To Test ... or Not to Test?
Lombardi, Thomas P., Burke, Dawn, Teaching Exceptional Children
Since the publication of A Nation at Risk in 1983, standardized testing has dramatically increased. Teachers feel compelled to spend time preparing their students to primarily master the basic skills included on adopted statewide tests. They may end up teaching to the test. And students with special education needs who have come so far with inclusion practices may find themselves once again isolated from their peers even if they are physically present in the general classes.
Responsible inclusion involves providing general teachers with the supports necessary, not only for effective instruction, but also for effective assessment (Lombardi, 1997).
In his 1996 State of the Union address to the American people, President Clinton made it clear that his number one priority for the next 4 years would be to ensure that Americans have the best education in the world. As part of his action plan, he proposed rigorous standards, with national tests in fourthgrade reading and eighth-grade math to make sure all children master the basics. Every fourth grader would be able to read; every eighth grader would know basic math and algebra.
To help make sure they do, the President pledged the development of national tests in fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math and challenged every state and community to test every child in these critical areas by 2000. Although national tests have not been fully accepted, most states have begun formal standardized assessments for their students (U.S. House Committee on Education and Workforce, 1998). By using standardized tests, local, state, national, and even international comparisons in achievement would be available for all students. Supposedly, parents would know if their children are mastering critical basic skills, teachers would know if their instruction is effective, and school administrators would know where strengths and deficiencies are occurring in their schools.
Accepting the Challenge
The citizens of West Virginia clearly agree with the President. In years past, West Virginia educators administered the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills (CTBS) in its entirety for Grades 3, 6, 9, and 11. Students made impressive gains on the 1996 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) State Math Assessments taken by other students in 43 states. In the fourth grade, West Virginia ranked 9th nationally; in the 8th grade it finished 15th.
Recently West Virginia legislators passed Senate Bill 300, Jobs Through Education Act, requiring all students in Grades 1-11 to take the Stanford Achievement Test (SAT). Students in Grades 1 and 2 will complete only a partial battery, consisting of reading, mathematics, language, and listening. Under this new law, a minimum of 50% of the school's students in Grades 3-11 must perform in the 3rd quartile in total basic skills. If the school does not meet that criterion, it is considered to be deficient. Any student performing below the 50th percentile in the areas of reading, mathematics, or language at Grade 8 or above will be placed in a skills improvement program in the area of deficiency. A county warranty, stamp, or other appropriate symbol will be awarded to every student who achieves a proficiency level of the 50th percentile by Grade 11 in the basic skills area.
A key provision established by the West Virginia Senate Bill 300 is a clause that states all students will be tested with the SAT except those in special education whose individualized education program (IEP) specifies that the student shall be excluded from the statewide assessment program. This provision has far-reaching effects, from both a practical and an accreditation perspective. Past standardization samples from the CTBS excluded students from special education in their norming sample. The SAT, however, includes students from special education in its norming sample. The disability categories and percentages of students in each are as follows:
Emotional disturbance, 0. …