The Kentucky Board of Education did a worthwhile thing yesterday, voting unanimously to improve the way our schools provide testing accommodations to students with learning disabilities.
The new rules bring us in line with policy in the vast majority of states (42 of them, according to comments made by Associate Commissioner Ken Draut at the meeting). It also aligns Kentucky with the special education testing accommodation rules allowed by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
One change in particular has been a Bluegrass Institute interest item of great importance. Well-meaning, but seriously misguided, teachers will no longer be allowed to read the state’s “reading tests” to our learning disabled students.
This change for allowed reading accommodations reverses two decades of very poor policy that covered up widespread failure to teach reading. The former policy probably motivated schools to lose all interest in even trying to teach thousands of Kentucky children to read. Instead, these kids were carried all the way through their school years as illiterates that had to have everything read to them.
In the end, schools got good looking test scores (which were reported as “reading” scores although they were really just spoken word comprehension scores), but the students entered adulthood without the ability to survive in the new economy.
The reading policy change should help reduce Kentucky’s nation-leading rates of exclusion of students with learning disabilities on the NAEP. It is embarrassing that Kentucky excluded eight times the proportion of students that Mississippi excluded from the 2011 fourth grade NAEP reading assessment. Can it really be that our reading teachers are that much less effective than those in Mississippi?
Despite the obvious value and common sense in the new policy, the status-quo crowd could not resist the temptation to cloud the issue.
Two teachers from Jefferson County moaned nonsense to the board, claiming the regulatory improvements would hurt these special kids.
Fortunately, Kentucky Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday and the board members were not buying this nonsense.
As quoted by the Kentucky School Boards Association, State Board member Dorie Combs may have said it best:
“If we are always reading to these children, they are never going to learn to read by themselves. This regulation clearly is about moving to independence. If we start moving in this direction, initially there’s going to be some frustration, but in the long run, you’re going to have children who are more independent.”
Let’s hope our teachers take a deep breath, carefully examine what past policy created and then realize that things like reading kids a reading test does those students no good at all. If they still don’t get it, maybe our teachers need to take a look at how Mississippi and a lot of other states are able to prepare a whole lot more of their kids to at least sit for the NAEP reading assessments.