Wednesday, September 7, 2011

When Is An Accommodation a "Crutch?"

QUESTION:  Is it appropriate to use a scribe for high stakes testing for kids with dyslexia and kids on the autism spectrem who cannot concentrate well?
Here are my thoughts on accommodations on school work and on tests, in general:
What does the assignment or test purport to measure? Accommodations are intended to "level the playing field" for kids with disabilities. If an accommodation changes the fundamental purpose of what the testing is intended to reveal, it is no longer an accommodation. It is a crutch and does not serve the purpose of preparing the child for "further education, employment, and independent living."
A child may need a scribe because of muscle weakness or fatigue that interferes with the actual act of writing. In that case, a scribe is an appropriate accommodation. However, it is not appropriate for a school to provide a scribe to a child who is unable to write properly because of a lack of instruction to remediate dyslexia or other learning disability. That child needs specialized reading, spelling, and writing instruction. The scribe, in that example is not an accommodation but a crutch.
An "accommodation" that expects less of a student than for students without disabilities is not an "accommodation." For example, when a teacher assigns first grade work to a fourth grade student as an "accommodation" has lowered the bar for that student. As long as the "accommodation" is temporary, and the teacher is also providing specialized instruction, that might be appropriate. 
But it is not appropriate to assign a scribe for a student who cannot perform at grade level on the writing portion of a test because the test score will be reduced due to spelling or reading errors. The scribe is simply covering up an area that requires more special instruction. The student may score at grade level, but the student is not really doing the work; the scribe is doing the work. This gives students and parents a false sense of complacency, each believing the student is performing better then s/he really is.
I am much more an advocate for technology than accommodations. Technology follows the student throughout his/her life. Does the student really want a scribe following him/her throughout further education, employment, and independent living? (Is living really independent if the student needs a scribe as an adult?)
Can the student do the written part of the test on a computer without spell or grammer check? That tests what the student can or cannot do. That type of information actually helps a student, because then we KNOW the student needs specialized instruction.
We continue to have kids "graduating" from high school (with dyslexia and other learning disabilities), with normal or above normal IQs, who cannot read, write, or do math. This is mainly because schools are happy to provide "accommodations" and loath to provide specialized instruction to students with disabilities. While it may seem "kinder" to students to give them copious accommodations, unless they learn to read, write, and do math at a functional level, we have not really done them any favors.
The intent should be to provide accommodations for kids with a normal IQ and a learning disability to get them by while they are being taught to read, write, and do math. Once that is accomplished, then they will no longer need accommodations.
As for students on the autism spectrum, I would ask, what is the purpose of providing a scribe? How would a scribe assist a student with autism? Isn't there some other means of allowing the student to provide proof of mastery of the skill being tested? How does providing a scribe prepare the student with autism for "further education, employment, and independent living?"
There's got to be a better way than continually lowering the bar on a test to such a level that anyone could pass as long as they have aposable thumb.