When Tests Become More Important Than the Child
Many of you may be aware of the situation with Ethan Rediske, a severely handicapped child who was mandated to take standardized tests because of state law. From washingtonpost.com and Mom to officials: Stop forcing severely disabled kids to take high-stakes tests:
Earlier this month I wrote about Andrea Rediske, who had fought a long battle with the Florida Department of Education over a requirement that her blind and brain-damaged son, Ethan, who also suffered from cerebral palsy, take state-mandated standardized tests. Rediske managed to win a waiver for her son, but recently, while he lay dying in a hospital, she was required to fill out paperwork proving that Ethan could not take a new standardized test this year. Ethan passed away on Feb. 7, at home with his parents at his side.
On Tuesday, Andrea Rediske appeared before the Florida Board of Education (more than four hours after she was told she could speak). Here is her powerful speech (which you can watch below), urging lawmakers to approve proposed legislation called the Ethan Rediske Act, which would allow local authorities to exempt disabled students from taking high-stakes standardized tests rather than continuing the current lengthy process that involves state officials.
Here is the text of her testimony:
My name is Andrea Rediske, and I am Ethan Rediske’s mother. Before you peg me as merely an angry and grieving mother, let me tell you a little bit about myself: I am an educator. I have a master’s degree in microbiology and have been an adjunct professor of microbiology for 11 years. I have a passion for education and I know how to write an exam that accurately assesses the abilities of my students.
Not only was the Florida Adapted Assessment inappropriate for the level of my son’s abilities, it endangered his health – the long, stressful testing sessions requiring him to sit in his wheelchair caused pressure sores, fluid to pool in his lungs, and increased seizures and spasticity that contributed to his deteriorating health.
Only after climbing a mountain of paperwork and garnering media attention was Ethan granted a medical waiver for the FAA. Despite assurances at his IEP meeting that the waiver would be granted again for this school year, the school district demanded paperwork proving his continued medical fragility. The insult to this injury was that he was on his deathbed – the school district and the state of Florida required a letter from hospice care stating he was unable to take the FAA.
This incident caused anguish to my family and his teacher, and shows a stunning lack of compassion and even common sense on the part of the Department of Education. His exceptionally talented teacher faced threats and sanctions because she continued to work with him even though he wasn’t preparing for the FAA. I wonder if these administrators are more concerned with policy, paperwork, and their bottom line than the children they have been elected to serve.
You may ask yourselves, if this is such a problem, why isn’t there more public outcry from the parents of disabled children? I am here to tell you why: Parents of disabled children are exhausted. We spend our lives simply keeping these children alive. We juggle doctor’s appointments, therapies, medications, and continually battle the insurance company to secure their medical needs. At the end of the day, we don’t have the strength to climb the mountain of paperwork to exempt our children from these inappropriate tests.
To the Department of Education: I hope a better understanding of how these tests were damaging to my family and to other families like ours will help you make better policy decisions in the future. Please don’t force any other family to suffer as ours has. I call on the legislature of the State of Florida to not only pass the Ethan Rediske Act, which would exempt disabled children from the rigors of high-stakes standardized testing, but I implore the legislature to go further and to enact legislation that allows any student who experiences pain and suffering as the result of high-stakes standardized testing to opt out of these tests.
Read the rest of the article and view the video here.
In response to this mom’s plea to the legislature for an easier waiver process by the local districts for severely handicapped children, legislation was filed for this purpose:
Rep. Karen Castor-Dentel, D-Maitland, has filed legislation that would make it easier to obtain a testing waiver, and Republican House Speaker Will Weatherford has expressed a willingness to entertain the discussion.
What is the interim superintendent’s response for exempting these children? From washingtonpost.com and A bizarre letter from Florida’s Education Department:
State Education Commissioner Pam Stewart just issued an open letter to teachers (see below) that makes the ridiculous mistake of accusing people who want a change in standardized testing requirements for severely disabled students of launching a political attack on the department. It said in part:
“You may have read about political efforts to attack assessments by using the tragic situations of children with special needs.”
Does Ms. Stewart honestly believe that parents and legislators exempting children from tests in which those results are pre-determined because of the children’s severe disabilities are “political in nature”? Is this is an interim commissioner who wants to protect the system that because it is a system? The system has no compassion. It can’t. It’s a system and can’t make exceptions. That’s the difference between a system responding to a problem vs a human response to a situation that is not appropriate for an individual student. Beware the “common good” rampant in education reform. The individual is not recognized in the collective and not only cannot be served on an individual basis, the individual may actually be harmed while achieving the “common good”.
However, Ms. Stewart does have some autonomy to ensure if the system is not appropriate for a student, the student can be exempted. As the first article pointed out:
It’s her job to ensure that state policies are carried out faithfully. And it’s undoubtedly a challenge to do right for students across the spectrum.
For instance, some parents are adamant that their special needs children be tested because they do not want the system to treat them as lesser students.
So, yes, Stewart has an obligation to the greater good.
On the other hand, she is no mere bureaucrat. As the education commissioner, she should not simply spout the company line when confronted with difficult situations.
Education bureaucrats at the helm of state educational agencies have the obligation and ability to make exceptions when needed and to trust/allow local officials to make appropriate decisions for students in their districts. The state has the duty to direct/develop educational policies. Her statement that Andrea Rediske’s plea to exempt severely disabled children is “political” is just a smoke screen and an excuse for not doing what she should have done in the first place. When the testing becomes paramount and a bureaucrat will not act under the guise of “it’s the law”, then the bureaucrat needs to be replaced.
The first response is to change the system and change it quickly. The response from Ms. Stewart should have been to agree and use her authority to enact an ease in the waiver process. Forcing parents to complete state paperwork to submit paperwork in a hospice setting is something from a horror novel and in a society we should reject immediately. Marginalizing a parent should be grounds for dismissal but that seems pervasive by many education bureaucrats and reformers. Human beings have compassion and the use of facts to make good decisions. Ms. Stewart exercised neither any compassion or facts or even her professional authority to make exceptions.
Here is request from a Florida parent:
Ethan’s Bill NEEDS HELP NOW….This is URGENT and must happen right now. I know many of you have followed the story about Ethan Rediske. Karen Castor Dental has introduced a Bill to protect these kids from having to take the FAA/FCAT. Representative Adkins must put the Bill on the Agenda for it to have any chance of going anywhere. If you care about kids with disabilities, please call Rep. Adkins and ask her to agenda HB 895, the Ethan Rediske Act, in the K-12 subcommittee. Here’s the number (850) 717-5011. Email: Janet.Adkins@myfloridahouse.gov
A bill like this one should be introduced in every state to halt the abuse of the State against the most vulnerable of students.