an imbalanced testing environment for my daughter.
And friends, this is how it always is for children with disabilities. It is not because of their disability--no--it is because of the world we have created is unfriendly to human beings who don't fit a certain mold.
For my daughter, this is manifested in the existence of these standardized tests--and yes, she could take an alternate pathway to graduation and no matter what happens she will graduate, but she still needs to try the test. It is also the teacher who refuses to do the work and would rather see my child fail and say "I guess it was too hard for her!," instead of see her work, struggle and succeed. It is the technology failure and the sheer lack of inexpensive, readily available tech tools in school districts everywhere. It is the tiny iPad screen and the alignment with IEP accommodations that puts her at an even bigger disadvantage.
For example, extra time on tests requires a designation of extra time to finish a test. There is little autonomy in this decision making for my daughter. She's been put in the position of missing out on a fun activity or an important review session for another class or stopping the test; only to restart it days later--forcing her to restudy the material. She often does not get to make any of these decisions for herself; they are made for her. She's been told that maybe she should do less outside of school--never mind the fact that this isn't anyone's business and also, the things she does after school directly impact and benefit her performance in the classroom. She is not running around the mall having lattes. She is bettering her body and her mind.
If she pushes back (and she does), some teachers respond and others simply click their heels and walk away because the answer is no.
This is unacceptable friends.
I should say, that all of this is not for lack of support from her case workers and team at school. They are in the same boat as my daughter: speaking up and having some listen and others turn away.
I don't know what the solution is; I never do. We always get through this--through fight and grit and prayer and squeaky, screaming wheel like antics. But, I know the world can do better. I know the world can find a way to see disability and accommodation not as problems to be solved, but as human beings who need to be seen as human beings.