Calculating The Distance To The Sky

The state standardized tests are called different things in different states, and called inappropriate names by teachers who have to prep kids for them 3/4 of the school year. The kids never look forward to them, but know it's just part of school work that needs to be done every year. I'll admit that they're incredibly helpful in helping me to evaluate where my kids are in the general scheme of things. Despite my penchant for allowing my kids to miss far more school than the state is happy with, they're not suffering academically because of it. They always score anywhere from highly proficient to above average. Of course, given the "average" of the nation on a whole, maybe that's  not something to brag about. I'm just saying.

And then there's Micah. The boy doesn't fall under "normal" on any level at all. He doesn't even get to take those standardized tests because he's a special kind of guy. He takes an alternate test, designed just for kids in the Life Skills class. I got the grades back on those tests that he took this spring. I'm proud to report that Micah scored in the "proficient" level in both reading and math. The possible levels are Emerging, Novice, Proficient and Advanced. So he's got room to improve, but isn't doing too shabby overall.

But what, exactly, does that mean? The test results brag that Micah took the Grade 5/6, Level A assessments. I asked his teacher to explain things to me so that I could have an understanding of what's going on. Apparently, there is a standard of what kids in 5th/6th grade should be aware of when they're in Life Skills class. I had no idea, since these kids are so incredibly varied in academics. It would be so hard to come up with a standard to include all kids with mental delays, you know? There are slight mental delays, and severe mental delays, and those with exceptional skills in math and zero skills in reading and the list could go on... Just like normal kids, only much more varied. Imagine a pendulum swinging to represent typical kids. Now imagine that pendulum on a clock ten times larger and imagine how much larger the swing would be from back to forth. This may or may not be an accurate description of the difference between Life Skills kids and typical kids. I'm just making this stuff up as I go.

From what I gather, the governmental powers that be have reduced things to the very basics for testing for these kids. I had read what they tested Micah on, which is why I questioned his teacher. These are things he'd been working on at school, and they're wonderfully good things. In reading he's learning to match identical objects, select named objects, identify relationships between objects, identify categories of objects, and answer literal "who" or "what" questions after listening to a sentence.

Basics, people. Very basic.

I'm okay with this. I'm not complaining, because the school is doing marvelous things with Micah and he's learning so well. He knows these things and scored well, despite being Micah. And I mean that in a "you never know what that child will do" kind of way. When asked to identify an apple, he may or may not have chosen a hamburger because he wanted to eat one. I pity his teachers, really. But then again, they're very aware that Micah marches to his own drumbeat. His teacher and I were discussing just today how he thinks he is king of his world, and it's so hard for both her and I to remind him that he's just a peasant like the rest of us. Nobody made him king. Yet, he is sure the world revolves around him. It makes for difficult days on occasion. So scoring well on a test is far more than just comprehending what is asked and choosing correct answers. No, scoring well also means that he feels like cooperating on test day. The first day they tested him, he chose to perform for the camera that was trained on him rather than actually do the test. This is what we're up against.

And in case you haven't figured out yet that Micah is learning the very basics of life, he is. In math, he's tested on counting things, matching items of equal size, identifying most and least and differentiating a clock face or dollar bill from other items. Truly, life skills. And he's rocking them. But he's nowhere near the 6th grade level he's currently placed in, which is why he's in Life Skills class.

I give very little thought to these tests, for the record. The test results I received in the mail this week were from half a year ago already, and Micah has learned so much since then. I am proud to announce that he has graduated to simple addition, and is rocking it. He can independently write the names of all his family members. I heard him sound out a word the other week and nearly died with the excitement of it. Is he so far behind his typical peers that he'll never, ever catch up? Yes. That's almost standard with kids with Down syndrome. I'm not selling my son short; I'm being realistic. We continue to encourage him and teach him and expand his education because we never want to sell him short by saying, "he has a disability." The sky is the limit for him just like it is for my other kids. It may take him longer to get there, but he's just as capable.

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