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A Letter to the World of Standardized Testing

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This year our daughter turns 6. Around this age, kids who have been labeled as “exceptional” students can have psychological testing done to assess their needs, learning style and general comprehension. Parents can opt out at any time or choose not to do the testing altogether.

The process consists of two two-hour sessions in which your child is expected to sit at a desk through so-called standardized testing, stay engaged, interested and do their best. The fact that no 6-year-old is built to sit quietly for two hours and take an exhausting test is a feat in itself. Now, breaks are given and in my daughter’s case, exceptions were made — she had to do four separate sessions to make it through the whole test.

Other factors are taken into consideration to give a clearer picture of the child. The specialist/professional doing the testing speaks with the parents, school and anyone else they have been given permissions to contact. This allows for a better understanding of the child in general. At the end of the whole process the parents meet with the child physiologist to hear the findings. During this time you can agree, disagree or clarify and decide whether you want the information shared.

Here is my problem with the whole process: No child is standard. Everyone learns, lives and acts different. I understand it is created through guidelines of a so-called “typical” 6-year-old’s learning, and it does provide helpful information as well as more ammunition in my pocket as a parent to get the tools that will help my child succeed, whether they are used or not (but they have them if needed).

So is my child really exceptional or special?

No. I choose to see her as a one-of-a-kind limited edition who has an unfair disadvantage with the testing on multiple levels.

Sturge-Weber syndrome lives with her and brings along with it multiple challenges, one of which is partial paralysis on one side of her body. This makes it difficult to do the two-handed requirements of any test, and she will always score below average because of this. She has only one functional hemisphere so sometimes she needs more time to comprehend information and finds it hard to sit for long periods, and be asked to find this and that (but most 6-year-olds would probably have the same issue).

One of the areas they are tested on is recognizing letters of the alphabet out of sequence. How is this fair? In what home or classroom does any child learn the alphabet out of sequence? So is it fair to assume they are behind if they can’t recognize a specific letter? Also, depending on what is learned in the home and how your parents speak to you, you may not understand the way they are delivering the question (for example, “Which line is the thinnest?” In their home they may be asked which line is the skinniest).

The individuals who are creating and making the decisions on these standardized tests are of course doing their best and only have the best interests of the child in mind, but I wonder how they acquired their idea of fair and realistic testing process. Did they spend time with an actual family? Were they in the environment of the individuals, or in a closed room?  How is the same test accurately portraying the individual or helping parents understand what they need?

When I am advocating as a mom or a friend, what I want the world of standardized testing to know is:

My child is a one-of-a-kind limited edition who doesn’t need you to teach her or understand the way she learns best as much as she needs you to let her teach you.

Candice’s daughter

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Originally published: December 29, 2015
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