Test pressure is crushing morale for special ed teachers

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 13 March 2013 at 12:00 am

MEDINA – Pressure from the state to raise standards for all students is poisoning the learning atmosphere for students and teachers in Medina’s special education program, the Board of Education was told on March 12.

Jennifer Bansbach, a special education teacher, said two dedicated colleagues have resigned this year due to the unreasonable expectations. The state is requiring many of students classified with learning disabilities to take the same tests as students in regular education. That is setting up the students in special education, who often learn at different rates, for failure, said Bansbach, the special education chairwoman for grades kindergarten through 5.

“I’m philosophically opposed to having special ed kids go on the same path as regular ed kids,” she told the BOE.

Many parents reluctantly agreed to have their students classified for special education, but they did so believing the curriculum could be adapted to meet their children’s needs, Bansbach said.

“Now there are fewer or no options to modify the curriculum,” she said. “The kids are failing. You feel the frustration of the parents and the kids.”

New York this year moved to a new “Common Core” standard, trying to boost classroom achievement. The added rigor is backfiring for many special education students.

“There is really a fine line in breaking the students’ will to try,” she said.

Medina BOE member Chris Keller, an Albion teacher, said state legislators and the governor have done a disservice to spec ed students. He said State Sen. George Maziarz and other state officials should visit special education classrooms, to see the education process for themselves. Bansbach said spec ed students’ needs and abilities should be treated individually, not grouped with all the others.

Jeff Evoy, the district superintendent, told Bansbach she has the support of the BOE and administration. He bemoaned the business approach being taken towards education.

“Kids aren’t widgets,” he said.

Keller said the state should back up the push for more standards with more money, especially for districts like Medina and Albion that have high poverty rates. Albany should fund universal pre-K and kindergarten for poorer districts, Keller said.

“It’s a lot easier to crucify teachers than to address the problem,” he said. “It’s all about poverty, but they would rather beat on teachers.”