Q&A with Sid Wolinsky, Disability Rights Advocate
Sid Wolinsky is the founder of Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) and is now its Director of Litigation. Headquartered in Oakland, California, DRA is a national and international nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting and advancing the civil rights of people with disabilities. In this article, Mr. Wolinsky discusses high stakes tests, the problems they present for students with LD, and what schools can do to make sure these tests are administered fairly.
Could you please explain the term "high-stakes testing"?
"High stakes testing" is something of a general term. At DRA, we take high stakes testing to mean testing that has serious consequences for the individual taking the test. That's the most common definition. Some examples of high stakes tests would be one where, if you didn't pass, you wouldn't be allowed to advance to the next grade, or where you wouldn't be allowed to graduate or wouldn't get advanced placement. The term "high stakes test" also includes most of the standardized national tests, such as the SAT, the Graduate Record Exam, the MCATs, any test that has a consequence regarding admissions, graduation, or promotion.
What are some of the biggest problems high stakes tests pose for students with learning disabilities?
For many students with learning disabilities, with or without accommodations, standardized tests are among the worst means of assessing their abilities. Given the individual learning styles of students with LD, at DRA we feel these high stakes tests pose considerable danger to a student. A student's performance on a high stakes test has serious consequences, but we've found that these tests usually don't measure the student's capabilities in a realistic way. Often, standardized tests are poorly devised and give very little consideration to how valid an assessment they provide of students with LD. So that's the first problem.
Secondly, since students with disabilities often perform poorly on these tests when compared to the mainstream population, there is a terrible temptation on the part of teachers and administrators to neglect them. Students who are seen as possibly bringing down the overall average for these exams are sometimes even encouraged not to take them. And these attitudes become self-fulfilling prophecies, students who are expected to fail usually do, self-esteem suffers and they often end up eventually dropping out of school as a result.