Friday, May 1, 2015

Prove it: A Post for BADD 2015

This is my post for Blogging Against Disabilism Day 2015. Read more posts here.

A kindergarden student, learning to read, gets periodic assessment of their reading, and based on those assessments, moves up or down in their reading instructional level.

Yet, when my nonverbal 13-year-old student, who is also learning to read, takes the same assessment and I say I am going to move her up in reading instructional level as a result, I am met with the following response:
1. assumption that I read the passage to her.
2. push-back that I must do many more assessments before I can say for certain that she can read at that level.

When I use the formal assessment tools built into our phonics program for assessing symbol/sound awareness with one of my students and comment to one of my colleagues that my student (a non-speaking 14-year old who communicates with a low-tech eye gaze board) seems to know his consonants and be ready to move on to learning CVC words, I get the following response:
1. questioning whether I am going to assess all the letters or “just the ones on this page?"
2. commenting that “well those are the hard ones” despite the fact that I clearly stated that the section needed to be gone back to, not because the student had struggled but because the student had fatigued in using his eye gaze system and needed a break.

Why? Because they are non-speaking and the concept that a non-speaking person who is not yet using formal communication could read is completely alien, even to my fellow professionals working in the field of severe special education.

If they had been a verbal, typically developing, kindergarden students, no one would have questioned the validity of the assessment results. Yet this happens all the time when instructing students with limited formal communication skills in the general curriculum.

Yet there is a hypocrisy here. Because there is one assessment that they only had to take once. It’s the most flawed assessment they ever took, not least because it was a language based assessment given to someone with no formal language. I’m referring of course to the IQ test. The test that showed all the things they couldn’t do. The test that provided the justification for an assessment and therapeutic based education instead of a standards-based  education. No one seems to have any problem taking the results of that single assessment at face value.

That is the heart of ableism. We are only comfortable with accepting with assessments of individuals with disabilities that show us how they are disabled; the ones that show us what they can’t do. (If that reading assessment had shown she couldn’t read it, I doubt anyone would have asked me to do more assessments to make sure I wasn’t wrong.) Show an assessment that challenges those assumptions, an assessment that shows how they are skilled, and people will refuse to believe it without additional irrefutable proof.


  1. Great post! It totally shows how biased our educational system is against people with communication disabilities. I score high on verbal IQ tests so was allowed to go to a high level, mainstream high school in spite of having few adaptive/life skills. I understand this decision, because keeping me in special ed would be as damaging as expecting studetns with limited communication to fail on reading assessments and such. It is important to recognize people's strengths and challenge them to use these to overcome or compensate for their weaknesses. #BADD2015

  2. So true! In my experience, a lot of inequalities that exist in the educational system, in regards to disability, are not formal barriers so much as attitudes and persistent beliefs. "This is the way we've always done it" type thinking. For sure, your post illustrates just how much depends on the perceptions of the assessors, as opposed to the skill/learning capacity of the student. Great post!

  3. This seems so true great post

  4. Oh this is spot on! I am a teacher too, and see this kind of thing all the time amidst my colleagues.

  5. True, both in my experience as a student and later as a young teacher. Great post.