By Kristyn Corace
This past the April, the federal government agreed to New Jersey’s plan for the spring of 2021 that, because of the pandemic, students should not have to endure the anxiety of standardized test taking and teachers should not have the burden of additional COVID protocols such as social distancing and use of shared materials that test administration would require.
But inexplicably, English language learners and the 1% most vulnerable population of students were STILL required to participate in testing this past May. All other students had their standardized testing postponed until the fall of 2021.
WHY? No one seems to be able to answer that question.
Despite my emails and queries to the federal and state departments of education, the governor’s office, Sens. Menendez and Booker, and Legislative District 13 representatives Sen. O’Scanlon and Assembly members DiMaso and Scharfenberger, I received no response explaining why certain students with special needs were required to sit for the Dynamic Learning Maps (DLM) assessment and their teachers were required to administer it.
Students with intellectual disabilities are not excluded from state standardized testing. Section 300.160 of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that “A state must ensure that all children with disabilities are included in all general state and districtwide assessment programs.”
Each district may allow up to 1% of its enrolled students to take an alternative assessment. In New Jersey, we use the DLM online assessment as that alternative.
Under the Every Student Succeeds Act that replaced No Child Left Behind, whenever a student takes a state administered standardized test, such as the NJSLA, the corresponding alternate assessment is administered to the students with intellectual disabilities. Although the tests were postponed for all other students in New Jersey, they were not for our most vulnerable students.
In April, a joint press release from statewide leaders Dr. Richard Bozza, executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, Patricia Wright, executive director of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association and Marie Blistan, then president of NJEA, stated, “New Jersey students will not have to see their instruction time interrupted to take tests that are not helpful or appropriate under current conditions.” But our vulnerable students’ education was disrupted in many classrooms.
Students with intellectual disabilities have the same test anxiety, worry, and concern that their general education peers do. Some of my students were visibly shaking as they took their tests. But they still had to take the test.
The DLM is administered one-on-one, seated at a computer. The training for teachers did not change from previous years. There was very little concern for COVID safety protocols. With a picture illustrating the written instructions, the training directed the teacher to be seated immediately next to the student in front of the computer. Testing questions last from five to 15 minutes. This clearly violates the CDC recommendations for close contact as students would be given multiple test questions per day over several weeks.
Physical manipulatives are used in this testing. In years past, teachers would fill one box with these materials to use with the students during testing. I made four this year. Materials during COVID cannot be shared. So I tested four students until they completed their testing, each having their own box of materials. Afterwards, I sanitized all of the materials and let them sit out for 48 hours before using them with the next group of students. This lengthened my testing time and the testing time of the students.
While teachers are testing students one-on-one, the rest of the class must continue. We thank our paraprofessionals who kept learning going for all students as teachers worked one-on-one to administer these tests. Teachers had to write and prepare daily substitute plans for several weeks while testing took place.
It is reprehensible that the most vulnerable students, the 1% of our student population with the most complex intellectual disabilities, STILL had to participate in standardized testing during the spring of 2021 when their fellow nondisabled peers were given a reprieve because of the health and safety concerns of testing during a pandemic. It was unsafe and unfair to both students and teachers to have to complete standardized testing when it could have been postponed to the fall just like everyone else.
Kristyn Corace is a special education teacher in Middletown Township Public Schools. For the past 26 years there, she has taught a self-contained multiple disabilities class. This year she is also an in-class support science teacher for sixth grade. Currently, she is pursuing her doctorate in educational leadership with an emphasis in special education at Grand Canyon University. Corace earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in special education from Rutgers University. She can be reached through direct message on her Twitter account: @MrsCorace.