The Impact of Standards and High-stakes Tests on Children with Disabilities

The Brandeis Education Program, the Center, and the Spencer Program in Educational Research sponsored a symposium on Oct. 26, 2004 about the Impact of Standards and High-stakes Tests on Children with Disabilities. Sixty Brandeis students, faculty members, and community members gathered to hear Tom Hehir, former director of the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education Programs who is now a senior lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and Lauren Katzman, former teacher and special education consultant, speak about how one of the most vulnerable student populations is being affected by high-stakes tests. Richard Robison, executive director of the Federation for Children with Special Needs, and Susan Rosenzweig, director of Pupil Services at Newton North High School, also spoke on the panel.

Katzman's research focused on the voices of 24 Boston Public School special education students who had to take the 10th grade Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) tests. Katzman and Rosenzweig reported that the students with disabilities are making proportionately greater progress in passing the MCAS than other groups of students, and that one positive aspect of the standards/high stakes assessments is that there are now much higher expectations for special education teachers and students' attainment of high academic standards. The students in Katzman's study reported that the MCAS was stressful but also motivating for many of them. Carlos, a student, stated, "I want to pass it. I want to get it all, just because it will give me more... more energy to work harder so that I can get it done because I don't really like to fail..." For others, MCAS pushed them towards dropping out. Some students reported that they were discouraged because they had not been taught what was tested.