Friday, November 1, 2013

How Lilli Jumped from 15 Months Old to Second Grade... with One Test.

Over the last few months, I have neglected to tell you that Lilli got a new communication device. I think I may have started to write a post about it once. But this summer was all about painting and fixing our new home and moving into it. The whole amazing experience of Lilli's newest communication device and how she used the ipad to take a standardized test kind of got lost in all of that craziness. She now uses both the ipad, and a new device called the NovaChat. The NovaChat is what she is now learning to use to communicate independently - and that will have to be a different post. For now, I will focus on the standardized testing.

It all started when we were talking about moving. Jasen was getting ready to graduate from chiropractic school in March of 2013, and we were once again at the crossroads of where to go. We thought we were going to move away. I guess it was fall of 2012 when I began to make plans for Lilli in preparation for this. I told the school district that I wanted documentation in her permanent record about what she is able to do. (I am a "think far ahead into the future" kind of mom.)

This was important to me, because just one year ago, her school assessments still said she was at a "fifteen month cognitive level."

Fifteen months.

Please let that sink in a moment, if you have read some of my other posts about Lilli, especially way back when she started to type on the ipad.

There was no way that I was going to let her school record say that, after she has been working on second and third grade level material for over a year. It is in her mind. You just can't see it.

Not because I care what other people think, but because I care about her education - we had to find a way to "prove" that she is smarter than a baby.

If we moved to another school district, I did NOT want to have Lilli start back at square one. I did not want to have a new school district look at her assessments in her file and doubt what she could do, thinking that her wacko mother was completely disillusioned in believing this child could actually do some third grade level work.

I did NOT want her go go into a special education self-contained class where she would be re-taught the alphabet and letter sounds that she probably learned when she was four and five.

I began to ask about asessments.

It is extremely difficult to assess a non verbal child with autism and fine motor issues that hinder her from writing. We know how to assess her, but there did not seem to be a standardized test that would do that. Schools want official standardized testing results, with tests that are administered a certain way. My goal was to prove on paper - officially -  that Lilli can and does understand, and deserves an appropriate education. And by "appropriate," I mean close to or on grade level, but with extreme accomodations. And by extreme, I mean a teacher who is willing to think completely out of the box and work one on one with her to discover what she can do, and think of imaginative ways to bring out that hidden intelligence.

I knew based on her special education path so far, that it would take a special person in a new school district that did not know Lilli, to see her potential and have that faith in her abilities. She might not be able to put blocks in a shape sorter, but she knows her multiplication facts. Darn it, there should be a way to prove that. This is the kind of stuff that makes me so mad and frustrated, especially as a former teacher. I hate that a standardized test is so important in proving to the world what a child knows.

At her IEP meeting in the spring of 2013, the adminstrators were supportive and helpful. We brainstormed. We realized that the only way to do this would be to figure out a way for her to take a standardized test.

So despite my hatred for standardized testing (because as a teacher, I gave many of those tests years ago - enough said) we began to rally for Lilli to take a standardized math test. "We" includes her parents, her homebound teacher, her ABA therapist, her speech therapist, and her occupational therapist. Lilli has a great team right now. We are blessed. It is incredibly important to me to have people that work with Lilli who truly believe in her intelligence and potential. I look back with sadness on years where we had various people who did not believe in Lilli's intelligence and potential. If even one person on this team had said, "Well, come on, Jennie. Face reality. She will never be able to take a standardized test, and that's OK..."

Nope. No more of that. I do not want people like that working with Lilli. I had a therapist two years ago sit me down and try to get me to "face reality," and work on what Lilli "really needed." (In her opinion, that did not include academics.) You want to know what I did about that? I told the school to remove Lilli from that woman's therapy services immediately, that I did NOT want her working with Lilli ever again, and I did not want her to attend any future IEP meetings or even have anything to do with Lilli. Not listening to you, negative professional with "twenty years of experience." 

A few weeks after the IEP/brainstorming meeting with the principal, assistant principal, and teacher, Lilli took a standardized math test. Her teacher and therapists only had a short time to prepare Lilli because of the testing window, but she had been "taking" multiple choice tests with cut up paper for many months. She took the math test on the computer, and used her ipad to make the choices. Un-touched. On her own. No "hand-over-hand" guidance. She took another standardized alternative test for English/language arts, math, and social studies, which used cards that were laid out on the floor for Lilli to choose her answers.

The nitty gritty of the experience would be a different post, with exactly how we did it. One day I hope to really write all of that down for other parents who need guidance in helping their children through a similar educational path. It was a lot of hard work on the part of the teacher and therapists. For now, I will post a few videos of the very beginning stages. In the beginning, it was all experiemental. We figured it out as a team, through trial and error. We used tape, old overheard projector sheets that I cut up, and Vis a Vis markers, along with the ipad. Then, she practiced.

The end result was that Lilli learned to take a multiple choice test with the letter choices on her ipad. When she took the standardized math test on the computer, we went to the school, the teacher pointed to each question and answer choices on the screen, and Lilli chose her answer on her ipad in front of her. Then the teacher recorded which answer Lilli chose.

Lilli took that standardized math test in the spring of 2013, when she was a third grader. She scored around the end of first grade, beginning of second grade for math. Then she took the test again this fall. She beat her previous score by around 20 points.

Chloe is in first grade right now, and just took the same test. Chloe scored very high on her math test, above grade level. I cannot compare these two extremely different children of mine. But for the sake of pointing out that Lilli is really smarter than most people give her credit for, I want to tell you this:

Lilli's score beat Chloe's score.

Lilli is nine and still has a ton of catching up to do. She missed a lot. She spent way too long learning the alphabet and number identification because no one could assess what she knew. Any person who would meet Lilli today would think that she is on a baby level, because of the way she walks, how she cannot talk, and plays with the only toys she can use with her fine-motor skills - toddler toys. But she really is smarter than a baby. I am not pushing for Lilli to "be" anything, to have a certain I just want an accurate assessment of what she does understand. And since there is no such assessment for Lilli, we had to figure that out.

I never thought I would be thankful for a standardized test. But I am. I am so proud of Lilli. We will keep working. And oh, incidentally, we never moved. We stayed in the same school district. Jasen found a job here close by, and we bought a house in the district. We chose to stay here for now, for Lilli's sake. We feel very blessed with the team of people she has right now, and we do not want to lose that. In the very near future, things will really change. Possibly as soon as this coming spring/summer.  Lilli's ABA therapy will run out and we will no longer have it. I cannot think about that right now, it makes me feel panicky. I am living for today. Trying to beat the clock. Trying to cram in as much catching up and learning as possible before things change.

The other "alternative" standardized test turned out to not be very helpful at all. Her results came back and she scored a "3 out of 4." The scores were completely general, non specific and unhelpful to me as a parent. No grade level, no skill level. Just said that she was "progressing." However she did get a lot of practice with multiple choice testing, and it was a positive experience. We are going to keep focusing on the test that all the other kids take. The school-wide standardized test.

Fo now, we will continue to build up that school record with test scores that do mean something.

And I may be the only former teacher and mother in the world to proclaim this:

I love standardized testing.

Because, it proves, on the world's terms, that Lilli is smart.

If you watch these video clips, it's not the questions and answers that are important. It's the method. This was the first day that we tried to show Lilli the concept of a multiple choice "test." It was all new to her. Also, you will notice that she looks away a lot. But that does not mean she is not listening. She is learning. Transferring the choice she wants to make from the top ipad to the bottom ipad is a new challenge. We used several different apps that had multiple choice formats. We used our ipad to make a multiple choice touchscreen board for her to select answers. The speech therapist brought her ipad and used it for the apps. We taped the clear "A B C D" choices onto her ipad screen next to each choice. The concept began to make sense to Lilli after we worked on this for awhile. She ultimately took the standardized math test without being touched. Yay for "thinking outside the box" with a team of people who care about our daughter!