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A Consequence of Testing ALL Students

Alexis Shuban, a high school special education supervisor, is shocked when a student earns an unusually high score on an 11th grade achievement test. His score is so high, in fact, that he would be eligible for an academic scholarship if he had taken a college preparatory program of study. Unfortunately, this student, a high school senior, has been in special education classes since 5th grade and has not taken a college preparatory program.


Alexis Shuban could not believe the papers that June Howard had just placed in front of her. Issac Jackson, a senior in one of the high schools where Alexis worked as a special education supervisor, had earned an unusually high score on the achievement test he took in the spring of his junior year. In fact, his score was so high that he would be eligible for an academic scholarship if he had taken a college preparatory program of study. Unfortunately, Issac had been in special education classes since 5th grade and had not taken a college preparatory program.

June, the head of the Exceptional Education Department at Issac’s school, reiterated, "I am certain that he did not cheat!" I administered the test in his class. I was sitting near him during the testing and I could see very well. In fact, I was pleased that he seemed to be taking the test seriously for a change."

Alexis asked incredulously, "You really are convinced that these scores are an accurate representation of his ability and knowledge?"

"Well, it’s not that simple. I am surprised of course. He doesn’t do anything in class. I never dreamed he was really bright and I certainly did not expect him to do so well, but I do not believe he cheated."

Alexis countered, "How could your teachers not have noticed his ability? They are good teachers. I know that. You are also a good observer of students. What in the world happened here?"

June could not answer. She, too, was baffled!

Alexis ended their conversation with the request that June review Issac’s records to see what his past test scores and grades were like. They also decided to ask Issac to take an alternate form of the same test. As they talked, both women began to realize just how complicated this situation could become. Thus, June promptly scheduled another testing session and looked up Issac’s records. Within a few days June was back in Alexis’s office, accompanied by her principal, Lester Downing.

"First, the test scores are almost identical. I knew he had not cheated, but you’d never expect this outcome based on these records," June reported. The three looked over the bulkly folder that primarily contained reports of behavioral problems. Issac had been in the school district for all of his academic career. For the most part he had received Cs and Ds. The one clear exception was in the 3rd grade when he received As and Bs. Upon investigating this discrepancy, June discovered that Issac had really liked his 3rd grade teacher, and accordingly, he had done well academically. In the 4th grade he was referred for special education services because of "frequent fights, cursing in class, and disrespectful behavior toward authority figures." The psychologist who had tested him reported an "average IQ" and slightly below average achievement; however, the report did not specify specific scores and the original protocols were no longer available. The psychologist had left the district several years ago.

The psychologica report focused on Issac’s behavioral problems---opposition, lack of respect for authorities, and disruptiveness in the classroom. Little was said about his home situation and family life. According to school records, Issac’s father had died when Issac was 10, leaving his mom to care for Issac and his younger brother and sister. One note in his folder indicated that his mom had not been able to keep an appointment because of her work. Issac was placed in a self-contained class for students with behavior disorders in the 5th grade and he had remained in special education since that time. There were no test reports for the 8th grade, a year during which children in the district were mandated to take an achievement test. Other test reports, though scanty, indicated that Issac had earned scores in the lower percentiles.

The school district was a large, bureaucratic one that had experienced rapid growth during the past decades. Additionally, in a short period of time, it had been transformed from a district with predominately EuroAmerican students and teachers to a district with an ethnically and racially diverse student population.  It's teaching force, however, continued to be predominately EuroAmerican. On the surface, it appeared that the district had undergone this transformation smoothly; although most people "in the know" acknowledged considerable tensions beneath the surface, and no large scale multicultural education programs had been implemented.

Examination of Issac’s records indicated that they were not as complete as Alexis and June would have liked. Because the district had experienced rapid growth and a large number of personnel turnovers, Issac's previous teachers were no longer with the district or available to give further information. In addition, Issac had entered a job skills program in the 9th grade that involved his taking special education classes in the morning and participating in job training activities in the afternoon.  His special education grades were mostly Cs and Bs, with the exception of physical education, where he had received an F for refusing to dress out. Talks with Issac’s teachers confirmed that both Issac and his teachers had expected very little from his performance on the high school equivalency test and the standardized achievement test given at the end of his junior year.

After reviewing these records, both Alexis and June feared that this situation could become an inflamatory one. Because Issac was an African American student, it might be suggested that racial bias had played a role in Issac’s placement and educational planning. They now had to decide how to deal with this thorny problem. What should they say to Issac and his mother? What would be the fair thing to do for Issac? How would they protect the school district?




Discussion/Study Questions


List what you learned/know about each of the characters in the case.


What do you think is motivating the thoughts/actions of each of the characters?


What are the issues/problems in the case?


Additional Questions


Do you think racial bias played a role in Issac’s placement and educational planning?


How has Issac’s progress been monitored?


Why do you think the records are incomplete?


If Issac had a teacher that he really liked in the 4th grade (as he did in the 3rd grade) do you think he would have been referred for special education services?


What is the function of mandatory standardized achievement tests in schools?


How do you think it is possible that Issac’s ability went unnoticed?




CEC Competencies/Knowledge Areas Addressed In The Case


Major areas

Ethical concerns related to assessment.


Issues in definition and identification procedures for individuals with exceptional learning needs.


Influence of diversity on assessment, eligibility, programming, and placement of exceptional learners.


Other areas

Assurances and due process rights related to assessment, eligibility, and placement for students who are culturally and/or linguistically diverse.


Teacher’s attitudes and behaviors that positively or negatively influence student behavior.


Methods of monitoring student progress.


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