The Lecanto High teacher says she wants to see it to learn more about his learning needs.
By BARBARA BEHRENDT
Published October 23, 2003
LECANTO - If the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test is supposed to help Florida students improve academically, then why can't parents and educators use the test results to focus a student's future lessons?
That is a question Lecanto High School teacher Judy Castillo wants answered for the benefit of her son Jordan, an autistic Lecanto Primary School student held back in third grade because of his FCAT showing last year.
Now Castillo has taken her concern to the state. She and her husband, Joseph, filed a lawsuit in Leon County this week seeking her son's FCAT test so she can learn more about his learning needs.
While FCAT scores are a part of a student's record, the FCAT tests are not. In fact, it is illegal to release an FCAT test, although at least one other parent, a father from Clearwater, has sued to get a copy of his son's FCAT test.
State officials argue that releasing the tests would be expensive and would undermine the test's validity.
In a letter to Jim Horne, the state's education commissioner, Castillo said she would be willing to have the test sent to the Citrus district office for her review. She said Wednesday that she had hoped her suggestion would negate the concern about the test being publicly circulated.
For her, the important thing is finding out what tripped up Jordan on the FCAT.
"We don't know what it is that he's not getting," she said. For a child with autism, it could be any number of things ranging from vocabulary to a different format on the test than he is used to - or even unclear instructions.
"If the test looks different in any way, then autistic kids are going to have trouble. They have a tough time going from one thing to another," she said.
Her son was diagnosed with a form of high-functioning autism at the age of 3. The neurological disorder affects the language centers of the brain and those affected can have great difficulty understanding language expression.
In her letter, Castillo explained that Jordan can read and loves to write. "However the way some of the FCAT questions are written confuses him."
On Wednesday she said she wants the lawsuit to have an impact.
"I'm asking for the test because I'm asking to remediate ... so he has the tools to face next year's exam," Castillo said. "The whole purpose of assessment is learning."
She said her son is smart but his disability makes language or even simple changes in format a problem. While students such as Jordan, who is considered an exceptional student by state definition, must have an individualized learning plan, "he has been failed with a one-size-fits-all test," she said.
She also questions the whole purpose of the test. While students are supposedly retained in third grade so they can master reading skills they need before moving on, Castillo said one state official assured her that she shouldn't worry. If her son fails again this school year, he will be automatically promoted next year because he is an exceptional student. She questions how this helps students.
"The whole test has set these kids up for failure," she said.
Castillo said she will do what she needs to in order for her son to progress.
"I want this kid to be able to do everything that every other kid can do," she said. "He's not a dummy, but they have put him in a no-win situation and thrown away the key. I just want them to give me the key so I can help him."