As a special education teacher in Maine for 18 years, I have seen the education pendulum swing to and fro, and I have never been more worried about the future of education for my students than I am now.

The state of education in our country has turned harmful and counterproductive to the interests of the children I teach. This misguided test-and-punish culture we have created inflicts the worst damage upon the most vulnerable students: those with disabilities.

All 19 of my special education students are in the process of taking the Smarter Balanced test, now known as the Maine Educational Assessment. This test goes against what we all know about learning and development.

Children must take the test at their grade level, regardless of their skill level. The test will cover subject matter they have not yet been taught.

Students with reading disabilities who have, through determination and hard work, mastered decoding and fluent reading of basic text, will be asked to read passages two to three years above their reading level and answer questions requiring sophisticated analysis. Others, with language disabilities, will fare no better on the math test because the math questions are so verbose, with subtle differences in wording.

Many children with learning disabilities have executive functioning challenges (organization and planning). Test takers are asked to navigate among two to three different screens, passages and then back to the questions, all the time remembering what the task is. This presents a nightmare to many students with learning differences.

Students with attention disabilities will have to contend with a confusing desktop, a menu of test-taking tools and a diagram explaining the use of these tools that looks like a flowchart from my college-age son’s engineering class.

Ninety-five percent of students with disabilities are failing this and similar tests across the country. This exam pinpoints the kids’ weaknesses and then exploits them.

The test is poorly constructed, and the directions are confusing. The test establishes no baseline, so growth cannot be measured. It expects all students to end up at the same place, in spite of where they started. It assumes all students demonstrate their learning in the same way. It is one-size-fits-all, and we all know our students are anything but.

In short, this test is one big mandated failure message. In the end, it will highlight all the things the children cannot do, without illuminating their strengths, growth or skills mastered.

For all this time, expense and heartache, this test provides no useful information or benefit to these children, their families or their teachers.

The test scores are meaningless because the children are being tested on material they have not been taught. The scores will not be available for months. No one will see the items that were missed or the writing samples. There will be no profile of strengths and weaknesses to guide instruction. The kids will get a grade. The school will get a grade.

In Maine, the Department of Education and teachers are supposed to be on the same team. We owe it to all of our students to work together to develop an accountability system that measures true growth, informs our instruction, has the confidence of teachers and parents and, most importantly, helps teachers teach and children learn.

It is time that we work together for the benefit of all students. The U.S. Senate is poised to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, granting states much more discretion in how to measure student progress and how to use these measures. This discretion gives Maine a unique opportunity to be one of the first states in the nation to work with teachers and parents to create a fair, relevant, meaningful and helpful method of assessing students. Perhaps an assessment that allows some flexibility for individual needs and children with disabilities?

It is time for a mid-course correction. Our students really need us to speak on their behalf. We owe it to our children to finally get this right.

Jane Seidenberg, of Portland, is a special education teacher in the Gorham school system.

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