Saturday, March 14, 2015

PARCC is CRAPP for students need Assistive Technology

I have never been more motivated to write a blog piece than I am about the my experience my student had this week with PARRC. First I will not use the district name or the students name. We know that Pearson’s is monitoring social media. Maybe they should spend that time on other matters.

My student, we will call him Chia. Chia has significant physical disabilities but cognitively fine. He uses an eye tracking device that is Windows based. As soon as we realized that Chia was going to sit for the PARCC we started to prepare for this event. We tested this device every time an update came out. We made sure that Chrome  and Firefox worked. Chia was given the simulation test (you have to practice test taking) everyday so he was familiar with the environments he would be working in and to make certain his tools would work. We had been in touch with the DOE about the concerns that Chia was experiencing. Even with the concerns Chia was excited about taking the PARCC. I know, why excited? This was going to be the first time in the history of high stakes testing that Chia wouldn't be subjected to the Big Book (think Big Book from preschool for size reference) to read from and then have to use his communication device to scribe.. This would be the first time Chia could be able to write an essay on his own without a scribe. This for him was an opportunity of a life time. As much as we dread high stakes testing, we were all excited for Chia and he was excited to take the test like everyone else.

The big day arrives - Test Day. Chia is excited. I call the teacher so he can put me on speaker mode to wish Chia good luck and remind him of good test taking strategies. As I lay in my hospital bed, I get an urgent call from the teacher JAVA issues (why does a major test use one of the most unstable platforms) in both Chrome and Firefox. And on Chia's computer Pearson's tried to load another piece of software for the test when he went finally got into the test site and he couldn't run it. EPIC Fail day 1. Disappointed, Chia went on about his day.

The next day 8 am sharp I arrive at the school (I busted out of the hospital to help my student).. Chia sees me from the window and you can see that he is excited. I am supposed to be like Mighty Mouse "here to save the day". I get to the classroom, I ask Chia if I can remove his voice so I can fix the JAVA issues. His eye tracking device is his voice when he doesn't have access to the device he has no voice. Not something I like doing and at times, a necessary evil.  He says yes (if he said no, I would have waited until he was okay with it).  IT and I go about uninstalling JAVA, reinstalling with the latest updates takes 15 minutes. We run test simulations for the PARCC and it is working. Fingers crossed.  We are set. I talk to Chia about test taking strategies, reminding him to ask for a break if he is getting tired (eye tracking no matter the years you have used it under stressful situations can cause fatigue), and to do his best. I remind him, I will be outside the door if he needs me for technical issues. Chia's district seriously was covering their bases so this experience would be good.

Chia goes to Chrome and the test site won't open. WTH? PARCC was designed for Chromebooks, go figure. He immediately switches into Firefox, success. Chia logs on... Excitement. Anticipation. We are in. Relief. Then Chia tries to bring his eye tracking mouse up to click on start test... FAILURE. A message appears that another application is trying to run and could jeopardize the test and it is gone. Being optometrist, we try again. Sign on to the site. Success. Log in to the test... Success. Chia tries his mouse to click START TEST. Failure kicked out again for another application trying to run. At this moment, we try to joke with Chia that he broke the test, he scared off the PARCC but we saw the disappointment in his face. When the test administrator left the room to check with the parents are we doing plan B or try another day, Chia and I alone. I pulled a Facebook "What's on your mind?", Chia said "sad", "disappointed", "frustrated" and "mad". All valid feelings. Then he said "I failed." I whipped my head up and said Chia no. This isn't about you. This isn't about your eye tracker. This is about Pearson’s failing you. Pearson’s failed every single student that uses assistive technology from eye tracking to blind students that use JAWS. The state and the federal government failed you. They failed to make sure that the test is 100% accessible for all students regardless of ability. So no you passed. You passed the test of endurance, patience, and beta testing a tool that should have been close to perfect. You should have been paid for your time pointing out the faults. Man of few words,Chia "cool".

Chia was told his parents made the choice to "OPT OUT". They didn’t feel that after preparing for a computer based test that Chia should be subjected to pen and paper test without prep. They are right, two different methods of preparation.  Chia again was concerned that it would reflect on him badly. I asked why? "I am different." You are different. I am different. Chia this might be the first time in you are in the majority. The students taking the test are the minority. So roll with it. Go down to the commons and talk to friends, go read a book, go study for your bio test or stay with me and learn excel and talk. Fingers crossed. Pick me.

Chia and I talked about how the test made him feel. He said earlier sad, frustrated, disappointed but this time he talked about knowledge and self worth. He said no one will know how much I know without the test. I countered that we know how much knowledge he has. We see it every day in class, in the interactions we have and the sense of humor you have. He said, but I can't do things like others. I reminded him that none of use do things like each other. Mr. S can sit on a chair without falling, I can't do that (you had to be there). Life isn't about being a robot or computer retrieving information and knowledge at the sight of a question. It is about knowing where to look for the information to do the job. So don't stick your self-worth it how smart you are in a test. Just be the best you, you can be. Don’t allow a test determine what you can do and how you can do it.

High stakes testing is taking a toll on or students with and without disabilities. We expect them to be walking books of content. High stakes testing may have come to the 21st century but they are still testing like the 19th. Just because you put a test on the computer doesn't make it relevant to the way children share knowledge.  We are in the digital age of retrieving information, determining if the information is accurate (checking resources) and trying it. Could you imagine if adults had to do high stakes testing to work? Wonder how many would be unemployed because they failed the test. How many at Pearson’s could pass the test?

High stakes testing has a place. Unless it is accessible to 100% of the students it shouldn't be allowed. In education we strive for our students to be independent, and use technology to support your needs.  If test that are supposed to evaluate a students knowledge does not show how students generalize the information they have learned then we will never have test that are accurate about the students ability. Life is test (everyday testing patience, endurance, compassion, capability to perform tasks) but the PARCC isn’t life.