Forced to Take a Closer Look
When you have a child on the spectrum and that child is not very verbal, you spend more time worrying about what is going on at school than most people, just because they don't tell you anything. During the first couple years of school, you talk to the teachers and have conferences and the worrying subsides a bit. But then, they hit third and fourth grade and the curriculum changes. They become more accountable and the work gets harder. Having a verbally limited kid at this stage is difficult and you come to the conclusion that unless you very active and invested in your child's success, that it's not going to come so easily. I thought I had a good system down and then I got the wake up call that I needed to take a closer look.
In fourth grade science, they do unit packets. Over the course of a month, they work through the booklet and then they have a test that usually involves vocabulary and other key points from the unit. I got into the habit of making copies of the vocabulary when the booklet first appeared in the folder and hoped we could get the terms into his brain before the test, which would come eventually.
#1 is an auditory learner. He can memorize things if you sing them, say them in a funny voice or tell him over and over again. He also memorizes for rewards. Does it mean he fully understands all the things he memorizes? I don't think so, but we know that the majority of education is digest, regurgitate, understand later if necessary.
When we got the study guide for the test, we had a week to get the required material into his head. At random times during the day, I would ask him questions that were going to be on the test like: "What are the four phases of the moon?" "Why does earth have seasons?", "How long does it take for the earth to revolve around the sun?" He got many of them right the first time I asked him. When he got some wrong, I told him the right answer and then asked him the question again immediately, just to make sure it went in. When asked the questions Verbally, he got all the answers right. So, I sent him off to school confident he wouldn't fail the test. However, when his test came home, it told me a different story.
According to the test, he only got five out of 11 questions correct. He takes a modified exam, which means less questions and less choices. I read through the exam and was beside myself with the mistakes he made. I wondered how it was possible to be able to recite the correct answer but when confronted with having to sit, channel his energy to focus, read the answers and choose the correct one, it all went to hell.
So I did what every confused parent does; try to figure out what went wrong. I sat him down and asked him the questions from the test. I realized that the wording of the question is everything. When you're doing something verbally, you have the ability to rephrase if they don't understand. However with a written test, it is presented one way, and if they don't understand the phrasing, it's over. For example, I prepped #1 to answer the question, "how long does it take for the earth to revolve around the sun?" by answering , "one year." This was the question on the exam:
He got the question wrong. I asked him "how many days are in a year?" and he didn't know. So based on his knowledge, he didn't see the answer we practiced, so he guessed. Oops. I guess he didn't learn that, so I got out the calaculator and the calendar and we added up all the days to equal 365. Sometimes "common knowledge" is not as common as we assume it to be.
I also prepped him to name the four inner and four outer plants, which he could do. But the question on the test was worded as this:
We all know that exams should not be the fundamental measurement of knowledge and skill acquisition, but it is. I now have to go back and review his IEP, sit down with his teachers and figure out a fair and accurate way to measure what he is learning so he is not penalized for having autism. If we could just have a more structured attorney way of "asked and answered" verbally, we may have more success. Now I have to sell it to the team. Wish me luck.