Pasco teacher laments Florida's direction on testing of profoundly disabled students
Sabrina Berger has taught children with profound disabilities for 18 years. Lately she's become so discouraged with Florida's accountability trends that her husband encouraged Berger to express her concerns to someone in charge.
Berger hesitated. "I didn't think anybody cared," she said.
Ultimately, she sent an e-mail to Pasco County superintendent Kurt Browning, who has some powerful friends of his own. The Florida Education Association also has taken up the issue.
Now the question of whether these children should be required to take tests, and their teachers should be evaluated by the results, has come front and center.
Berger said she was glad to know someone was listening and taking her concerns seriously. "I love this job," she said.
Read on for her full e-mail to Browning.
Dear Mr. Browning,
I am emailing you to respectfully ask for your help for special diploma ESE teachers with the new teacher evaluation process. I have a B.A. and an M.S. in Special Education. I am also National Board Certified in teaching students with severe disabilities. I have been teaching the students with the most severe level of mental retardation for 18 years.
Today when I signed my attendance verification sheets, each page was stamped with a phrase stating that half my evaluation will be based on the achievement of the students on my role. No one can seem to tell me how achievement will be measured. I have students grade 6 up through 22 years of age all in one room. No one in my class can speak. No one is toilet trained yet. Many cannot move their limbs voluntarily and several have continuous seizures all day long. Most cannot eat by mouth and one breathes through a trachea and requires frequent suctioning to breathe.
I can only guess that student achievement will be measured by the Florida Alternate Assessment. This is a black and white paper test that is individually administered. I would like to share with you an example of a former student. He was in a wheel chair, non-verbal, blind and deaf. He attended school roughly 10 days a month. One of the test questions was asking him to identify what effect the moon has on the earth. The answer was tide. So, I read the question aloud to a deaf child who was too intellectually and physically impaired to learn sign language. He could not see the photos. He had no way to answer. He had never seen the moon or a tide. There is no way to represent this in class using objects.
This is not a random example. I have many. Please, Sir, understand that I pour my heart and soul into my job every day for these kids and their families. I alter my teaching to reflect what Marzano requests....graphic organizers, learning scales, checking for understanding, while I present subjects such as Geometry and Biology to kids who do not even respond when their parents walk into the room.
What I want to know is this. Do you and the Pasco county school system believe that my severely, multiply disabled students' lack of achievement is an indicator of my abilities as a teacher? How can their brain damage and multiple challenges be ignored as barriers to achievement? My students DO make achievements but not on things being evaluated by tests. What can be done to build a component of understanding into the evaluation system so that people who choose to teach kids with severe disabilities are not penalized by their students' difficulties achieving in school?
There are teachers just like me at Cottee River Elementary, River Ridge Middle/High, Wiregrass Ranch High, Northwest Elementary, Connerton Elementary and Hudson High. I am not alone in my concerns.
Sabrina Berger, Teacher of Intellectually Disabled/Participatory level, J.W. Mitchell High School