I received an anguished letter from a mother of a child with autism. She here describes–very movingly–her efforts to help him and the efforts of his teachers to help him. And when she reaches the point where he is assessed by New York’s new Common Core tests, she is in a rage. The New York State Education Department says he is a failure. She knows he is not. She knows how hard he has worked to achieve and learn. She knows how hard his teachers have worked on his behalf. My child, she says, is not a test score.

Every parent, teacher, and administrator should read her letter. So should Commissioner John King. And so should the members of the Board of Regents. See your handiwork. See what you have done.

Here is her letter:

Friday, October 04, 2013  

My son is not the ELA or Math score, so why does NYS assess him and his teachers on this? WHY?

Let me start with this- I am not a teacher. I am a true single mom of a child with High Functioning Autism.

The Backstory

My son was diagnosed with Autism at 22 months and was lagging greatly in his developmental growth across the board. Right after he was diagnosed he started receiving services at home. Several months later I brought him back to the Developmental Pediatric Doctor and it was clear and recommended he start full time early invention. So he was registered at a school that specialized in educating kids with Autism. And starting at age 3, from 9am – 3pm, 5 days a week for a year and a half, including summers, my son attended Crossroads. It was a 45 minute van/bus ride and bless his little heart, no naps and no free play were allowed. Work. Work. Work. He worked his behind off. He made leaps and bounds. At age 4 1/2, I put him in a mainstreamed preschool that was closer to home and that following September, at age 5, he started Kindergarten in a mainstreamed public classroom. He still received his services daily and at that point his diagnosis was changed to High Functioning Autism. He made it to 1st. He made it to 2nd.

2012-2013 School Year

Last year, in 3rd grade, he took the state exams for the first time, the NEW CCSS exams. His IEP states he is allowed time and half for all tests, including the NYS Exams. That means if a child is permitted 70 minutes, my son gets 105 minutes (70 + 35). When all of this test taking was happening last year, to be honest, he didn’t feel or realize the pressure that many of his friends felt; simply put “he just didn’t get it.” Right now he doesn’t have it in him to see the big picture; I know he will at some point. He believed it was just a test, a test where he sat down and was allowed to chew gum. And back then, only 7 months ago, it was “fine”. He was fine. I was fine. Why was it fine then and not now? Because I wasn’t educated about this and quite honestly there was a more pressing issue going on at his school in regards to the leadership, which has since been resolved. 


2013-2014 School Year

Currently he is in 4th grade. These past few weeks I have taken a great interest in the CCSS for NYS and am very concerned about how developmentally inappropriate the curriculum is. It seems that the CCSS program is a level or even levels, above those that are seen as developmentally “normal.” What is MORE concerning is how this CCSS is going to impact MY child, with Autism which is a developmental disability. So much so, that I scheduled an appointment with the school’s Assistant Principal, to discuss NYS testing and refusing them for my son. It doesn’t FEEL right. It isn’t right!  I am not a doctor. I don’t have the stats or a PHD to back me up, so lucky for me, this is not a scientific paper. I am a mom. I am a mom who has been reading about CCSS, looking over sample math problems and ELA reading passages and it scares me, for my son. I have felt hopeless about this for the past few days. My son is smart. He works hard to stay on task and up to speed with his schoolwork and his peers. And he does it! He really does it. Granted, his IEP has accommodations and modifications that allow him the opportunity to do the same work and feel successful alongside his classmates. Granted, he has a Special Ed Teacher that pushes in and works with him daily for Math and ELA. He works with a Speech and Language Therapist that helps him figure out the non-literal language and non-verbal cues. He works with an OT to help him with his handwriting, and all types of visual/spacial planning. And finally he sees the school Psychologist twice a month to help him with peer interaction. He is well liked. He is kind. He is social. He works hard. He is respectful. And he just needs a little help along with way.  What comes naturally to many others, it tough work for my son. There is no secret about it. I talk openly about this. It is what it is. There is no shame. We are ALL different in our own unique ways. 

Today 10/04/13

I received the NYS ELA and Math scores and even knowing everything I know about my son, I cried (the running joke is I always cry when it comes to him, and I do.) I cried because printed out before me on two sheets of double sided paper, was, at that point, MY son, who NYSED broke down into 5 categories.  

For the ELA:

·         Reading

·         Writing

For Math:

·         Operations and Algebraic Thinking

·         Numbers and operations– Fractions

·         Measurement and Data

I was kindly provided with the points my child earned in one column. Directly next to that column was a column labeled “number of possible points” and next to that one, the “state average.” As you can imagine, having a developmental disability, his “earned” points were low, well below the “number of possible points” and below the average.

According to NYS my son “performing at this level are well below proficient in standards for their grade. They demonstrate limited knowledge, skills, and practices embodied by the New York State P-12 Common Core Learning Standards for Mathematics that are considered insufficient for the expectations at this grade.”


The Aftermath

I let the fury get the best of me. Like I said, my eyes welled up with tears out of anger and frustration. You diminished my child to these 5 categories and to simplify the wording you chose, deemed him “too stupid to be in the grade level he currently is in.” Screw you CCSS and all the people that came up with this crap program. Screw you for its horrible implementation. Screw you for not considering the kids who are not on the right side of the bell curve. Screw you for not thinking about the kids who are developmentally delayed. Screw you for not thinking about the kids that aren’t developmentally delayed, but just don’t test so well. Screw you for putting pressures on the teachers. Screw you for allowing the kids to feel this pressure; it is bound to impact them. Screw you for allowing this chaos to spill over into homes and mess with our emotions, both child and parent. Screw you for APPR and evaluating my sons General Education teacher AND Special Education teacher on his test scores. Screw you for creating a problem in which our kids are the ragdolls and in which big businesses will be allowed to profit. I’m not a conspiracy theorist; I just call it like I see it. I am done with this. I’m not political. I’m for the kids, I am for the teachers and most importantly I am for my son.

I am still learning about CCSS and I don’t claim to know it all, as some do, but what I do know is this, he is not his score and neither are his teachers! I don’t care what he received on these tests, I never did and I told him the same. What I do care about and what I would hope you would too is what you can’t measure on these tests. The light in his eyes when he finally tackles a problem, be it Math or ELA, which he has been struggling to get and because of the help of his teachers he succeeds. The heart his Special Ed teacher has given to him for the past 2 years and what is now their 3rd year together. The hard work my son demonstrates at the dining room table, studying spelling. The joy we ALL feel because he has stood up for someone who was being bullied, thanks to the peer interaction help by the School Psychologist. The time when he conquered his fear of heights, outside of school on a Saturday, using tools he learned in school, from whom? Yes, from his teachers! I realize carrying the diagnosis of Autism is not the norm for most; however were children, like my son, in mind when CCSS was implemented? Because is sure doesn’t seem like it. 

I will say this one more time. My son, Liam, is not, your NYSED test score. He is a 9 year old boy, who works hard in all aspects of school, in the classroom and with his therapists. He receives tremendous support and kindness and life lessons from his teachers and therapists. He will be successful because of them, not because of this test. How do you evaluate that? That is my million dollar question.