Retention. Sometimes I wonder if word flows out of the mouths of the people who educate my son so easily when they talk to the parents of kids without developmental delays. Last year, it got slipped smoothly into conversation about this same time last year. I assume his special education teacher did it as a way to get me used to the idea early. I’m certain someone from above has asked her to grease the axles already and try to get on my good graces so this year I go along with it, but there’s just no way I can budge on the issue.
When it comes to my children, I am a force to be reckoned with. I work for the school system, so I’m not intentionally a pain, but once I take hold an idea, I don’t let go. If I know what’s right for my child, I’m going to fight for him. This past school year, I called in an Autism Resource Specialist, I did tutoring over the summer, I had an outside Speech Therapist do testing, and I sent in articles supporting my position. Finally, I wound up citing IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) when they didn’t listen to reason because they ultimately only wanted to hold my son back for social reasons, and there’s no support for that. He is entitled to the same education as his peers. I did understand that they wanted the best for him, but their idea of what was best and my idea of what was best conflicted. I think it had a lot to do with rising pressure put on the education system by No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act.
I should say that it’s unfortunate that IDEA conflicts with the NCLB Act. How does retention fit in? The school system might tell you that they must retain your disabled child, citing the NCLB Act. I’ll explain why this happens. IDEA states that students with disabilities should remain in age-appropriate, regular-education classes, in the school he or she would attend if he or she were not disabled, with the supports, accommodations, and assistive technology devices required to be successful. The NCLB act, however, states that “…each state must measure every public school student’s progress in reading and math in each of grades 3 through 8 and at least once during grades 10 through 12” and further that these “assessments must be aligned with state academic content and achievement standards.” As a result, many states decided to develop policies to hold students back who don’t pass the tests they developed in line with NCLB because the child isn’t “at grade level.” Although I firmly believe educators should do everything in their power to get a student up to grade level, I also believe that all students learn at their own pace and that some students just don’t perform well on standardized tests.
[Tweet “Retention and IDEA and NCLB, Oh WHY?! https://www.tidbitsofexperience.com/why-retention-nclb-and-idea-are-insane-bedmates @embracespectrum #education #insanity”]
Educators get caught in the middle of this entangled mess between these two acts that don’t agree with each other. They get held accountable for poor test scores of students who just aren’t meant to take these types of tests. As schools get handed “Report Cards” in North Carolina based on test scores rather than growth scores, the pressure rises, and kids like my son are forced to work harder and, whether meaning to or not, teachers forget that kids like him can’t learn like all the other kids. They further forget that it’s okay for him to learn differently. His different needs shouldn’t mean a return to 2nd grade next year. It should mean a change in philosophies. Too often we fail students just like him because we forget they just need something different. I’m not certain if schools in other states have moved to this “Report Card” system, by the way, but it’s a bit ludicrous. Anyway, I’m not okay with either (a) floating my child through or (b) giving up on him. He should both achieve at comfortable pace and feel good enough in his environment to not hate school.
Retention, though? I’m taking that off the plate. I believe in him enough to know he can hack the 3rd grade, even now. With appropriate accommodations and modifications and assistive technology, I see no reason why my son couldn’t move on to the next grade level. I’ve got students in the 7th grade who read at a 4th grade level and they’re surviving. I’ve even moved some students from a 2nd grade level up to a 4th grade level–and we’re talking 8th graders in these instances. They’re talking about retaining him at the 2nd grade because he’s maybe a grade level behind? No. I think we can do better. Now I just need to get the school to believe the same thing.