How to deal with students who can't read the reading assessments (long)

Discussion in 'Special Education' started by waterfall, Oct 27, 2016.

  1. waterfall

    waterfall Virtuoso

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    Oct 27, 2016

    For what seems like the 800th time this year we are discussing how to handle assessments for our sped students. My school got a new core reading curriculum this year and it comes with weekly reading tests. The tests are several long stories with multiple choice and essay questions. We aren't allowed to include any modifications on IEPs for students who are learning disabled (they have to have a cognitive disability to get them). We got the curriculum through a grant, and it must be followed "with fidelity" for us to continue getting the money, so the teachers have to give all the assessments. The state's stance is that students with learning disabilities can and should be performing at grade level, and providing modifications is having "low expectations" and we can't "hold them to a different standard" if their cognitive functioning is fine. We're supposed to be "closing the gap" and they say providing modifications is not doing that. The only accommodation we can give for the state reading test is extended time, and we're supposed to follow what's allowable for state tests when considering what to do for all other tests. I know in some places you can read the questions and answer choices; that's not an allowable accommodation here.

    Anyway, of course the problem we run into is that over here in the real world our kids really need modifications. I work in a very low SES school where at least half of the gen ed students are below grade level. The kids that actually end up referred for sped are very, very low. My students tend to test in the 1st-3rd percentile on the Woodcock Johnson, and I think the tasks on there are significantly easier than what we're asking kids to do in classrooms these days (and they are given TONS of varied and intensive interventions prior to being referred to testing). Pretty much all of my students have severe dyslexia. Never in my four years at this school have I had a student that could decode but had other fluency or comprehension issues. It takes thousands upon thousands of exposures for them to learn even the most basic decoding skills, and if I don't constantly review they forget previously learned skills and/or overgeneralize newly learned phonics rules. Yesterday in a meeting someone asked again what to do about these weekly tests for students that simply can't read them. I currently have 15 2nd and 3rd graders (K and 1st tests are a little different). 2 are complete non-readers, 7 have decoding skills that are so basic that there is absolutely no way they can read a grade level test (K level sight words and inconsistent ability to sound out CVC words), 3 can read but nowhere close to grade level and would be missing so many words that I think the test would still be reflective of decoding skills rather than comprehension, and 3 can read well enough to at least access the test material. Of the 3 that can read it, 2 are being exited very soon.

    Basically, the options brought up have been:
    1. Give them the test as is because we "have to." Praise effort and if it's a student that is going to burn themselves up really attempting to do an impossible task (I once had a teacher tell me that one of my lowest students legitimately attempted to read the same page for 25 minutes and ended up crying), set a timer for a short amount of time and tell them they are working on trying their best for x amount of minutes. The argument against this is that it seems silly to put a test in front of kid who can't read even if it is only for 5 minutes, and what kind of message does the whole timer thing send?
    2. Give them the test as is and try to focus on improving their score, even if it's from 0% to 5%, etc. I think the issue with this is that because some of the questions are multiple choice and the test is long, they're earning some points just by probability of guessing right. Their scores tend to fluctuate by a few points not because they're doing better or worse with the content, but because they just happen to be guessing better sometimes.
    3. Mark a 0 for the report card and read the test aloud to them to see if they're at least picking up the language/vocabulary/content skills. Obviously the problem with this is that then you'd be assessing listening comprehension, which is a completely different skill. Also the student would likely earn at least some points just by guessing vs. getting a 0.
    4. Mark a 0 for the report card and have the student do some sort of alternate assessment that will actually give information helpful to drive instruction (a lower grade level test, a more basic comprehension test, or just looking at their DIBELS scores). The argument against this is that we have to somehow be measuring how they're progressing on grade level content since we're responsible for providing tier 1 to everyone.

    What are your thoughts? Any other ideas? My sped team meets with admin on Mondays and I would love to actually go in with some real ideas. And please don't say that we need to give them more services or some other thing that isn't a real world suggestion. Regardless of what IEPs are "supposed" to do, the school isn't going to get more funding, programs, or more staff. We're giving them everything we can with the limited resources we have; this is the reality that we live in. I'm really looking for practical suggestions for what we can do for reading assessments.
     
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  3. Kelster95

    Kelster95 Companion

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    Oct 28, 2016

    Your situation makes me sad for you and your students. I have a non-reader 7th grader, thankfully my state allows students to test each year for a read aloud of reading accommodation. As for your weekly tests I would give the grade level test about once a month and do level appropriate alternate assessments the majority of the time.
     
  4. a2z

    a2z Virtuoso

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    I have yet to hear about any state that allows a student to have a reading test read to them as a viable accommodation for a state reading test. It invalidates all of the results because the student is supposed to be reading.

    W-J is a joke when it comes to evaluating reading disabilities. As you noted, it is so easy (and isolates the skills so much) that it isn't a representation of what is needed in the classroom or in daily reading.

    This points to a larger problem within the school and how reading is taught . I doubt they all have dyslexia. That would be a statistical anomaly unless you have 700 students per grade.

    Why are you responsible for providing Tier 1 to IEP students? I'm thinking RTI. Do you mean another Tier 1.

    Now, on to my suggestions. I'd be getting my hands on those grant papers if at all possible. Most likely, what you are being told about all students needing to take this test is being misinterpreted because the IEP overrides everything.

    If you have an unmoving administration, I would be more inclined to give the zero and give alternative progress assessments. You could even update the IEP such that it explicitly says that reading instruction and assessment will be on the level of the student. But you may see this as one of those suggestions that are not possible.

    As I see it and the parameters you have put on the answers you will accept, you pretty much lined up the possible answers. None are really good. You have a mindset problem in your school as you know. It is not low expectations to not give a student who is below grade level by numerous years work that they do not have the ability to do. It isn't as if they guess right or cheated anyone could claim they are on grade level.

    Did your entire school get the curriculum? If so, can they be given the assessment that corresponds to their present level of performance listed in the IEP and updated by progress assessments?

    You certainly are in a pickle, aren't you?
     
  5. viola_x_wittrockiana

    viola_x_wittrockiana Comrade

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    Oct 28, 2016

    Are you allowed to modify the test paper itself? It would only help marginally, but if you were allowed to type up the questions verbatim in a dyslexia-friendly font, it'd be better than nothing. If you can do it, there was a Dutch study out of the University of Twente that showed improvement in low-readers using dyslexie font on a yellow background. Heck, if you can't use dyslexie, verdana is available on any word processor and rates well among dyslexics as opposed to times new roman or arial.
     
  6. waterfall

    waterfall Virtuoso

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    Reading the questions and answer choices on the reading state test has always been a standard accommodation for students with reading disabilities in my home state (Ohio). They weren't allowed to do it the one year they did PARCC, but now that they're no longer a PARCC state they're back to allowing it.

    The gen ed teachers have been doing Fundations with fidelity whole class in addition to the core curriculum for years, so phonics is definitely being taught. Everything I've read says that anywhere from 10-20% of the population is dyslexic.

    By "we", I meant the school, not me specifically as the sped teacher. We've always used "tier 1" to describe general education/grade level instruction. My program is only mild/moderate so all of my students have to receive grade level core instruction. Since we can't modify grades/report cards, they also have to be graded on core instruction.

    The IEP would trump everything, but like I said, we're not allowed to write any modifications into the IEPs unless the student has a cognitive disability, and none of my students do. So there's nothing in the IEP that says they can't take grade level assessments.

    I wouldn't be allowed to put something in the IEP that said the student would take assessments only at their current reading level because that would be a modification.

    It's not my school/district that's saying the no modifications thing, it's the state. Our department of ed is constantly going around giving "training" where they make it extremely clear that students with learning disabilities can and should be performing at grade level, no excuses. The only acceptable "excuse" is having a cognitive disability. If you raise the bar, they will meet it, they say.

    Yes, everyone got it. I think this is a good idea for the older students if we decide to just mark a 0 and give them an alternate assessment. There are some overarching themes that everyone works on in the curriculum at once, just at different levels (everyone is working on author's purpose this week, etc.) so they'd at least be tested on some of the same content and this would be considered more rigorous than just doing something like only looking at their DIBELS scores. I'll bring this up in the meeting.


    I can always ask. I'm not sure because obviously that's not something they can get on the state test, so I don't think I could write it into the IEP but it could be something we could just try. That would be hours upon hours of extra work for me to do that each week, so I'd have to see that it really makes a big difference before committing to providing that all of the time!
     
  7. a2z

    a2z Virtuoso

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    Oct 28, 2016

    On an aside...
    What do you do for present levels of performance on IEPs? I wonder what a court would do with the fact that instruction is grade levels above current ability, especially if students are being given passing grades.
     
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  8. waterfall

    waterfall Virtuoso

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    I'm not sure what you mean. I write the kid's current information in the present levels- where they are, what percentile that places them in (when applicable) and what the grade level expectation is. My students aren't being given passing grades; again that would be modifying. We use standards based report cards so they're not traditional letter grades anyway. It's a 1-4. The great majority of my students are receiving all or mostly 1's in whichever areas their disability is in. Retention is never recommended for students with disabilities even though they are technically "failing." State law says it's ultimately the parent's choice, so we will retain only if the parent absolutely insists on it.
     
  9. Mr Magoo

    Mr Magoo Comrade

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    Oct 28, 2016

    When I am in English or Language Arts and the students have a book to read, i always make the students read out loud.

    How can you get better at reading if someone else reads to you ?

    You actually have to do it yourself to learn how to do anything.

    P.S.
    Practice , Practice and Practice again.
     
  10. agdamity

    agdamity Fanatic

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    Oct 28, 2016

    Does the curriculum have any suggestions for special education students? I know some textbooks have differentiated portions, so you might be able to get some ideas there.

    If they absolutely have to take the test, I would go with trying to track improvement on the test. Maybe have them circle words they know they don't know while they read, and see if they circle less words as the weeks go on? We do standards based report cards as well, and my sped students reading on a first grade level will always be a 1 for all reading standards (I teach 5th), because they cannot do 5th grade level work independently. I think they would need a purpose to try on these tests because chances are they know they won't do well.
     
  11. waterfall

    waterfall Virtuoso

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    It has a tier 2 program with "approaching level" texts and assessments. The person from the curriculum company recommended that we use that for sped students (I suspect she was trying to sell more materials). There is no tier 3 component. I looked through the materials at the beginning of the year and decided it was way, way too difficult for my students. Most of the texts seemed to still be on grade level and the activities were just not as "robust" as what we're already doing in resource groups (I use tons of multisensory stuff, and there was nothing like that). I'm glad I didn't push to get them because the title teacher told me that the program is way too hard for her students and she wishes she didn't have to use it! The teachers area allowed to give my students the "approaching" tests. However, from what they've told me the only difference is that there is no big essay question included at the end. The stories they have to read, the multiple choice questions, and the short answer questions are all exactly the same.

    I might try suggesting that my kids do the circling the words thing for at least one story in the test (it seems like it would get very frustrating doing that throughout the entire test). At the very least it would hopefully give them something to focus on. I know that especially in the older grades they're spending approximately 3 minutes circling answers and then a lot of them are causing behavior issues because they have nothing to do while the rest of the class takes an hour to actually complete the test.
     
  12. vickilyn

    vickilyn Multitudinous

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    Oct 28, 2016

    A2Z and I may not be from the same state, but I know exactly where she is coming from. Students with dyslexia need intense instruction with something like the Wilson Reading program to not only to stop the slide, but also to start catching up. Can they catch up? Yes. Is it easy? Probably not, but it is worthwhile, since this is a learning disability that the student will have for life. Being dyslexic earns them the learning disability, but with the right training program and the right instruction, it can be overcome. I believe that the school or district does have a problem with how reading is taught. a2z is dead on, and I would have said almost the same things, but she said them better.
     
    Last edited: Oct 29, 2016
  13. a2z

    a2z Virtuoso

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    Goals are supposed to be written such that the gap is closing. Specially designed instruction is supposed to be written such that it is done keeping in mind the current level of ability of the student and how far the student needs to go that year (knowing it might not close the gap). The amount of service is supposed to be based off of what will be needed to create progress for that goal. Progress is supposed to monitor what the student is doing as they close the gap and should also include, which most times doesn't, end up with the new PLOP for the next year's IEP. That means, in the area the student needs specially designed instruction that the instruction and assessment, while aligned with the curriculum standards, still needs to be done in such a way that it is based on the needs of the student. Alignment, as referred to by Ohio DOE, doesn't mean that no student has modifications but it means that they will be learning similar content but at a lower level or not quite as much as the student receives services sufficient and tailored enough to close the gap.

    I think the problem is the interpretation of administration about what alignment means. Again, this conversation is an aside to your main question because you have what you have and have an unmoving administration.

    This link gives a good explanation of what I mean.
    http://hickman-lowder.com/hickman-lowder-weblog/36-special-education/419-modified-curriculum
    "Is your child’s IQ is well below average? Does your child’s IEP exempt your child from standardized tests or note that she should take modified assessments? Is she “pulled out” into a resource room for any academic subject, such as Math or Language Arts? Is it clear from her homework that she is unable to learn at the same depth or speed as her typical peers? If your answer to any of these questions is “Yes,” then ask the IEP Team if your child should be receiving a modified curriculum, and then ask them to identify what grade level curriculum she should be receiving."

    Yes, it is a special education lawyer's site, but it is in line with what an IEP is about. It is not out of line with the clarification of the USDOE regarding curriculum for special education students. Even that clarification says, when possible, which is to signify when a student is close to grade level, it is appropriate to use grade level curriculum. They just don't want kids housed and put through a program or schools failing to give services that are appropriate to close the gap by dumbing down the curriculum just because. There has to be a good reason and a good plan in place to close the gap. It is not meant to mean that the student is just given the grade-level curriculum regardless.
     
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  14. Luv2TeachInTX

    Luv2TeachInTX Comrade

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    I'm curious, does your school do Balanced Literacy? I was under the impression that most schools nowadays did, but maybe not. It just seems odd to me that if gened students are meeting in guided reading groups on their level, why would your school force SPED students to read grade level texts?
     
  15. waterfall

    waterfall Virtuoso

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    a2z, I'm not currently in Ohio, that's my home state. Modifications are very common there. I know what an IEP is "supposed" to do- I said that in the OP. Modifications are not allowed to be written into IEPs for students without cognitive disabilities in my current state. Like I said in the OP, this is the reality we're dealing with and I'd rather not go on and on about non real-world suggestions. I do write goals that align with the present levels of the student, but the state doesn't like that either. I have been to about four trainings within the last two years given by our department of ed about "rigorous goals." They have repeatedly said that for students with learning disabilities, they want the goal to be written so that the student will reach the 40th percentile for their current grade level (or next grade level if the IEP is written in the spring), regardless of where the student's current level is. They also send out numerous letters and powerpoints throughout the year reminding us of this with examples of what the goal should look like and "bad" examples of "non-rigorous" goals that they've pulled from the state IEP system. We've decided that since this isn't a "law" at this time, we're going to keep writing the goals as we have been at my school for as long as we can. I've been putting a long paragraph in PWN's explaining why I wrote the goal at that level in each IEP and why it is rigorous given the student's current levels to try to cover myself. We also currently do provide resource services that are at the student's instructional level, but again I'm not sure how long that will continue. We are one of the very few schools still doing that and my district and the state is pushing hard for full inclusion for students with non-cognitive disabilities. I've also tried to include a lot of information in IEPs justifying why the student is receiving pull-out services vs. push-in, but in the end I think it's going to end up being a mandate that we stop pull-outs for all but a few "outliers." Like I also said in the OP, we're giving students as many services as we can. There are no caseload limits here and I'm in charge of all the testing, meetings and paperwork as well (I can't believe some places have completely separate jobs for this!) I'm actually lucky that I "only" have 30 students, although that will grow throughout the year as we get referrals pretty much constantly. Around 50 students is not uncommon for one sped teacher in my area. If your school has all the money for programs and staff and no limitations to give every single kid exactly what they need, that's great. That's not the reality that most of us are living in.

    Yes of course we do guided groups and my students are reading books on their level during those with their gen ed teacher. However, whole group instruction is grade level content and materials. The assessments are designed to see how the student is mastering grade level standards. Since my students are not exempt from any of the standards, are required to receive grade level instruction for the majority of their day, and cannot get any modifications, they have to take the same grade level test everyone else takes. Progress monitoring tasks to see how they're progressing toward IEP goals are on their level, but they're responsible for taking all of the gen ed assessments for the core curriculum also.
     
  16. a2z

    a2z Virtuoso

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    Sorry. I took your comment to mean Ohio was your current home state.

    I certainly hope some parent sues the heck out of one of your schools in your state, if not the state. They are certainly very confused about how to educate students with disabilities if they think that there aren't areas where kids that far behind can make any progress if their instruction is years above where they are. It is horrible to what they are doing to the students and to the teachers.

    No my district doesn't have all the money for programs and extra teachers, but the state does have limits and most schools push those limits to the max. Some don't by shuffling money and resources, but many do push the limit.
     
  17. smalltowngal

    smalltowngal Multitudinous

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    Is there a way that you can have the students take the tests with the curriculum format, but then have them retake it with accommodations in place? And I would never suggest providing more services. I know that's the first thing people say when something isn't working; however, more services is not always the right answer. In research done by Scottish Rite, they say that about 7-10% of the school age population has dyslexia. I wonder how many of those diagnosed dyslexia actually have a reading disability not related to dyslexia. The whole country is doing a huge disservice to our students with special education services in my opinion.
     
  18. mathmagic

    mathmagic Enthusiast

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    If I'm not mistaken, our state breaks that trend.
     
  19. Kelster95

    Kelster95 Companion

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    Va also breaks the trend. The students have to score very low on the nonsense word part of woodcock Johnson and must be tested each year to qualify. There are only 2 students in my school that qualify.
     
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  20. cupcakequeen

    cupcakequeen Comrade

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    I'm curious about what the outcome of your discussion with your admin was. Were you able to come up with a solution of some sort?

    My district isn't quite as "high expectations = high results" as yours, but we seem to be starting an unfortunate trend that way. Recently I've heard our SPED director talk more and more about "writing rigorous goals" and "having rigorous instruction," as well as looking at the break down of state test scores for students with disabilities. At my school, for example, 50% of students with disabilities in 5th grade didn't pass the state test for reading last year. My director told us we need to get that number down this year to 25%. Those 50% are all my students, and they are all reading on about an early 1st grade-2nd grade level. I'm a little confused as to how having high expectations and "rigorous" instructions (as if I don't already give them instruction that is rigorous for their current level) will help them grow 4 grade levels in a year.
     
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  21. a2z

    a2z Virtuoso

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    Is that really a state trend or a decision your school/district implements? One test can't be used to either include or exclude a student from special education status.
     
  22. waterfall

    waterfall Virtuoso

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    Administration couldn't come to our team meeting in Monday because they were dealing with a police related incident. My teammates and I feel like we can't really make a specific decision without them. If it's okay, we're leaning toward just marking a 0 and giving an assessment that will actually inform instruction. I'll post when we finally get a decision.

    We are also constantly hearing the word "rigorous." The state loves to talk as if rigorous goals/ instruction will just fix everything. IMO, if all my students needed was "high expectations" and "rigor" they would have responded to gen ed and never have been referred to sped in the first place. They're in sped bc they need something different!
     
  23. Kelster95

    Kelster95 Companion

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    Nov 3, 2016

    The test doesn't determine sped status or services the test is only used to qualify for a read aloud of reading assessments accommodation.
     
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