MAP test changes to affect those students with disabilites

Monday, December 5, 2005

Students with disabilities are on their own for the communication arts portion of the Missouri Achievement Program (MAP) test this spring.

New guidelines from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education testing procedure state that teachers are no longer allowed to read the test questions to students with disabilities, unless they are visually impaired and oral reading is their primary means of learning. Doing so will invalidate the test.

"The test that we give in communication arts generates a reading score," Walt Brown, coordinator of curriculum and assessment with DESE, said. "When I read it to a student, I have just invalidated the reading test score because it's not a reading test for that child anymore; it's a listening comprehension test."

While Sam Duncan, director of state and federal programs for Jackson Public schools, said he is aware of the changes, he is waiting until the MAP manual meeting in February with DESE officials before he passes judgment about the changes.

Scott City and Central educators are not waiting before speaking out against the changes.

DESE says statistically the change shouldn't impact students with special needs scores, but area educators disagree.

Cape Girardeau public schools director of special services Deena Ring said she is having a problem coming to grips with DESE's reasoning.

"I have my doubts," Ring said. "I am very concerned about this because I feel like this is not a situation that is fair."

Special education teacher Toni Scheeter said if a student's Individualized Education Program (IEP) allows the student to have other tests read to them, they should be allowed to have the communication arts portion of the MAP test read to them also. Other tests such as the ACT and the driver's license exam can be read aloud to anyone who qualifies.

"Some kids are very, very smart, but their little brains and eyes just don't click right," Scheeter said. "They shouldn't be punished and made to feel stupid."

"I believe the purpose of the accommodations is to level the playing field for these kids," Ring said. "It is not to give them a leg up; it's just to level the playing field and it concerns me that this is something that has been withdrawn."

Teachers can continue to read the communication arts portion of the MAP test to students with special needs, Brown said, but their score will be marked with an asterisk and that student will be counted in the school's Level Not Determined.

If a school's Level Not Determined exceeds 5 percent for two years in a row the school will not make Adequate Yearly Progress and students at that school can transfer to a better performing school in the district.

Most of Scheeter's students have never been exposed to the material covered on the communication arts part of the MAP test, she said. Some of her students will go from learning life skills, such as cooking and cleaning to taking the MAP test, which is very jarring to her students.

There have been students who have thrown fits, LaDonna Pratt, counselor at Scott City, said. One student refused to even come into the room during the testing and refused to take the test. Most blankly stare at the test and have no idea what the teachers are talking about, even with having the test read to them, Pratt and Scheeter said.

"It's stressful all the way around, but some handle it better than others," Pratt said. "Those special services students are already set apart whether we mainstream them or not."

Central is looking at ways of weaning their students off the accommodations and working with them on test taking skills so that it's not a situation where the students were used to taking tests one way and then taking the MAP in a different way, Ring said.

"Unfortunately we're given the rules and we have to play within those rules," she said.

But even modifying their teaching may not help, Scheeter said.

The test doesn't always measure what a teacher is teaching, because teachers can't teach exactly what is going to be on the test, especially in special education, Scheeter said.

DESE and the federal government place such an emphasis on MAP that they put districts in a bad position, Ring said.

"It's amazing how we have doctors and lawyers and presidents who never had to take the ACT or the MAP test and they do fine and invent things, but now, we're just like 'Oh if you don't pass this test, bad things will happen,'" Scheeter said.

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