There has been a lot of news lately about the state tests here in Ohio. First, over the summer, we dropped out of the PARCC consortium and now with the upcoming release of test scores news is out about the cut scores and the percent proficient or higher needed to attain success on each specific test. As an administrator for a school management company created to serve students with disabilities, I have such mixed feelings about the tests.

Hi everyone. My name is Deb Skul and I have a very personal interest in seeing kids with learning challenges succeed. I’m the mom of two daughters, one of whom is on the autistic spectrum. My professional background is in elementary education and for the past fifteen years, I’ve worked for Summit Academy Management in Akron Ohio. Our company manages twenty-seven schools in Ohio. Most of our students are in the mild to moderate disability category and so have the same expectations for success as their typically developing peers.

We have raised the bar for all students. This past year many students struggled to pass the tests for the first time in their lives. For kids with disabilities what was already difficult just became infinitely more so. Even with the best possible instruction, there are some kids who won’t master the regular school curriculum and many others will. Here’s the thing – it’s impossible to know which kids are which so we have to give them all the chance to achieve at the highest levels. IQ is not the final answer – perseverance and self-confidence often trumps it. Sometimes IQ doesn’t even enter into it. There are other more pressing problems for some of the children when it comes to testing and I’ll be talking about those in future posts.

I think that one of the most difficult parts of teaching kids with learning challenges is finding the sweet spot of keeping high expectations without making things so difficult that students give up because they feel stupid. Once the child has decided that he or she can’t do the work it is much harder to get them to keep trying.

Here’s an analogy I use with kids. Imagine that at the moment of your birth you are in the middle of a football field surrounded by open doors, each one representing one possible future career. Immediately some doors slam shut because being a pro basketball player or an opera singer just aren’t in the cards for you genetically. Your early years can partially close other doors – did you get the right nourishment, enough love, lots of mental stimulation? Early in our school career, we start closing the doors ourselves, often way too early. I was in first grade when I first realized that I didn’t understand math and by fourth grade, I decided I was bad in it. I slammed a lot of doors shut before I even got out of elementary school. As teachers our job is keep those doors open for kids as long as we possibly can, so kids don’t count themselves out of things that are in their reach.