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Grade 10 Test Response

Feedback to Minister's Advisory Council on Special Education regarding the Accommodations Policy for Students with Special Needs for the Grade 10 Test of Reading and Writing Skills

Response is formulated by members of The Coalition for Inclusive Education (Brampton Caledon Community Living,Canadian Association for Community Living, Down Syndrome Association of Ontario,Early Childhood Resource Teachers' Network of Ontario, Family Alliance Ontario, Integration Action Group, Lakehead Association for Community Living, Community Living Ontario, People First of Ontario, Youth Involvement Ontario)

February 2000

The new Ontario curriculum refers to "high internationally competitive standards of education". But putting priority on"competition" and "standardization"contradicts all principles of special education, establishing educational practices which will not meet individual needs. In fact, the rationale behind the proposed grade 10 test of reading and writing will promote inferior individual educational outcomes. It will create an educational system that is collectively less accountable - failing to meet its legislative requirements, failing to make best possible use of funding, and failing to educate whole groups of students.

There is a fearful certainty among people with developmental disabilities, their teachers and their families that this proposed policy will block students with this label from crucial educational opportunities. Because it will mean that such students will never be able to graduate from high school, we predict that their learning opportunities throughout secondary school, and even earlier, will be severely compromised. This policy must be changed to conform to law - the Education Act and its Regulations, Ontario Human Rights Code, and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. A test of Grade 10 reading and writing should be used only as one of many useful ways to assess individual student achievement. It must not create an inequitable "great divide", whereby some students are denied both the means to and the benefits of a good education. How abhorrent that the Ministry uses the term "fair and equal opportunity" when describing measures that support only some of those students entitled to receive special education programs and services.

We object to the fact that this Grade 10 test supersedes all other measures of student achievement, throughout all the years of high school. What is proposed is that this one test should stand between a student and graduation, further education, potential employment, and perhaps even the means for future economic self-support.

The Ministry proposes that students may be exempted from taking this test where there is parental consent and the approval of the principal. Students who have reached the age of majority must give such consent themselves. Everyone must be fully informed of the consequences. Perhaps child welfare authorities should protect younger students from their parents' decisions and their principals' pressures to exempt them from the test, since "exemption... could have serious implications for students" - now and later.

The Ministry suggests that a student's Individual Education Plan (IEP) could indicate that he or she "is not working toward the attainment of a secondary school diploma". Such a practice would severely pre-judge the student's educational experience and future. IEPs should be used to state each student's goals positively, and not state which goals are not pertinent. Such an IEP would indeed be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Because the stakes are so high, this test must surely measure what it says it measures. This draft Ministry policy proposes an approach to Grade 10 testing that differentiates between"accommodations" and "modifications". This approach is artificial, inequitable and flawed.

  • the Supreme Court stated (in the Emily Eaton case) that "it is the failure to make reasonable accommodations which results in discrimination against  disabled persons".
  • Ontario Regulation 181 refers to "expectations", "program and services", and "methods" for review, that must be planned in accordance with student needs.
  • the Ministry has now proposed its own arbitrary differentiation between "accommodations" and"modifications" that is designed to meet the needs of its proposed test, and clearly designed not to meet the needs of certain students.
  • certain elements in the IEP that may otherwise be helpful to learning, could harm the student when applied to this particular evaluation method.
  • it is proposed that the Reading test can be presented to "Blind or Low Vision students" on audiotape. The Ministry has arbitrarily decided that this is an accommodation. Infarct, it modifies the test itself - destroying the test's overall "validity" and integrity". What is measured is actually the listening ability of these students, not the same reading abilities for which other students are being assessed. For example, words are presented correctly pronounced, altering the decoding process.
  • it is proposed that some students can respond verbally to the Writing test. For these students, what is then measured is oral expression, which cannot be validly compared to the pen and paper expression of other students.
  • the Ministry has proposed that to double a student's time for this test is an accommodation, as if to triple a student's time would be a modification.
  • To allow a student to complete the test in "one test day" plus 5 minutes the next day would be construed as a modification and not an accommodation.
  • these hair-splitting distinctions between accommodations and modifications defy common sense and harm students.

On January 27, 2000. the Minister announced a number of measures said to enhance accountability in special education across Ontario. Many Ontario secondary schools are now supporting students with developmental and other disabilities to learn as members of regular classrooms, in their neighbourhood schools, as Regulation 181 dictates. In partnership with the Ministry of Education and Training, we managed the Building Inclusive Schools Project from 1995-98. This work contributed to the growing willingness and ability of leading Ontario secondary schools to provide better outcomes for all students. Some teachers do an excellent job of adapting curriculum and developing IE Ps for students. Their students are successful, feel a sense of belonging and pride, contribute to their schools, and receive credit for achieving the goals set in their IE Ps. Just as we should not deduct money from the wages of employees who require wheelchair access to their workplaces, we should not devalue the achievements of students who work well and achieve to expectations.

The Coalition for Inclusive Education agrees with the promised outcome in the Ontario Curriculum Grades 9 and 10 Program Planning and Assessment document that "the curriculum has been designed with the goal of ensuring that graduates from Ontario secondary schools are well-prepared to lead satisfying and productive lives as both citizens and individuals" (page 3).To block students from graduation from Ontario secondary schools, by means of inequitable grade 10 testing seems designed to break education's promise and limit productive outcomes.

The January 2000 Critical Issues Monograph #18 of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation states it is irresponsible to use such tests "to unfairly rank students, schools and educators, and provide misleading information about the results". OSSTF sees such tests as helpful "in pointing to the need for specific remedial assistance for students, (and) for identifying necessary program changes for educators". Assessment should be "part of the learning process" and"fair to all students". OSSTF refers to research results from the U.S. that tests like this "unfairly treat minority and poor students" and lead to lawsuits by parents charging boards with "inadequate preparation of students for these tests". Surely this is fair warning against flawed and unfair educational policy and practice. The success of this province depends on better outcomes for all students, best achieved through maximizing attention given to each individual student, not through tests designed to exclude our most needy students.

Minister of Education Janet Ecker said just last month that she wants "to make sure supports are in place to give students with special needs the opportunity to learn". At the very least, a Ministry that says it seeks scientific validity should engage in further study of the proposed Grade 10 test of reading and writing skills  - before giving it such power to deny student opportunities.

 

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