Special-education students aim to excel on state exams

When autistic 9-year-old Audrey Norton took her first California Standards Test last year, she needed to take it throughout several days, with a blank sheet of paper covering half of the booklet so she wouldn’t get confused.

“It took a long time, and she gets really tired — I thought maybe we don’t want to put her through this again,” said Audrey’s mother, Rachel Norton, a member of the district’s Citizens Advisory Council for Special Education. “I didn’t feel my daughter’s scores reflected her true abilities.”

Soon, parents won’t have a choice. By 2010, special-education students will be required to take a version of the CST called the California Modified Assessment — and their scores will count toward schools’ state and federal progress under No Child Left Behind, according to Don Kilmer with the California Department of Education’s assessment division.

With the mandatory testing comes a host of modifications so that it more accurately reflects their abilities, according to Kilmer.

At the end of this month, San Francisco students will begin taking the CST; this year, some special-education students will also take the test, as the San Francisco Unified School District has joined other districts in administering the CMA test on a voluntary basis, earlier than its 2010 mandate.

Roughly 350 special-education students in third through fifth grades will participate, according to Robert Maass, supervisor of assessment for the district. By 2010, Maass expects that 1,800 SFUSD students will take the test.

Modifications are necessary because disabled students, such as dyslexic or autistic children, can find the CST long and confusing, according to Maass.

California historically offered optional modifications to the CST; those will be included in the CMA, Kilmer said.

“This provides access to a population of students … who are not being effectively tested,” Kilmer said. “Because it’s more accessible, we expect their percent correct to increase.”

Like Norton, some special-education students have participated in standardized state tests, but their scores haven’t counted toward school and district totals, Kilmer said.

Creating a modified and mandatory test for special-education students may help districts who have faced federal penalties because they don’t have 95 percent of their students participating in exams, according to Kilmer.

It remains to be seen how the CMA will affect special-education students’ scores, or the scores of their schools.

“Scores for students receiving special-education services tend to be lower than the group as a whole,” Maass said. “I would expect that, if in fact the CMA is an appropriate test for the student, … the scores would go up.”

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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