Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Inclusion and Standardized Tests

Plans can be important... but it's important to ask who the plans are for.

Most school districts have education plans. So I want to know... who are these education plans for?

I am familiar with one school district's education plan where one of their goals is Inclusion of All Students. The priorities for this goal are two-fold:
  • Each student is engaged in meaningful learning that is appropriate to his or her abilities and takes place in the most enabling environment.
  • Each staff member has the ability to meet the diverse needs of all students.
Inclusion is an impressive goal, and one that I applaud. I honestly can find no fault with the two priorities above. This is all very impressive.

No matter how sweet your strategy smells, it's important to occasionally pause and check on the results. In other words, how will this district know if they've accomplished inclusions for all?

In the Outcomes section of this Education Plan it states that one of the measures will be participation rates in Provincial Achievement Tests. The idea here is that if more kids are included in the mainstream classes, rather than excluded, more kids will write Provincial Achievement Tests in grades 3, 6 and 9.

Let's consider how this Education Plan could play out:

Scenario 1:

A school district plans on inclusion for all students and measures their success by looking at the participation rates on the Provincial Achievement Tests. High-needs, reluctant learners are included in classrooms with their peers, and educators are provided the necessary supports. When the district looks at the participation rates on the Provincial Achievement Tests, they see lots of kids writing the test, so school board trustees, senior administrators and administrators can report MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. 

Scenario 2:

This scenario differs only in that the necessary supports are not provided for educators to successfully implement inclusion for all students. High-needs, reluctant learners are still included in classrooms with their peers, and the participation rates in Provincial Achievement Tests are still climbing, so it is again reported: MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.

Can you see how using participation levels in a one-day standardized test at the end of the year can nullify an entire year's worth of work on behalf of the teacher and learning on behalf of the student? Regardless of the scenario -- whether educators are supported or not -- using participation levels on Provincial Achievement Tests will signal that inclusion was successful. Either way, the policy-makers, senior administrators and administers will say that they did their job and the plan was successful.

Are you as concerned as I am?

Let me explain.

One of the number one concerns raised with inclusion for all students is that inclusion can end up being code for integrating children, who need the most help, with their peers without providing educators the necessary supports to make it happen. In other words, inclusion can be used as nothing more than a smokescreen for policy-makers to show progress on paper while doing nothing productive in reality. In this context, inclusion becomes yet another victim to education jargon for consumption on the evening news.

When inclusion is a front for doing the right thing for the wrong reasons with little to no support, is it any surprise that educators become cynical and suspicious of inclusion?

Let me be clear, I am in favor of inclusion for all students. 

My objections for such an education plan has nothing to do with their goal -- rather, my contempt is reserved for how policy-makers and senior administrators continue to use standardized tests as an indicator for what goes on in the classroom. I find it grossly ironic that such education plans are sold as mechanisms for accountability. At the very least accountability should be about transparency -- that is people should be privy to the information they need to know what is happening in their schools, and yet as I've shown above, standardized test scores as an indicator for inclusion is nothing if not deceptive and opaque.

So who is this education plan and others like it for?

Based on what I've explained above, I defy anyone to look me in the eye and say that all this is for the kids... 

...the only people who prosper from an education plan that uses standardized test scores as an indicator for inclusion are those who wrote it.

2 comments:

  1. I like this quote from the piece: "One of the number one concerns raised with inclusion for all students is that inclusion can end up being code for integrating children, who need the most help, with their peers without providing educators the necessary supports to make it happen. In other words, inclusion can be used as nothing more than a smokescreen for policy-makers to show progress on paper while doing nothing productive in reality. In this context, inclusion becomes yet another victim to education jargon for consumption on the evening news."
    However, this is not a statement against standardized testing. Supporting inclusion in a school both by supporting teachers and students as well as engaging in productive tasks/activities does not exclude standardized testing.

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  2. This a good post.
    Standardized tests are not written by most students receiving what the province calls inclusive programming because they have IPPs and modified programs that don't require (or, ahem...expect) these students to meet a "standard". These same students are also not allowed to receive a high school diploma. The policy-makers do not have a way to assess "ALL" students. My fully-included student has never written a PAT but has been in the classroom, excluded from it, while his peers wrote them. The PAT's are exclusive only to those who can write them.

    Inclusion requires many modifications. So...How do you modify a standard to fit all students???

    Are they truly saying that they are measuring successful inclusion with PAT's? This is a blatant example of how "inclusion" has become a buzz word and so many are missing the true meaning. Because a student on an IPP does not get to have marks officially submitted, their marks don't count towards the provinces measures of success. How then can they tout "successful inclusion" when the very students who they are "including" don't have anything to do with their measuring tool??

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