The Blog

As a newspaper columnist, Nancy Devlin, Ph.D. has written over 700 articles on subjects related to education and parenting. Welcome to her Classroom!

Are Tests For Learning Disabilities Valid?

Learning disabilites and testing to detect them has come under scrutiny lately because it seems to have gotten out of hand.  What started as a good idea became mired in bureaucratic regulations and laws to the point where the test and the associate paperwork became more important than the student and his needs. 

There is a parallel in medicene.  The doctor no longer looks at the individual patient and attempts to understand him.  Instead he places his faith and dianosis in numerous impersonal tests.  His tests, he feels, are much more valid than what the patient says and how he feels. 

The student with a learning disability or a patient with an affliction is no longer unique requiring a unique approach.  Rather he is a statistical entity requiring a computer printout solution of his problem.

In medicene if the doctor gives enough tests, he will eventually find something irregular.  In fact,  if every person in this country, whether sick or not, were given enough tests, there would be something irregular found for everyone.  The “healthy average” is a statistical abstraction which never exists in the real population.  Most people understand their bodies well enough to know when something is seriously wrong.  Nobody has a perfect body but that is okay.  That is why people choose different professions.  We are not all going to be tennis champs or astronauts.

The same can be said for children’s learning.  None of us came out of the womb perfect but we have learned to compensate.  We do is so well that we asssume that is the way everyone learns.  Our learning styles, temperaments, and ways of compensating for our limitations all affect how we learn.  No way is necessarily better than another — they are just different and unique.  What makes us unique also makes us think differently and come up with unique solutions to problems.  If we were all tested so that we could be given the same uniform curriculum, we would be like robots without an original thought among us.  Such a system could not produce original thinkers like Feyaman and Einstein.

The teacher’s job is to provide the program best suited to each child.  A good teacher can tell you more about a child’s learning style then a test.  When a good teacher finds a child not learning, she finds another way to teach that child so that he does learn.  She has a repertoire of skills and needs no specialist to tell her that the child is not learning.  She already knows that.  The learning disability specialist functions best when she is a resource for the teacher and provides her with information to help her and her student succeed.  The solution, especially for very young children, might merely be for the teacher to slow the program down and to wait for the child’s normal development to catch up.

If your kindergarten child is being assessed by a learning specialist with screening tests,  find out what is the purpose of the tests and what the school is going to do with the results.  Some children do not take tests well.  Some children are very cautious and do not relate well to the stranger giving the test.  As a result, many of these test results are not valid.  You are your child’s advocate.  Protect him so that he keeps his unique view of the world and eventually can contribute in his own unique way.  Do not lose confidence in him as a learner.

 

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