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Common Core..High Stakes Testing…Assistive Technology…Oh My!

The Common Core is a hot topic in education. I recall two years ago in working on my administration certificate, it was just beginning to gain momentum with high hopes for education. Now the conversations center around an initiative that is yet again missing the mark, especially for student with learning differences.

There are many aspects of the Common Core that misses what these students need, most currently in discussion is high-stakes testing. Testing for students with learning differences is a defeating process. Learning is challenging on it’s own, yet to perform with an avenue that does not account for their needs is daunting and frustrating, likely not garnering true results for performance. I am lucky to teach in an environment where we do not need to engage with this testing, but I keep an ear to the conversation for our students who come and go from these learning practices.

Most poignant for me is hearing from public school educators with regards to testing, use of accommodations is not clear. This is sad. I currently am working to embrace today’s readily available technology to support and engage students to demonstrate their true knowledge in whatever manner makes sense for them. It is an exciting time to be doing this with common usage of technology by all learners, leading to not seeming different with assistive tech, but just using whatever suits their learning needs. Why wouldn’t these be allowed in high-stakes testing? If the testing is to garner what students know, and they aren’t allowed to demonstrate that in the manner that will give the true picture, what does the outcome show?

There is a misconception that providing assistive technology is giving students an edge. Assistive tech does not give knowledge, it does not produce knowledge, but is simply a tool to allow true demonstration of and engagement with content. I think of my writing class, who have been introduced to using speech-to-text (STT), text-to-speech (TTS), and word predictability to engage in their written expression. The pieces are crafted from the ideas of these students, the technology just provides the avenue to get words from their heads out. With challenges in verbal and written expression, forcing students to work without the tools to formulate thoughtful pieces is putting their disability as an after thought. Their learning struggles should be at the forefront when asking them to engage in learning, to ensure that they are being met where is best for them to be as successful as they can.

I have a student with a hearing impairment, who requires tools to ensure he receives the content being presented..hearing aids and an FM. Is this assistive technology any different? We certainly wouldn’t require the student to take off his hearing aids during testing. Tools are just that…tools, they cannot perform tasks for students.

I think back to my own testing for graduate school. Taking a class to prepare for my comprehensive exam, we formulated many written pieces to practice. Initially, I hand wrote them, for technology was not as common. These pieces did not get favorable feedback. Then one week I decided to bring my laptop to class, and formulated the assignment through typing. My professor could not believe the difference. There was no wifi, I did not search for answers on the internet. I didn’t have any answers on the laptop, for these were scenario based, I could not have prepared ahead of time. It was simply that my fingers on keys vs with a pencil allow for a better flow of language from my brain. Additionally I could edit, move, cut, paste…as my ideas developed. This is one of my learning differences, but the computer enabled my disjointed thoughts to be reorganized real time. Typing just makes written expression easier for me, not because the ideas are on the device, but the tech is just my glasses, my hearing aid, my accommodation to success. It does not do the writing for me, I still have to pull the thoughts from the recesses of my brain.

If we are going to create success for students through the use of assistive technology in the classroom, then we need to ensure that they are able to utilize it when demonstrating their knowledge matters most. Lawmakers, please realize that by not clearly allowing assistive technology for those students that need it is doing them a great disservice. It needs to be clearly outlined that tools a student uses daily in their learning to achieve beyond their learning challenges can be used on high stakes testing or whatever moments we are seeking to have them demonstrate knowledge.

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