Learning Knows No Bounds
Presently, my work with SST involves talking and thinking a lot about the New Decision-Making Framework that teachers must now use and provide evidence for whether a student with the most significant cognitive disability is eligible for the alternate assessment. This experience has prompted me to ask a few reflective questions, like:
- Do we believe that all students, regardless of those with the most significant cognitive disabilities, can learn from their grade level standards?
- What do we use to determine our student’s true abilities?
- Can we trust only our observations, experiences, and historical knowledge to determine what their assessment needs are?
- Are our views on abilities biased in anyway and can these views prevent us from providing the best possible outcomes for our students with the most significant cognitive disabilities?
- Do we need a tool that will provide guard rails, keeping us fixed on obtaining evidence rather than relying solely on intuition and dispositions?
These questions and my thinking about these issues reminded me of a story I heard at a training many years ago. It gives a good example of how our perceptions alone do not always give us an accurate read on things.
I was asked by human resources to move from 2nd grade to 3rd grade in my district
at the end of the year. When I agreed to do this the principal handed me a sheet of
paper with the names of my new students on it. There was also a number next to
each name. As he handed the list to me, he told me that “this is a great group of
kids and you will do a fine job with them Mrs. Smith. I looked down on the paper
and all of the names and a three-digit number next to them. Robert Samuelson- 125,
Susan Berkshire- 130. Each of the names had an IQ number of over 125. I thought
to myself, “they are giving me a group of gifted children!” I was so excited that
I went home and told my husband about the good news.
I spent the entire summer preparing to teach this group of children. Socratic
seminars, projects, inquiry-based science projects, thematic units… When the year
started, I was ready, and the children were genuinely excited to be at school. We
had a fabulous year. The students were wonderful, and we all learned so much.
On the last day of school, the principal came to my room and said “you did such a
wonderful job with that group I gave you this year. They have never had such a
great year. I was a little worried because I put all the behavior problem kids in
with you because you are a veteran teacher and I figured you would do wonderful
things and you did!”
I was confused. I asked him “well, how could they not do well, have you seen their IQ’s?”
I handed the paper he had given me at the end of last year and he started to laugh.
He said “Those numbers aren’t their IQ’S Mrs. Smith. Those were their locker
I have heard this story several times over the years and I have no idea if it’s true or not. Regardless, it makes us aware of the power of assuming the best in children. All children. This lesson can be generalized to our perceptions of children with the most significant cognitive disabilities.
I have also been thinking about this as I work with teachers in using the Decision-Making Tool. The tool’s purpose is to provide us those guard rails. To enable us to make data informed decisions and choices with regards to who is eligible to take the alternate assessment. It also ensures that we assume competence and begin assessing abilities outside of the child first and only moving towards the child if the evidence leads us there.
To further reflect and have discussion regarding the value of the Decision-Making Tool in assuring that students have the best possible outcomes, take a look at these resources:
Providing Meaningful General Education Curriculum Access to Students with Significant Cognitive Disabilities
Taking the Alternate Assessment Does NOT Mean Education in a Separate Setting