IEPs, STAR testing, and a Culture of Fear

Does your child have an IEP (Individual Education Plan/ Program)? Do you know what happens at your school? Is your child’s IEP being followed? Students with learning disabilities are being disadvantaged when their IEPs are not being followed! Here’s a quick story, and I’ll try to be brief.

A special education teacher at one school came forward with frustrations one day during his lunch break. He approached a parent of a student with a learning disability and told her that her son’s IEP was being ignored. In fact, many students’ special needs at this school are not being met when they are given STAR Assessments. And apparently, the director of special education was made aware of this and doesn’t think it matters. The teacher asked how the school would respond if parents made formal complaints. The director said she didn’t know of any parents who would complain. I wonder why she doesn’t seem to think IEPs are necessary for STAR testing. Perhaps she doesn’t think parents know much about STAR anyway and wouldn’t question. Or perhaps she’s like me and considers these mandated forms of progress-monitoring completely worthless and she (not me) doesn’t feel its worth the bother.  In any case, this director did not side with the special education teacher to do anything about this.

If you needed another reason to opt out of STAR testing, here it is: The purpose of these third-party computer-based assessments (STAR is one of many products on the list of state-approved progress-monitoring systems, which our schools are required to purchase) is supposedly to provide teachers with valuable feedback on their students’ performance and academic development. When students with disabilities are given STAR tests without following their Individual Education Plans, the results of the tests are highly unreliable. When a student, whose IEP states that the student must be tested alone and free of distraction, is not given those accommodations, their tests scores will be low. When the IEP is followed, the test scores jump up drastically. How is a teacher supposed to use data from STAR if it is flawed data to begin with? And how much uneccessary extra testing is going on with these kids to get it right?

The parent in which the special education teacher confided called someone from BOCES who is in charge of quality control for special education. This person absolutely confirmed that IEPs must be followed for the STAR testing and that the school was in violation of the law for not doing this.  This person even spoke with the school’s director of special education, who still didn’t agree that there was a problem.

Nobody was listening to the special education teacher, not the classroom teachers or administration. He spoke to the parent during his lunch break–made a special trip to her door–because he felt compelled to act in these students’ best interest, and he felt powerless to do his job.

When it became know that he was talking to a parent (imagine that!) he was called into the superintendent’s office. He was asked if he liked his current job because he could be placed somewhere else— less desirable!?!?  He was accused of insubordination for going against the other teachers and for speaking about school happenings outside the school (to the parent).  He has tenure so they can’t fire him.  But as he later told the parent, “they can make my life miserable.”  He also told the parent that there was nothing more he could do.

This teacher is very frustrated because he takes his job seriously and truly wants to do all that he can for his students so that they can succeed.  He knows what works and what doesn’t.  He believes in personalized education and in the past has used this successfully.  IEPs for students with disabilities are crucial parts of this type of education and when they are ignored, the achievement gap widens.

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6 thoughts on “IEPs, STAR testing, and a Culture of Fear

  1. This is obviously not a true story as unions can not prevent someone from being fired. What is the real story here? The facts are iffy at best and the lingo is all wrong for sped. Hmmmm

  2. Only an idiot would question the validity of this story. This crap happens everyday in our public schools.

  3. Bottom line, children, both with special needs and without, are unethically being assessed using only one test and their teacher’s performance is being unethically assessed based on only one test per child (against the testing profession’s own ethical standards). Your state’s IEP software system may only have check box options for taking the standard test or alternative tests, but parents have the rights to opt their children out of high stakes testing. My son’s IEP has, “Mother reserves the right to opt out of standardized testing and test preparation” but only after I had to do a due process complaint against the school, school district and state department of education. Federal law requires the Case Conference Committee to determine the appropriate assessments for children with special needs…period. NOT our federal government, not state government, not school personnel AND parents are the subject matter experts on their kids, no one else. Call an IEP Case Conference and demand the same rights for you and your special needs child. If they refuse, file a due process on them.

  4. For STAR, it depends on which assessment you are talking about. It is not allowed (and wouldn’t make sense) to read STAR Reading aloud to the student, as it would no longer measure reading skill, but rather listening skill. STAR Math can and should be read to a student if their IEP has this accommodation specified.
    Standardized tests often have specific criteria for which accommodations are allowed. If you stray from these it invalidates the test and may render the score meaningless. If the goal is to measure reading skill, the kid needs to read on their own. IEPs are usually written in a way that the test manufacturer’s instructions trump the IEP.
    The purpose of having a test read to a student with a reading disability is that you want to level the playing field. If your test is meant to measure science or mathematical skill, a child that can’t read the test will probably fail even if they know the content material.
    So, really, this story is very concerning. I truly hope that the school district in question figures this out sooner rather than later…

    • I do not believe that the particular IEPs in question had anything to do with reading aloud in this case. But in any case, it is indeed a disservice to the students when their IEPs aren’t followed and I also hope the school in question works this out ASAP. Obviously I cannot provide the name of the school or the teacher for fear of the teacher receiving punitive measures.

      This post primarily dealt with STAR as it and other state-mandated forms of third-party assessments are the most concerning to me. But there have been cases when the IEPs weren’t followed for other tests as well. I wanted to draw attention to the particular story I heard, but also just to the fact that IEPs are being ignored in general. If it’s going on at this school, it must be happening elsewhere, and parents might not know. The parent in this story says she never would have known had the teacher not come to her door.

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