The times are changing …
When Tennessee adopted the Common Core State Standards we accepted the challenge to change what we will teach and how we will teach it to reach new academic heights. Along with that, we also changed how we will test for it and that part has made things a little scary in the world of special education…
When PARCC designed the new tests to evaluate student learning of the CCSS material, they elected to administer them in a brand new computer-delivered format. That’s what is making special education teachers across the country a wee bit nervous.
While nobody is arguing with the move toward technology-based assessments, teachers are overwhelmed by the secondary demand of preparing our learning disabled students to actually access the tests and navigate through them unaided. Students must be able to read the directives, follow the prompts and input the responses without the hand-on assistance of a teacher. There is the real possibility that students may actually become smarter from instruction using the new standards, but might not be able to demonstrate that if they’re are so overwhelmed by the navigation and access issues related to the test that they can’t focus on the content!
The good news… according to the newly released PARCC Accessibility and Accommodations Manual, students will have access to all word processing functions as well as a wide range of integrated assistive technology supports during testing. Examples include text-to-speech, voice dictation, word prediction, spell checkers, pop-up dictionaries, translators, text adjustments, screen magnification and more. If it’s included as a learning support in the IEP, they will be allowed to use it on the test. Now, that’s progress!
The not-so-good news… most of our teachers don’t know how to use these tools, so their students don’t know how either. For students that do, they’ve never been allowed to use them during a high-stakes test. This IS change for the better. These access supports really do level the field for a lot of our kids. We just need a plan for teaching them what they need to know to access and make the most of them.
More good news…as part of my graduate level work with Western Governors University, I have taken on this topic for my courses in instructional design. I will be posting information and links for Web 2.0 tools that replicate those we’ll see on PARCC tests. As I gather information and ideas, create new materials and find new resources, I will be sharing them here. We have been advocating for the increased use of AT and this is the best thing to happen to our LD kids in a very long time! Let’s turn ‘scared’ into EXCITED!