My Turn by Mary Laumbach-Perez

13 Feb 2015 | 12:09

    There are many parent concerns, echoed throughout the state of New Jersey, regarding the upcoming PARCC assessment. The PARCC test aligns with the New Jersey Common Core curriculum. It is a standardized test that is testing the majority of the students, including students classified in special education. Only severely cognitive impaired students - 1 percent of the state's student population - will be able to test utilize the Dynamic Learning Map for the alternative standardized testing known as Alternative Proficient Assessments and for high school Alternative High School Assessments.

    The PARCC has built in accommodations for special education students who have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 plan. The accommodations are determined through a Personal Needs Profile. The majority of children with IEPs or 504 plans will not qualify for alternative assessments. However, they will be able to utilize the accommodations built into the computerized version of the test. This sounds, on paper, as appropriate accommodations for the special needs students. However, in actuality, the PARCC testing and Common Core are creating a population of students, 16 to 20 percent in New Jersey, with a very unfair disadvantage. Special education students are the most vulnerable because, although many have normal intelligence, they learn differently. The Common Core curriculum and the PARCC testing fit the one-size-fits-all educational standards and doesn't take into account the unique needs of our special education students with an IEP or 504.

    The PARCC test is a disadvantage to special education students because of the common difficulties a special education student faces each day. Some of the difficulties this population faces are reading comprehension, written expression, and fluency. The accommodations on the PARCC test cannot meet the unique needs of the student. The PARCC doesn't take into account that many language-based learning-disabled students read below grade level. This is very apparent on previous years' standardized test reports.

    There is a disparity between the partially proficient general education students and the special education students in language arts and math. When the special education students take the practice test, they can use a thesaurus or other tools. According to the PARCC website, the thesaurus will not be permitted to be used during the test. This is an unfair disadvantage to those students who struggle with comprehension. There is a list of most significant common core key terms by Bruce Taylor being given out by schools that are participating in PARCC. This document claims, if students do not understand the meaning of these terms on which PARCC prompts are based, it is unlikely they can do well on a PARCC English language arts (ELA) assessment. The commonly used terms published on standardized testing would confuse students with language based learning disabilities (LBLD), especially those with comprehension difficulty. The LBLD students aren't reading to grade level, not for lack of trying, but due to a neurological condition. These students learn differently than the general population. The standard visual test would create an unfair disadvantage to these specific learners even with a reader or audio-component.

    The same can be said for those students with mathematical disabilities such as Dyscalculia. These students are often below grade level as well. Many parents are concerned in this group of learners. Their children are coming home anxious due to the fact they can't pass the practice test. This can adversely affect a child's self esteem. Standardized testing for one with a neurological condition is penalizing those students.

    According to the PARCC website, students may bring in their own assistive technology that they use daily for the testing if it is written in their IEP or 504 plan. However, the PARCC website states they cannot guarantee the student's assistive technology will be compatible with their testing platform. This is another unfair disadvantage to the special education student. There is the possibility a student may not be able to utilize the appropriate assistive technology written in their IEP. The assumption, by the PARCC creators, is the student can utilize the built-in features. This means a student will have to learn new technology. There will be additional time and potential frustration on the behalf of the student to learn something new.

    The common difficulties students with disabilities face daily have not been taken into account with the PARCC testing. These difficulties are: speaking, reading, comprehension, processing, memory, executive functioning, mathematics, processing disorders, self regulation, attention, cognitive delays, perseverance, anxiety and organization of thought. The majority of special education students face at least two of the above-mentioned difficulties daily. I cannot fathom how this population is expected to pass a test not designed for their specific individualized and unique needs.

    Lastly, the PARCC practice test time is taking away valuable time from students who need skill-based curriculum to make them career ready. Teaching essential life skills, social skills and vocational skills is much more appropriate for the special education students with IEPs or 504 plans.

    Who does the PARCC testing hurt the most? The students who are most vulnerable.

    In conclusion, some schools have instituted the "sit and stare" policy for those students whose parents have refused the PARCC. These students are expected to sit and do nothing for the duration of the testing. The "sit and stare" policy is a direct punitive action that will negatively impact the special education population. A large majority of special education students have anxiety; the sit and stare policy will just increase the anxiety. I implore school districts not to utilize such a stigmatizing tactic. Offer the students who have parent refusals for the PARCC an alternative activity.

    Mary Laumbach-Perez is a volunteer educational advocate for students with special needs. Professionally she is a nationally certified Employment Services Provider with 10 years of experience working with the developmental disabilities and special education population. She has 15 years experience studying Hidden Disabilities: Learning and Developmental. Laumbach-Perez is also the founder of a non-profit special education coalition. Through the coalition,, she has partnered with professionals to offer special education workshops to New Jersey parent groups. The opinions expressed in this article are her own and do not express the opinions of her employer or other professionals she has partnered with.