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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

March 10, 2009 at 4:00 PM

Special-education alternative to the WASL

Exposing kindergarten minds to 10-grade curricula is a waste of tax dollars

I am writing regarding Seattle Public Schools’ special-education teachers who were suspended for not administering the Washington Alternative Assessment System (WAAS) [“Pair suspended for failure to test special-ed kids,” Times, page one, March 6].

I am both a special-education teacher and the parent of a child with severe autism. I have taught special education for almost 20 years and have administered the WAAS, the alternative to the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL), since its inception. I, for one, am glad to finally see someone has decided to do something about this test.

I teach high-school students with severe autism and moderate-to-severe developmental disabilities. My students neither read nor write. They should be acquiring life skills, so they can become as independent as possible.

Instead, I am rewriting novels, such as “Emma,” this year because the WAAS Portfolio requires students to read 10th grade-level texts, write three-paragraph expository essays, complete scientific investigations and extend linear patterns.

These students only have so many years of free and public education left, and we are wasting time exposing them to 10th-grade curricula when their skills are at a Kindergarten level.

Why are we doing this?

If they could do sophomore-level work, they would be in sophomore-level classes.

These students are frustrated because the work is difficult. They do not understand why they are made to complete these assignments.

When I complete my paperwork showing how they are progressing on their Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), I am frustrated because we are wasting valuable time doing tasks that will not help them gain employment skills, community access or daily-living skills.

The IEP is supposed to drive the program and services for the child, but the WAAS completely contradicts what these students are supposed to be doing.

As the parent of a 7-year-old severly disabled child, who will have to compile a WAAS Portfolio next year, I will be opting him out of it. I want him working on the skills that really matter, such as tying his shoes, using the bathroom or communicating, instead of wasting valuable educational time doing senseless, meaningless tasks to please the state.

— Jennifer Bosanko, M.Ed., Federal Way

An ice-cold response to disabled students’ families

My child is one of the Green Lake Elementary students with severe cognitive and physical disabilities being affected by the loss of her teacher for two weeks.

I would like to add that, as of writing this letter, we, the parents of “Team A,” have received zero communication from the district or principal regarding this unfortunate situation.

My Washington Alternative Assessment System (WAAS) refusal letter was e-mailed Jan. 27 to eight individuals at Seattle Public Schools. Not one person has acknowledged receipt of it, validated my concerns or assured me that ultimately my request will be honored.

There has been no note, e-mail or phone call regarding the sudden absence of one of the most important people in my daughter’s life. There has been no reassurance the substitute teachers will be able to handle the profound and diverse needs of the 11 children in my daughter’s classroom. What I “hear” is that the administrators “can’t discuss human-resource issues,” but this is no excuse for the ice-cold response to our families.

I suspect no one will have the courage to step up and admit their response was overly harsh and heavy-handed. However, it shouldn’t be too much to ask that someone assure Team A families that despite how it looks to the outside world, our children will be safe, well cared for and possibly even taught something during these two weeks.

It appears Seattle Public Schools’ allegiance is first to their legal department.

— Lisa Boeckh, Seattle

Special ed versus general ed: fighting for all students instead

I found myself shocked and dismayed by a recent Times article reporting two special-education teachers at Green Lake Elementary School suspended for refusing to give the Washington Alternative Assessment System (WAAS) to six students.

I lack details beyond those provided in the article and, therefore, am hesitant to pronounce where fault lies. However, it cannot be overlooked that a 10-day suspension seems to benefit no one, least of all the children being served.

After all, these two teachers work with profoundly disabled children and, by the very nature of their work, have skills that are not easily replaced. Beyond the specifics of this incident, it appears necessary that the district review its regulations, making sure all staff involved understand the regulations and are aware of the implications of violating them.

That said, what is even more disturbing to me is the level of invective directed by some individuals against students served by special education on the public-feedback venue of The Times’ Web site. A number of comments were downright offensive, and many demonstrated a level of ignorance regarding children with disabilities that was frankly startling.

How is it possible in this day and age — and especially in a place as “progressive” as Seattle — that someone can say their child is worth more than another because their child does not have a disability? How can they advocate the removal of children with more severe disabilities from public schools?

Perhaps I’m naive, but I thought the civil-rights movement effectively discredited the notion of “separate but equal.”

One argument is children served by special education take precious public funds away from general education. On the contrary, children with disabilities bring additional funds to the schools they attend. According to the Funding Washington Schools Web site, $4,899 was allotted for every general-ed student in the 2007-8 school year; an additional $4,362 was allotted for each student in special ed.

The extra funding for the students in special education comes from state and federal sources and is not taken away from general-ed students.

In addition, school districts can apply for “safety net” funds to help with high-cost students. Under the site-based management approach of Seattle Public Schools, up until now each building has largely determined the allocation of its resources, opening the possibility for special-ed funds to be designated for purposes other than special education.

Public education is failing all students — general and special-ed alike. We are in this together and need to join forces to press our elected officials and school administrators for true “excellence for all.”

— Janet Anderson, Special Ed PTSA president, Seattle

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