Testing put to the test in case of special-needs student in Broken Arrow
BY KIM ARCHER World Staff Writer
Friday, February 15, 2013
2/15/13 at 8:00 AM
Eighteen-year-old Mary Washer is expected to have met the requirements to graduate from Broken Arrow High School in May - despite new state testing restrictions imposed on special-needs students.
"I'm happy that Mary was able to get the scores that she needed in Oklahoma," said Washer's mother, Angela Chada. "But a lot of these kids' parents don't know what they need to do."
Washer is autistic and has encephalopathy, a disease of the brain that alters its function or structure.
Although she can't talk and has the cognitive ability of a 16- to 18-month-old, Washer and other special-needs students are still subject to Oklahoma's new requirements that high school students pass at least four of seven subject exams to receive a diploma.
Chada, will learn Friday whether her daughter's test scores in English, Algebra I, U.S. History and Biology have improved enough for her to receive a diploma.
For years, Washer has been able to demonstrate what she has learned through color-coded matching. It's part of a specialized criteria that was developed to help her gain a diploma.
Under federal law, schools must accommodate special education students based on their disabilities. The state allows alternative means of testing special education students to demonstrate proficiency - even if that proficiency is substantially different from requirements for able-bodied students.
In new rules under the state law that requires students to pass four of seven tests to graduate, the Education Department limited what accommodations could be made for special-needs students, and color coding was removed from the list.
As a result, Washer had to take the tests again.
State Sen. Mike Mazzei, R-Broken Arrow, who sponsored the high-stakes testing legislation, said the law was never intended to do what the state Education Department is doing to special-education students.
"This is a day of celebration. We're happy for Mary," he said in a news release. "But there is still some sadness on my part because I don't know how many other kids this is going to affect."
The U.S. Department of Education's regional U.S. Office of Civil Rights has launched an investigation into the Chadas' allegations that the state discriminated against their daughter on the basis of her disability.
"It started out with Mary, and now they're looking at all children who take alternative testing in Oklahoma," Chada said.
In an email to the Tulsa World, a U.S. Department of Education spokesman said the investigation "has always included the allegation that OSDE discriminates against all students with disabilities by maintaining a policy and/or procedure by which it dictates which accommodations may appear on a student's individualized education program (IEP) for state assessments."
Chada's hope is that decisions made about these accommodations will be left up to the teachers and administrators who work with special-needs students.
"I don't think holding her back in school is really giving her any advantages," she said. "I'm just ready for her to get her life started."
Chada realizes that her daughter's career opportunities are limited. But she envisions Washer as a volunteer at a place where people know her and care for her.
"When she goes to school, she has certain kids who are very sweet to her in the hallway," she said. "They will high-five her, and she smiles from ear to ear and high-fives them.
"She touches people's hearts, and she doesn't even speak a word."
Original Print Headline: Testing put to the test
Kim Archer 918-581-8315
Mary Washer, who is profoundly disabled, sits in a rocking chair with her iPad during quiet time in her classroom at Broken Arrow's South Intermediate High School. She is expected to have met the requirements to graduate in May. MICHAEL WYKE/Tulsa World