Against all odds – how our son is winning against the high-stakes tests and Common Core

Thanks to our guest blogger, Laura Oosse McCrary, a passionate Florida parent advocate, for sharing her heartfelt and personal story in hopes of inspiring others to get involved:

In 2012 our son entered third grade. He has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), and his handwriting was barely legible due to dysgraphia. Initially unknown to me, his teacher made him write his assignments over and over again. She would take his paper away and tell him to start over. He felt like his best was never good enough. It was unfortunate that his teacher did not understand him or his special needs.

Our son also has anxiety and sensory issues. When he was overloaded, he would shut down physically and mentally. For this reason, he had an accommodation to be allowed out of school before the bell rang at the end of the day due to the commotion. One day, that didn’t happen. The bell rang. When the teacher told him it was time to go, he froze. Only one other student was in the class. She kept telling our son it was time to go, but he was afraid to because it was out of routine. She was trying to rush him. Still, he would not leave. She left the room and the other child had to go. To this day, I have no idea what she was thinking. Leaving him alone in the classroom put him at great risk. He completely shut down. He was left alone in the classroom after the bell had rung at the end of the day. His dad was waiting for him in the front office. Normally he would have been there by this time, but not on this day. His dad was frantic! Ten minutes after the bell rang, he saw our crying son walking with his Occupational Therapist to the office. Apparently, our son found the courage to leave the room on his own, but it wasn’t easy. Thankfully, someone found him. This situation was the beginning of our realization about just how much stress and pressure teachers are under these days because of the micromanaging by politicians.

Every day after this happened, his body became more out of sync. I wasn’t sure if he was experiencing seizures. His body was jerking with tics, nonstop. His behaviors were completely out of the ordinary. Our son was no longer the same. It was so bad; we had to take him to the ER three times. Finally we made a visit to our psychiatrist, who decided the best thing we could do,would be to watch him 24/7 until we could get his medicine changed. It was torture watching him go through this. It looked like our son was having seizures.

The doctor said he needed to start Hospital Homebound Education, which is the “most restrictive environment”.  For the next 8 months he received only 4 hours of instruction per week, because that is all they would allow in Hospital Homebound. This was also the first year he took the standardized test dictated by the State of Florida, the FCAT, (which has since been replaced by the Florida Standards Assessment) which he needed to pass in order to move on to 4th grade. Can you imagine knowing he needed to pass a test under these conditions or else he would fail?  He scored a Level 1, the lowest score you can achieve. Considering how much time he lost in school, I was somewhat okay with this. I felt he would be better off repeating 3rd grade.

Our only concern was how in the world were we going to tell him he needed to repeat 3rd grade, and when? It was the beginning of summer. We wanted him to enjoy his summer break.  When we told him a couple weeks before school started he needed to repeat third grade, his heart broke. He was even more heartbroken when he later realized that his friends were moving on and would not be in class with them.

About a week into the beginning of school, the Assistant Principal asked me if I would be interested in having him take the SAT10. I knew if he passed, he would move on to 4th grade, but I was absolutely certain he would not pass. I agreed anyway. His score was just a few points above passing! When the AP called me, he told me our son is now in 4th grade effective immediately! I wasn’t happy. I knew our son was so far behind in school, due to being in Hospital Homebound. I was worried he would never catch up!  But, when we told him the news that night, he cried.  They weren’t sad tears.  They were happy tears! I had no idea how much being held back affected our son. Looking back on this today, I can see that NOT holding him back was the best thing we could have done.

The next two years proved to be the biggest challenge!

The following year was the first year Common Core was taught, but the state still mandated the FCAT.  Common Core was a nightmare for our son. Can you imagine being so far behind, and having to learn all these different math strategies? To top it off, due to being in a special needs class, it was impossible for the class to keep up with the curriculum. His class was not able to get through even half the work the mainstream kids were able to.

The behavior issues in the special needs classroom were simply unbelievable. One child would throw things, like scissors. She would run out of the classroom, a lot!  There was a lot of screaming and breaking things. One child would hit others because of having no other way to communicate. She had no idea how to get her needs met because she was non-verbal. Of course I wasn’t supposed to know this, but our son is verbal, and he tells us what is happening.  How could any child function in this type of environment and still learn? It amazed me to learn that teachers in these classrooms who were dealing with this kind of stress every day were being evaluated based on the test scores of our kids.

There was one ESE Associate and one ESE teacher in the special needs class. The ESE Associate needed to be with the child who hit the entire time, leaving only one teacher to teach and handle the rest of the class. Additionally, since the Associate was not officially “assigned” to this one child, the school had to keep it hidden that they chose to use her to keep the students safe in order to avoid getting into trouble. There were times when the students would need to walk out of the classroom because the behavior of one student was too dangerous to be in the room.  Also, this was a classroom with three different grade levels, so there was no way to teach an entire class what they needed at the same time.

When I asked for another assistant to be placed in the classroom, the answer I got from the district was “no”.  Why? They said assistants were to be placed according to IEP’s to meet the child’s individual needs, and that my child’s needs were being met. I was very close to filing a due process complaint against the District, at that point; but, I just didn’t have the energy.

By this time, I realized if our son was going to make it in school, I would need to home school him after school. There were tears! Lots of tears! Lots of anger! Lots of arguments. I was not going to let my son fail! I have no idea how we got through that year. I found  the 4th grade Common Core Math to be the most difficult for us. The teacher didn’t like it that I would teach my son the “old way” of doing the math. She said he had to learn it the new way.  At that point, I had no idea her evaluation was going to be tied to his test score, which explains why she was so concerned that he was learning math the “common core” way. We did our best, and we made it through. I still continued to teach him “Mom’s way”, and it paid off tremendously!  If I would have stressed common core math, he would not be an A student today.

Our son took the FCAT in 4th grade, and he scored a Level 3 on the math! He was proficient! Wow! Maybe I did something right after all. However, his tics had returned for over a month due to anxiety from all the testing. It was at this time that I learned about the Opt Out Movement. I was fed up with the abusive tests tied to the standards, and wanted to do something to help change it for all of our students and teachers. I asked the school principal what I could do, and she said I would need to go to legislators and the state. She said this isn’t coming from the district. That is exactly what I am doing today.

I was very fortunate that my son’s school was so tuned into my son’s needs by the end of fourth grade, and they wanted to do everything they could to help him his last year of Elementary School. They wanted to try putting him back in full main-stream classes with the help of an assistant. Wow! What a concept!  That is what I had been fighting for since he was in Kindergarten.

During 5th grade we learned a lot! What worked? Opting Out of High-Stakes Testing was key!

My son had the most amazing teachers in 5th grade. This is the year we learned how to survive Common Core. I don’t want anyone to have to learn how to survive common core.  What I want to is to teach parents how to defeat it! These standards are NOT cognitively or developmentally appropriate for our youngest learners. (Note: There is no research that will ever tell you that they are. Please click here for more research that supports this conclusion.)

I was tired of homeschooling after school. I wanted to help my son at home, but I realized quickly, he needed to learn independence. I told his 5th grade teachers that I cannot be my son’s mom and his teacher. Thankfully, they were receptive. Homework was always an issue, and he would resist it, especially because it was just too hard.

The school came up with a plan. Our son was to sit for no longer than 45 minutes for homework. If he didn’t finish the work, that was okay. Homework was destroying our family life, and I was done with the tears. If the homework was not something he could do without my help, the teacher gave him a packet of work that he could work on that he could understand, or I could make up an assignment. The goal was to move myself away from my son as his teacher. It worked! What he didn’t understand, he could get caught up on in school. I don’t know how his teachers did it, but they did. I will be forever grateful to them. They knew our son had a gift in math. As long as he got the right answer, it didn’t matter how he got it, which goes against everything common core is teaching.

The school was aware that I was going to opt our son out of testing at the end of the year. I also told our son that he wouldn’t need to take the FSA very early in the school-year. I think that helped him relax a little so he could actually focus on learning.  I always stressed learning rather than grades. His grades were not good.

I want parents to have strategies set up for their kids while they are helping get rid of the standards, and to please be patient with the teachers. Looking back, I am so glad I did not go after our son’s 3rd grade teacher.  I had no idea how much stress they were under.

I am asking all parents to please stand up for teachers! Do not place blame on them. They are suffering too. Not only do they have to teach developmentally inappropriate standards, they have to watch our kids suffer.  Our teachers are being micromanaged. There is little time to review things our children do not understand. The curriculum AND the timeline it needs to be taught is set in stone, and our teachers’ jobs are on the line if our kids don’t do well on these tests. 

I have found that opting our son out of the state-directed standardized test (FSA) did not affect his school or his teachers, and, that it couldn’t be used against him for placement in remedial classes.  It did not hold him back at all! And he didn’t have the stress associated with needing to learn so he could pass a test.  In return, the rewards were tremendous!

Now, our son is in 6th grade. He has an assistant and is mainstreamed in all but 1 class. He is getting A’s and B’s. I attribute a lot of this to my fight against Common Core and high-stakes tests. Below is the letter I wrote to my son’s school principal yesterday. I hope the good teachers don’t leave before our son finishes his education.

“Dear Principal,

I know you hear a lot more negative out of parents than you do positive. Same goes for the teachers. I know what is going on in Public Education, and I’m trying to help.

I want you and all of xxxx’s teachers to know how incredibly thankful I am that (name of school) has such amazing teachers!! All of them! (xxxxxx) loves his teachers, and he is doing better this year in school than he has ever done in in the past.

I just want you to know how incredibly grateful I am for you and your wonderful staff.

I would absolutely love it if you would please pass this on to teachers to let them know I think teachers are wonderful and that they deserve so much recognition for all the wonderful work they do with our kids.

Most Sincerely, “

PLEASE do not abandon Public Schools. Help me save them! There is a lot of good in them. We need every parent to jump on board. We can beat this, but we don’t have much time. Please consider opting your children out of these developmentally inappropriate standards based tests.  Talk to state and national legislators. Tell them your personal stories. Set up a time to meet with your School Board members for coffee (or email them if that’s all you have time to do). Many of these people have no idea what our kids and teachers are going through. Get involved in your schools! Find out what is going on! You can look through our blog and join a Facebook group near you to help fight this!

Whatever you do, PLEASE, don’t wait for others to fight this. We need every single one of you. There is strength in numbers. United for Florida Children will always be here for you to help guide you to the right group for you.

Let’s step up to the plate while there still is a plate.

~Laura Oosse McCrary

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4 thoughts on “Against all odds – how our son is winning against the high-stakes tests and Common Core

  1. Hi Laura! Your story is so similar to mine. I wrote my article in the book, Common Ground on Common Core (editor Kirsten Lombard) about how Common Core and High Stakes Testing nearly destroyed my daughter (with sensory issues & dyspraxia). The article analyzes WHY CCSS is so destructive to kids with learning differences. My story is under my maiden name: S. Wharton at http://www.resoundingbooks.org

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  2. I had to leave teaching. For my health, for my family, for my self. With the amount of paperwork and meetings, I was finding myself doing as much at home as I had done during the “work day.” I know, I was once one of those who said, “Leave it at work! Don’t take it home! It’ll get done eventually” but that is no longer true. When our lesson plans have to be so detailed, when our students’ progress has to be constantly monitored and each differentiation noted in writing, when our observations are now based on documentation uploading, this takes time. Time taken away from my family. Time that is taken away from every student I taught. I couldn’t do it anymore. People would say to me, “How can you teach high school? I could never do it.” Now I am saying that to my former colleagues.

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