Developmentally disabled student to get her diploma
BY KIM ARCHER World Staff Writer
Saturday, February 16, 2013
2/16/13 at 5:47 AM
It was obvious that Mary Washer didn't know what the hubbub was about.
She didn't understand why she had to come down to the school cafeteria and stamp her name on some papers Friday.
Or that those documents mean she will graduate from Broken Arrow High School in May - just as she didn't comprehend the algebra, biology, history and English tests she took to get that diploma.
"She scored advanced in U.S. history," said her special-education teacher, Jennifer Cochran, with a smile. "How did she do that? Lots of repetition."
It isn't that Washer understood the main causes of World War II but that she learned by rote to place a sticky note on the word "militarism" rather than "marshmallow," Cochran said.
"It's wow, but at the same time, it's a joke," said Washer's mother, Angela Chada. "She could have spent the time used learning to pick some other word than 'marshmallow' learning to tie her own shoes."
Washer is autistic and has encephalopathy, a disease of the brain that alters its function or structure. She doesn't speak and has the cognitive ability of a 16- to 18-month-old.
Because of rules drafted by the Oklahoma Department of Education to implement the Achieving Classroom Excellence law, Washer and other special-needs students are required along with all Oklahoma high school students to pass four of seven end-of-instruction tests to get a high school diploma.
Chada isn't the only one frustrated by those rules.
Every teacher and administrator on Washer's individualized education plan - or IEP - team also think these rules shouldn't apply to students like her.
"The state is trying to fit all students into one system of evaluation," said Carol Gruben, director of elementary special education for Broken Arrow Public Schools.
Gruben sat in on the IEP team meeting Friday as the group officially agreed that Washer had made enough improvement on her end-of-instruction tests to get her diploma.
The state Education Department also changed what accommodations schools can use to teach and test special-needs students.
That is why the Chadas filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights alleging that the state discriminates against those students by dictating what accommodations schools can use.
Chada said those accommodations should be selected by the teachers and administrators who know and work with the students.
The federal agency is investigating the issue, and results could come as soon as a month from now, she said.
Chada is thrilled that legislation offered by Rep. Jadine Nollan, R-Sand Springs, advanced from the House Common Education Committee on Tuesday.
House Bill 1752 would allow local districts to decide whether to award high school diplomas to severely mentally disabled students who cannot pass the required end-of-instruction tests.
Under federal law, schools must accommodate special-education students based on their disabilities. The state allows alternative means of testing these students to demonstrate proficiency - even if that proficiency is substantially different from requirements for typical students.
Washer's mother, Angela Chada, said she knows the diploma itself doesn't have the same meaning for Washer as for other students. But it is still a milestone.
"Someday, if I'm not here, say 30 years from now, I want her to be recognized like, 'Mary came in two days a week all her life and shredded paper for us,' " Chada said.
"Is it, my child became a doctor and saved lives? No, it's not that accomplishment. But it's that Mary had something that was hers. And Mary had people who knew her, and she touched their lives."
Kim Archer 918-581-8315
Mary Washer uses a stamp to "sign" her name on paperwork Friday to receive a high school diploma from Broken Arrow South Intermediate High School. Assisting her are her teacher Jennifer Cochran (left) and school psychologist Kim Schein. STEPHEN PINGRY/Tulsa World
Teacher Jennifer Cochran (left) and Angela Chada sign paperwork Friday at Broken Arrow South Intermediate High School for Chada's developmentally disabled daughter, Mary Washer, to receive her high school diploma. Below, the school's Individualized Education Program team meets Friday with Angela and Robert Chada (third and fourth from left). STEPHEN PINGRY/Tulsa World