It’s no secret to readers of this blog: Kentucky has had a very bad policy for evaluating reading abilities of learning disabled students ever since the first reform assessments began way back in 1992. Under this ill-advised policy, it has been legal to set up Individual Education Plans (IEP) for these students that required all tests to be read to them – even the reading tests.
Back in December, the Kentucky Board of Education finally voted to change that policy with a regulatory change – mandating that reading would no longer be allowed on the state’s reading assessments starting with those to be given in April or May of this year.
The regulation went through a public comment period culminating in a public hearing on January 30, 2012. The result of those comments was some in the Kentucky Department of Education wanted to cave in to a few misguided and poorly informed teachers and parents and delay the start of the no reading restriction for reading assessments until next school term.
Fortunately, the delay-again proposal didn’t fly.
After hearing some very well-reasoned arguments from board member William Twyman and Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday, the board realized that authorizing more delays would send the wrong message. A delay would actually result in still more delays in the start of real reading instruction for many students until yet another school term began.
Fortunately for the state of Kentucky and its learning disabled students, a solid majority on the board of education made it very clear today – we want our teachers to make an effort to teach all students to read well enough to become independent learners. Doing anything less is a disservice to those students and the commonwealth in general.
Obviously, when you read a reading test to a student, it is no longer a ‘reading’ test. Instead of being a test of a student’s ability to read and decode meaning in printed text, the test degenerates into a spoken word comprehension test, a different and less demanding skill (a skill the vast majority of children learn naturally from their parents without formal schooling).
Kentucky’s long-term policy on reading assessment led to some very bad trends. One key one is that more and more students got this accommodation as time went on until well over half of all students identified as learning disabled in Kentucky were having the reading tests read to them. That meant a lot of kids probably were not receiving any real reading instruction. Instead, the schools had no motivation teach these kids to read because teachers could just carry these kids along all the way through the system, reading every single test to them.
Furthermore, with the ‘reading accommodation’ written into a child’s IEP, that student had to have all tests read to them, even class-level tests. Otherwise, there was a potential violation of federal laws regarding learning disabled students.
There also would be a violation of Kentucky testing rules. That’s because a child was not to get the reading accommodation on the state tests if he or she didn’t routinely receive that accommodation in day to day classroom activities.
Another bad outcome of the old reading assessment policy in Kentucky was that large percentages of our learning disabled student population were being routinely excluded from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading assessments.
The NAEP, you see, doesn’t want its reading test results corrupted by students who are actually being tested on a totally different skill than reading. The exclusion situation reached a peak in 2011 when Kentucky hands down led the nation for the highest proportion of students excluded on the NAEP in both the fourth and eighth grade reading assessments. As the Statement of Consideration Relating to 703 KAR 5:070, which was presented to the Kentucky Board of Education today, points out:
“The mismatch between Kentucky’s current reader rule and NAEP guidance means a significant number of students are excluded from NAEP testing. Results on the NAEP test for Kentucky are not comparable to other states. Kentucky is under federal pressure to bring state accommodations into alignment with NAEP rules and those used by other states.” (Underline added for emphasis)
Clearly, that was also very undesirable.
Now, thanks to the board sticking to their guns, the problems noted above should be eliminated or significantly reduced. It’s a policy change long past due.