Tests and Measurements for the Parent, Teacher, Advocate and Attorney
The first example Wright & Wright (2007) uses is the United States Supreme Court Florence County School District Four v. Shannon Carter (November 9, 1993). In this case, the court held the school district liable for the cost of private education due to inadequate goal setting and expected academic achievement for the student as proposed by the Individualized Education Plan (IEP), Shannon’s parents had become increasingly unhappy with the progress Shannon was making and felt the IEP proposed by the school district was inadequate. The IEP allowed for Shannon to make four months progress in one years’ time. Shannon was in her ninth grade year her parents feared Shannon would not graduate from high school with high school level in reading and math. The school refused to change the IEP or give Shannon more services. Shannon’s parents withdrew her from the public school and put her in a private school specializing in learning disabilities. Shannon made progress in the new private school and graduated with high school equivalencies. Shannon’s parents sued the public schools for the price of her education in the private school and won. The courts, relying on test results claimed the public school was “wholly inadequate” to meet Shannon’s needs (p.4). This ruling was upheld in the US Supreme Court. What this emphasizes for parents, educators, advocates and lawyers is the importance of understanding the legal requirements and how they relate to measure progress using objective modalities. The Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires goals to be written annually and must be accompanied by objectives that can be measured (2007). Parents and advocates should take mention of schools that allow for less than clearly, objective measurement standards.
The second case cited in the Wright & Wright (2007) article reviews the portion of the IEP that states how progress will be measured and collected. “Johnny” is the student described as having a learning disability that affects his ability to learn to read. In a case like Johnny’s, the special education staff may choose to write a goal that state, “Johnny will make measurable progress in reading as measured by teacher observation and teacher made tests at 80% accuracy” (p.5). This means of measurement is troublesome for both schools and parents as the total measurement falls to the teacher’s subjective discernment rather than on a reliable standardized measurement for learning. What can a parent or advocate know when a student is not getting the help he or she requires to learn and the measurements used do not seem to be adequate? Wright & Wright continue through the process of helping parents and others understand specific tests and how to interpret the data derived from the tests in order to elicit specific and meaningful information that will pinpoint IEP goals and objectives.
The legal requirement in the process of educational decision-making continues to be measure progress objectively as the third example is revealed. “Katie” is described by Wright & Wright (2007) as a fourteen year old student who is refusing to go to school. The Wechsler Intelligence Test for Children, Fourth Edition (WISC-lV) and the Test of Written Language, Third Edition (TOWL-3) were administered by a private psychologist. Katie was found to be two standard deviations (SD) above the mean on one subtest and two and a half SD below the mean on the spontaneous writing sample of the TOWL-3. The example is used to illustrate how to determine the cause of the student’s distress and to identify strengths and weakness the student may have. Parents need to know the right questions to ask to get the answers that are going to benefit the child. Looking at these scores the parents may not have the knowledge or skills to understand what SD is and what it means if the student, in this case Katie, is two SD above or below. Also, parents need to have a visual representation of the progress the child is making. To facilitate the coming together of professional testing and reading the results and parents lack of knowledge or expertise Wright & Wright go on to explain basic statistics and used the bell curve to measure progress.
Beginning with individual measurements Wright & Wright give the example of measuring physical growth. A parent can see how tall the child is getting by using a ruler or yardstick. When checking in with a pediatrician the child’s growth may be plotted on a graph showing how he or she ranks in height with other children of the same age. The pediatrician may suggest the child is within normal limits or above or below the typical child of this age. If the child is not within normal limits the pediatrician will next look at how far above or below the child is over time. This would determine whether further testing is called for.
General statistics are ways to measure and show the relationships between things using numbers. Statistics is a way to help parents make informed decisions not based on emotion but on fact. The same principles used in determining how your child’s height compares to the average child are the same principles used in evaluating educational progress. Using the example of a group of 10 year old children doing pushups, Wright and Wright put in plain words how SD’s are set up and what qualifies as two SD above or below the mean. Additionally, the raw score or the number of pushups each child was explained to let the reader know the raw score is simply the items performed correctly or incorrectly. Plotting individual students achievement at doing push-ups on the bell curve or normal frequency distribution, gives a frame of reference for comparing one student to another or the whole group. The achievements of this particular class can be compared to other classes, schools or regions and could also be measured over time. Once the mean is established, further analysis tells the number of children who had raw scores of more or less than the mean. By looking at the scores on the bell curve, the reader can easily determine the performance of the group and individual scores comparatively. Comparing one child’s number of pushup to another requires the establishment of percentile ranking (PR). PR is the percent of pushups done correctly against the total number in the group. For instance, if the mean was ten push-ups and the child did ten push-ups, the PR for that child would be 50% because 50% of the students did the same or better and 50% of the students did the same or worse at doing push-ups.
Test scores can also be reported as scaled scores, subtest scores, or standard scores or cumulative scores. Wright & Wright continue to assist the reader in understanding how to become more comfortable with reading test scores. Next addressed are subtests and composite scores. Using the previous push-up example would not be sufficient to develop cumulative or sub test scores. To this end the hypothetical scenario of adding sit-ups and a timed 50 yard dash to the skill set to be tested. The scaled score is determined via a ranking system in which the child who scored the most is given a ranking of 100 and the lowest performer is given a scaled score of 1. All others in the group are scored against these criteria. A global score of all tasks is determined by adding the standard or subtest scores and dividing by the number of tasks. Understanding the critical nature of the subtests as they relate to the students performance is key to understanding how and why the student may be struggling in a particular subject. It is important for parents and advocates to remember the standard scores and tests that use the bell curve are used often while being aware of the mean and standard deviation is imperative in understanding exactly where a child may be having difficulty learning.
Peter and Pam Wright have given a noteworthy tool for parents, advocates, educators and lawyers giving straight forward information that is both worthwhile and functional for those looking for answers to questions surrounding the academic performance of a student. Wright and Wright complete the piece with a synopsis of tests frequently used in education, and by giving the “Wrights law quick rules of tests” summarizing the often confusing standard scores and standard deviation rules. A website giving copies of the bell curve to print out and resources about testing are available. Wright and Wright have produced a worthy and valuable prized article.
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