3/10/14, No. 89
Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart announced in a letter dated March 3rd (“Letter to Teachers”) that it would be a disservice to the state’s students not to test all of them, including the ones who are dead. A bizarre letter from Florida’s Education Department
Stewart wrote: “You may have read about political efforts to attack assessments by using the tragic situation of one particular child who is no longer living, Ethan Rediske.”
The letter was written after a well-publicized episode in which a mother named Andrea Rediske said that Stewart’s department required her family to fill out a lengthy application proving why her disabled son could not take this year’s Florida Alternate Assessment (FAA), a version of the FCAT for disabled children. At the time, her 11-year-old son Ethan, who was born with brain damage and lived with cerebral palsy, was dying in a hospital. Stewart refused to grant Ethan a waiver, citing the application’s lack of evidence the boy merited one. The boy died Feb. 7th. Testing for profoundly disabled children gets increased attention
In a subsequent interview, an astonished Stewart said, “If there was no reason to grant a waiver before, why should I grant one now? In terms of the requirement to take the test, nothing has changed. This malingering has got to stop.”
She explained that administering the test to a dead child differs not at all from giving it to one with significant disabilities—blind, paralyzed, and severely cognitively impaired.
“What difference does it make if the child is dead or in a minimally conscious state?” asked Stewart. “In both cases, the children are unable to respond to the prompts.”
Spectacularly disabled students—severely cognitively impaired, many in wheelchairs, a number of them blind, some with feeding tubes, a few needing oxygen, and occasionally minimally conscious—are clustered in “center” schools. Locally, two operate: Mt. Herman (near UF Health/Shands) and Alden Road (near UNF). Each year hundreds of hours of teacher time are devoted to administering the F.A.A. to the pupils, many of whom are blissfully unaware that they are taking a test. Most score zeroes in every category, year and year. It requires four hours to test each student, and there are hundreds of students to test. If the teachers were not testing oblivious students, they would be instructing them in self-help skills such as how to use the toilet, dress and feed themselves, walk in a gait trainer, help in transferring to and from a wheelchair, and manipulate symbols and assistive communication devices to convey Yes and No and basic needs. These skills help their caregivers take care of them.
Stewart added that if a teacher must take the student’s hand and place it on the paper to register his or her response to a question for which there is only one possible answer, then what difference does it make whether the child is alive or dead?
“They’re both obscene,” she said, “so if we’re going to do the one, we might as well do the other.”
“So tell Mrs. Rediske to get Ethan’s corpse to the school, have it take the test, and stop making excuses. No child should be left behind, even if he’s dead!”.