Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The next step in the journey

Parents – especially Moms – want answers.  They want information and facts that they can use to help their child.  They want resources.

Today, we are seeking all of that.

When Dylan was first diagnosed with ADHD, the testing was … limited, in my opinion.  It consisted of one Connors survey filled out jointly by RockStar and myself and a computer-based attention test that took less than an hour.  It was summertime, so we didn’t have access to Dylan’s teachers, and we weren’t able to have them fill out the teacher version of the Connors survey.  Since the psychologist could only find one copy of the parent’s version, we filled it out jointly.

If I got any kind of report, I don’t remember it (and it’s unlikely that I would forget something like that).  The follow up was basically that the psychologist communicated with our pediatrician who prescribed medication.  Maybe the report went to her.

It’s not that the school didn’t believe us.  Dylan had begun having struggles in school the year before and they knew something was not quite right. They have readily agreed to accommodations in writing…but haven’t always consistently followed those accommodations.  Despite knowing that Dylan has ADHD, they have been frustrated by the fact that he often seems to not be paying attention.  (Really?)  They are resentful about how long it takes for him to complete a test.  They have chastised Dylan for missing homework, forgetting to bring books home, and his poor writing skills. 

Anything I’ve said or done in reaction to Dylan’s struggles has been met with a lack of interest at best and dismissiveness and disdain at worst. 
I wish we had a good alternative.  Although New Orleans has seen impressive improvements to its school landscape since Katrina, the school system is not does not present a wide array of positive choices, especially for kids who are bright but struggle.  Our school is also incredibly convenient, located only two blocks away from our house.  It’s also known as one of the “good” schools, one that consistenly ranks highly in the standardized tests that plague our school systems.  Beyond all that, and beyond any challenges he has had there, Dylan loves his school. 

I’m glad that he loves it.  How horrible would it be if he hated it?! The things he doesn’t like about it are things he doesn’t like about school in general – homework, tests, etc.  Anytime I’ve suggested the possibility of looking for a different school, he’s fallen into despair, despondent over the idea of leaving his friends and activities that he loves. 

So I see it as my mission to help make the school a better place for him to learn. 

Meetings with the Student Assistance Team have largely focused on medications, which is actually illegal for school staff to discuss but it has happened nonetheless.  Any concerns I bring forward seem to result in a medical answer.  Perhaps a higher dose?  Have you tried Focalin?  Maybe we can give him an additional dose in the afternoon?

Never have I heard, Maybe we could try teaching him using THIS method.  Or We’d like him to work with an occupational therapist to improve his handwriting and his written expression.  Or even Let’s craft an IEP so we can set goals and chart his progress.

So we are sort of starting over.  As I type this I am sitting in yet another doctor’s office while Dylan is reevaluated and, this time, fully evaluated.  We got here at 9:00am and were told to anticipate that we would be here until 5:00pm.  We filled out two surveys (Connors and BASC) and surveys were sent to two of his teachers.  It’s all a far cry from the single survey and 45-minute computer-based test from two years ago.

I don’t know if all this (expensive) testing will tell us anything.  Our social worker thinks it’s a good idea and at least it feels as though we are doing something.  I’m hoping it will give us something to bring with us this fall.  Something that will help us in demanding more for our son.  Something that will back up what we’ve been telling the teachers.  Perhaps something that will give us just a bit more insight into how Dylan’s mind works, how best to reach him academically, and how to make school a more successful and rewarding place for all of us.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

No Child Left Behind: An Oxymoron

The No Child Left Behind Act was authorized in 2001.  I'm sure I didn't give it much of a thought at the time.  I was still a year away yet from having Dylan and, having been a straight-A student, I automatically assumed any child of mine would follow a similar path.

Jump forward a decade and NCLB has our family shaking in our boots.  In Louisiana, Dylan is in his critical LEAP (Louisiana Educational Assessment Program) year.  He took the LEAP tests in English language arts, math, science, and social studies about a month and a half ago.  He, along with the rest of the fourth and eighth grades, will get their scores on Friday, which also happens to be the last day of school.

If Dylan does not score well enough, he will be referred to summer school, from what I understand.  (Never mind that we have necessarily scheduled him for summer camp, which must be done in March or April in order to ensure availability.)

I'm guessing that he would take some sort of make-up test at that point.  If he does not take summer school or does not pass the make-up test, he would repeat fourth grade.

That's right, he would be left behind.

The theory behind NCLB is not bad, it's the execution is horrible.  The act was supposed to ensure that we didn't have kids graduating high school who couldn't read or add.  Changing that scenario was a worthwhile goal.

But giving fourth graders high-stakes tests that make or break their young academic career is insane.  Worse, if after a year of fourth grade they haven't learned the content of the test, they essentially have to repeat the scenario that obviously didn't work the first time.

Summer school, if done right, could make a difference.  If, instead of teaching kids in the same way they were in the school year, summer school teachers approached each child's learning individually and taught in the way that they learn best, it could improve their learning and, in effect, undo an ineffective year of education.  

I wish I had faith that that was what summer school was like.

My other problem with high-stakes testing is that it's entirely unreal.  Very little in the testing program flows naturally with what's covered in class.  The test is dry, vanilla, antiseptic.  Multiple choice, fill in the bubble, pick the right answer.  Supposedly, info in, info out.

At Dylan's school, they had after-school classes twice a week to prepare for LEAP.  Isn't it supposed to assess what they learn in class?  Shouldn't the answers come naturally for most students, if, indeed, the tests measure the curriculum being taught?  Apparently not.

There is a portion of the test that asks more open-ended questions.  This is the part of the test that worries me most for Dylan.  His dysgraphia is truly debilitating.  He completely freezes when he has to write more than a word (and sometimes even that gets him).  

So much of the angst and stress could be avoided, in my opinion.  Assessments can and should be given, but they should be used as barometers of a class and of a child.  If a child is falling behind, he should automatically get direct attention to find out why and how the school can address it, whether it's through small group teaching, individual tutoring, alternatives to traditional instruction, etc.  

Regardless, fourth graders should not feel the pressure of a high-stakes test. No child should have to worry about being left behind.

An addendum:  (And sorry it has taken me nearly a week to add it.)  Dylan passed!  Let the drums roll!  Let the trumpets sound!  What. A. Relief!  He passed all four subjects, three in the basic (at grade level) category and one in mastery.  As happy as I am, I still think this level of high-stakes testing for fourth graders is just wrong.  It's like using a snow shovel to dig a whole in a small flower pot.   

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Time for a change

When you get right down to it, I’ve never been much of a long-term planner.  Although I went to an Ivy League caliber college, I didn’t graduate with a 5-year, 10-year, and 20-year plan.  In fact, when I was searching for a job during my last year of college, I didn’t even have any idea what a reasonable year’s salary should be.  

In some respects, I think this lack of planning has served me well.  After all, a mere three years after I graduated college, I traveled across America and “found” New Orleans, the beloved city I now call home.

I certainly couldn’t have planned for having a child with ADHD.  Some surprises are better kept unknown.

But lately, I’ve been thinking about how my lack of planning has impacted me.  And since, RockStar’s planning track record is a fraction of mine, together we’re ill prepared at this point to move forward.

Even though his birthday was months ago, it hit me this week that he is 60 years old.  

When I was graduating college, 60 sounded like an age for walkers and canes. 

He’s already fairly under-employed and that situation isn’t likely to change a whole lot in the future.  In fact, his years of working are potentially numbered.  What would happen if he had a major medical crisis?

I like be open to what comes, not held down to someone else’s idea of what progress should be.  That said, I feel more than a little anxious about the future.  Summer camp this year is financially killing us. The weekly tutor we’ve had really isn’t in the budget.  And they are talking about the water bill doubling.  We simply are not making enough to cover expenses, especially “extra” expenses like these.  The future looks scary with nary a plan in sight.

It makes me wish that I had “planned” to marry well and selected jobs for security rather than interest.

I know, I know.  There is more to life than money.  I truly believe that and I am certainly not someone who needs gold lined cups and $600 suits.  But a new blouse or pants, or even a night out on the town…yeah, those would be welcome. 

This post isn’t a complaint or a cautionary tale, but it is a demand to myself to make some changes and to demand some changes. Addressing ADHD isn’t always cheap.  There are tutors and therapists and assessments, and these all cost money.  And keeping myself sane – whether it’s a manicure or a weekend away - is a worthwhile effort that will actually help Dylan and RockStar. 

Over the summer, I need to make some decisions and I need to get RockStar to face up to some realities.  Yes, maybe we can find some ways to cut back.  But when you already rarely go out to eat and eschew new clothes, there’s not a whole lot of fat to cut back on.  

It’s time to do a little long-range planning.