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State Exit Exams and IEPs
Q: My daughter is a freshman in high school. In 2004, the state of California is starting an exit exam with her class. The high school does not appear to have a lot of information about the test. It has been stated that all learning-disabled students will be taking this test. What is the best way to prepare my daughter for this test and to make sure the state is following her IEP?
The state says that the IEP will include ways to pass the test, but the first year of the test is not required. However, it must be taken in the 10th grade. (This test is taken in March, with most annual IEP updates given yearly in May.) The problem I see is the state returning these exams by May. This means it would not be in the IEP until May of the 11th grade, which would only allow the 12th grade to prepare for this test. Even if they have enough units to graduate, if they do not pass the test they cannot graduate with their class.
A: Many states are adopting competency tests and a lot of students with learning disabilities and their parents share your worries. In most cases, students with learning disabilities will be given the same accommodations on the state tests that appear in their IEPs. Many states publish a list of accommodations that are acceptable on the state tests.
You should make sure that your daughter's IEP includes specific information about modifications for test-taking; ideally, these accommodations show up on the state's "approved list." If this information is not yet in the IEP, you should do this as soon as possible so that there is a record that confirms that such accommodations have been necessary and helpful, and that they are clearly related to her learning disability.
Test accommodations might include allowing your daughter to dictate her answers to a test administrator or a scribe, or read them into a tape recorder. If her learning disability supports it, she may be eligible to have the test read to her. Other accommodations might include, but not be limited to: flexible settings and scheduling, out-of-level testing, a revised test format, or revised test directions.
In the meantime, I would try to get a copy of at least the prototype questions being considered for this exam. You will also want to get a copy of the test preparation booklets that the state government should be publishing. Find out when public hearings or debates about this testing are scheduled and show up to voice your concerns. Find out which politicians support the mandated testing and write or email them to share your worries about your daughter. Have your friends do the same. You'd be surprised how little many politicians know about students with learning disabilities, so your calls will be instructive to them.
Contact the state office of the Learning Disability Association in California and ask them what they are doing to address this issue. You might consider joining that organization and lending your support to the efforts to educate those involved in the development of the state-mandated tests. I'm afraid that there will have to be a number of court cases regarding these tests and the impact on the rights of disabled children before significant changes are made. Visit the website of the Learning Disabilities Association of America and read the fact sheet about educational standards. This will give you some good background information about the issue of standards as applied to students with learning disabilities.
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Jerome (Jerry) Schultz is the founding clinical director of the Learning Lab @ Lesley University, a program that provides assessment, tutoring, and case management services for children with learning challenges. Schultz holds a Ph.D. from Boston College, and has completed postdoctoral fellowships in both clinical psychology and pediatric neuropsychology.