Standardized Testing and the Special Needs Student

I love Facebook because so many of my students have contacted me there. One lovely young woman is Julie McIntyre (now Chinni). From 1992-1993, she was a student in my Accelerated Senior English class. She also was in my husband’s high school band beginning in 1989. When I saw her post about her son’s problem with standardized testing, I asked her to tell us about it.


This is from Julie:

Recently I watched as my thirteen-year-old son crossed the stage and shook hands with the principal after receiving his National Junior Honor Society award. An award based on academic achievement is no small feat for anyone–but especially challenging for him.

His public school education began at three years old when he was diagnosed with a severe speech delay and was enrolled in PPCD (Preschool for Children with Disabilities). Intensive speech therapy began immediately, and occupational therapy soon followed when his classroom teacher noticed he couldn’t hold a pencil or use scissors.

In kindergarten he had an appointment with an Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor (ENT) so he could be fitted with special ear plugs that would block out sounds. Loud noises were so overwhelming for him that he would come completely undone. At that time, the doctor suggested that my five-year-old might have Asperger’s Syndrome. I didn’t know what Asperger’s was at the time, but a quick Google search let me know what we were facing.


“Asperger’s syndrome is also called Asperger’s disorder, a type of pervasive developmental disorder (PDD). PDDs are a group of conditions that involve delays in the development of many basic skills, most notably the ability to socialize with others, to communicate, and to use imagination.

“Although Asperger’s syndrome is similar in some ways to autism — another, more severe type of PDD — there are some important differences. Children with Asperger’s syndrome typically function better than do those with autism. In addition, children with Asperger’s syndrome generally have normal intelligence and near-normal language development, although they may develop problems communicating as they get older.

From Julie:

A trip to a Pediatric Neurologist confirmed what the ENT suspected. The official diagnosis never bothered me. I remember driving home after hearing it and thinking, “He’s still the same kid he was before the diagnosis. He’s no different now.” What the diagnosis did accomplish was provide services and accommodations for my son that he wouldn’t have received otherwise.

As a family, we found our footing and readjusted to life with a child who is considered to have special needs. Fast forward a few years to when my son had to start taking standardized state tests. By this time in his life the rigidity in his thoughts and general anxiety had become a daily struggle. Throw in the pressure of passing a standardized test, and meltdowns became expected.

My son never fits inside the box that the State of Texas Board of Education tries to put him in. The board members never asked his teachers about his learning style or any nuances that make my son who he is. They didn’t wait patiently at the classroom door as he pushed all the chairs neatly into their desks, help him tie his shoes in third grade because he was still struggling with fine motor skills, or talk him out of a meltdown in fifth grade because it was raining in the morning before school and he got wet.

They also didn’t watch him fall in love with books or see me watch in wonder with my mouth open when I realized he has a photographic (or eidetic) memory. The Board of Education only sees a standard set of questions that they believe anyone in any given grade level should be able to answer correctly. And to ensure that the schools buy into their belief, they base the schools’ funding on the test scores.

So what happens then? What happens when the superintendent pressures the principals to make sure the students pass this standardized test? What happens when the principals turn to the teachers and put stress on them to teach their students to pass a single test? I can answer that. I can tell you that the teachers then put pressure on the students, stressing the importance of one single test to the already stressed-out students.

One test, written by people who are sometimes not educators, written by people who do not know the children on a personal basis–people who sit in government offices and decide what our children should know based upon some arbitrary standard.

And what does that do to someone like my son, who already deals with anxiety? It pushes him over the edge. He is already defeated before he ever walks into the classroom to put his name on a bubble sheet. He already believes he is going to fail because so much emphasis has been put on this one test that he can’ t possibly put it into perspective and see it for what it is–one test.

One test doesn’t measure how kind he is, how talented he is, how funny he is, or how smart he is. One test. So when those failing test scores get mailed to my house a few weeks later, his self-fulfilling prophecy of failure just embeds a little deeper into his psyche.

As all the parents sat crammed into the gymnasium with our chests puffed up in pride while we watched our children get acknowledged for all of their hard work in and out of the classroom at the NJHS ceremony, I felt pride. But I also felt vindicated.

My son is kind, and talented, and funny, and smart. There is not a test that any lawmaker can mandate that will prove otherwise.


After I read what Julie wrote, my heart went out to her and her son.

Lately I have been hearing teachers say that the state standards are moving concepts that were once taught in fifth grade down to the third-grade level, based on testing requirements. We are using a model-T production business model to govern our schools, in hopes that we can cram more and more into the heads of young people.

Unfortunately the result we achieve is more likely to be what Lucy and Ethel experienced when they were wrapping chocolates on an assembly line, with the supervisor yelling, “Speed it up.” Teachers end up having to move on to the next lesson before the majority of students have mastered the current one. Then we act surprised when they fail. We are the ones who are failing them.

If an athlete is failing to succeed at the pole jump, do we say, “We’ll set the bar higher. Just try harder.” I think not.

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Cinco de Mayo (updated)

I love living in San Antonio, Texas. We have many different cultures here; we even have a museum, The Institute of Texan Cultures, which holds celebrations of various populations in Texas, including those as diverse as German, Sikh, and Arab.

River Walk in San Antonio, Texas

One festival San Antonio celebrates is Cinco de Mayo on the fifth of May. Many people enjoy tamales and enchiladas and everything else Tex-Mex, in addition to margaritas and Coronas with lime. Some don’t know the reason for the celebration. They think Cinco de Mayo is Mexico’s Independence Day, but that date is September 16th.

Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Mexican army’s 1862 victory over the French forces of Napoleon III at the Battle of Puebla. Mexico was having difficulty paying back war debts to several European countries, and the French army came to force payment. Mexico was invaded many, many times. They often lost, but this time they won.

America loves to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, perhaps even more than the residents of Mexico do. It’s not too late to go to Market Square or the River Walk in San Antonio for today’s celebrations. Keep in mind, though, that thousands of people will be there with you.

Update: I read in comments on another site that Napoleon III also wanted to support the Confederacy in the War Between the States. If he had won, American history might be vastly different. I don’t have a source for this assertion since it was a comment rather than a post.

TORTILLA SOUP – I am including my favorite Five-Ingredient Tortilla Soup recipe.

Credit Dollar Photo1-2 cans (10-ounce) chunk chicken
1 can (15-ounce) whole kernel corn, drained
1-2 cans (14.5 ounces each) chicken broth
1 can (15-ounce) black beans, undrained
1-2 cans (10 ounces each) diced tomatoes with green chili peppers

Dump all ingredients in a pan and heat. If you are worried about the result being too thick, you can save the drained liquid and add it back as needed. If you like, you can add a can of undiluted cream of cheddar cheese soup.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with tortilla chips or strips, some in the soup and some on the side. A squeeze or two of lime adds taste.

I like to add chopped celery also, if I have time. You can serve guacamole or chunks of avocado on the side. Sour cream works great also, along with sliced jalapenos or canned sliced carrots.

You can add cilantro, but I hate the taste. It’s not my fault. A DNA researcher who hated cilantro decided to see if he could find a genetic marker for liking/not liking the herb. As he ran various tests on others, he checked whether participants liked the taste. He found there was, indeed, a genetic marker for their preference. If you don’t like cilantro, it’s not your fault. It’s in your DNA.

Note: If you find errors or typos, please let me know in the Comments section.

Photo Credits: Dollar Photo Club

Interesting Facts About Halloween

A pumpkin is actually considered a berry, although the pumpkin’s hard shell is what makes it different from all the other berries.

The first Jack O’Lanterns were actually made from turnips. We credit the Irish for adding the “O.” (When I taught Latin, we discussed Druids in Roman Britain, and we carved faces in turnips and hung them around our necks with a cord.)

The game “bobbing for apples” is believed to have originated from an ancient pagan Roman harvest festival that took place in late October. The festival honored the Roman goddess of fruit and trees – Pomona.

Choose your costume carefully if you live in Alabama. It is illegal to dress up like a priest on Halloween in Alabama.

In several states, it is illegal to have a picnic in a cemetery.

Legend has it, if you see a spider on Halloween, it is the spirit of a loved one watching over you.

Halloween tricks can actually trigger a medical condition called Samhainophobia, described in medical terms as an intense and persistent fear of Halloween that can cause people to have panic attacks.

Other Halloween-related phobias include Wiccaphobia (fear of witches), phasmophobia (fear of ghosts), and coimetrophobia (fear of cemeteries).

Forty-six percent of American adults carve a pumpkin for Halloween.

(Sources: Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, Guiness Book of World Records, National Retail) Adapted from KENS-5 on Facebook.

Copyright or Copyleft?

I recently stumbled upon a concept called “copyleft,” a play on the word “copyright.” The term has been around for quite some time, but I had never heard of it.

Basically, I would use copyleft if I create a work and wish to give anyone else the right to distribute, modify, and share it. I also would insist that anyone who modifies my creation must agree to pass on the right to distribute, modify, and share the new adaptation that ensues. All versions that future adaptors create should also be made available for modifying and sharing down the line at no cost.

The goal of copyright, of course, is to ensure that the creator of the art, software, or literary effort will receive monetary gain in addition to recognition. Under copyleft, on the other hand, derivative works are allowed as long as their creators insist that other users who adapt and distribute the new works do so at no cost to recipients. The original creator may require that all future derivatives give credit to him or her, but monetary gain is neither required nor expected.

The term “kopyleft” was used as early as the 1960s, in Principia Discordia, or How the West Was Lost (1965), later revised as How I Found Goddess And What I Did To Her When I Found Her: The Magnum Opiate Of Malaclypse The Younger, Wherein is Explained Absolutely Everything Worth Knowing About Absolutely Anything. One of these original versions (I could not find out which one) contained a K in a circle followed by the words All Rights Reversed—Reprint What You Like.

The concept of copyleft was used by Richard Stallman, a software expert, as a result of what he perceived as a wrong. When Stallman was working on a Lisp interpreter and Symbolics asked to use his code, he provided them with a public domain copy, giving them the right to use his creation and modify it at will. Later, when Stallman asked them to give him a copy of the code they had developed using his software, they refused.

Stallman called this “system hoarding” and began working to prevent such tactics in the future. Around 1984 he created the first copyleft license. His goal was not to deny copyright as it is historically understood, but he believed that the creator of a work could allow others to revise the original as long as future revisers allow others to do the same.

Copyleft is often used for software. The creator gives anyone else the right to modify and share the code, as long as the recipient insists that the resulting software could be used and modified. Creative Commons provides ShareAlike, which uses a similar license.

Copyleft is still being used mainly for software; however, an amazing artist who supports copyleft is Nina Paley. She gives anyone the right to distribute and adapt her work as long as the adapter allows the same rights down the line.

Currently, there are four levels of permission. Copyleft can be divided into “full” and “partial,” and different countries have different laws for copyleft. At this time the backwards C in a circle has no legal significance; instead, the copyleft terms should be stated in words.

I recently attended a workshop held by a lawyer who is an expert in intellectual property rights. She said that many young people believe that all works should be free to everyone with no restrictions on copying or revising the original.

What are your thoughts?

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Five Reasons I Hate Facebook

5. It is too enticing, like a siren’s song. I love following my friends, family, and fellow writers. I can easily spend all day returning to it over and over.

It’s too much like the time I made a pecan pie one day. My husband and I each had a piece for dessert. The next evening after dinner, he said, “I’d like another piece of pie.” I hung my head and said, “There isn’t any more.” I started nibbling on the pie in the morning, left a fork in the pan, and kept returning to eat a little bit more all day. Facebook is like that pie.

4. Facebook makes me cry. I am a big softie, and I can cry at almost anything. One day, I was passing through the TV room, and someone was dying on the screen. I started crying as I walked. My daughter said, “Mom, that’s Al Capone.”

“I can’t help it,” I said.

“He’s dyyyying.” I told you I am a softie.

3. Facebook has lots of political lies, such as when a posting made the rounds that said President Obama had the flags across the nation put at half-staff after the death of Whitney Houston. Actually, it was Republican Governor Chris Christie who made that announcement for his state alone. I wonder how many people never learned the truth. I have even been guilty of reposting something I thought was true, only to have Snopes tell me I was wrong. Heavy sigh.

2. Every time I see a recipe, I want to try it. If I see someone’s enticing meal in full color, my mouth waters and I want to head for the kitchen. I think Facebook is bad for my diet.

1. Facebook is ruining (or may have already ruined) one of the old, useful rules for punctuating titles. Once upon a time, we English teachers taught that titles of short works (short stories, short poems, chapter titles) should have quotation marks (“The Trouble with Tribbles,”) and titles of longer works (novels, epic poems, series) should be underlined or italicized (Star Trek).

Since Facebook does not allow underlining or italics, however, people could only use all caps for titles of longer works. Some writers on FB used all caps for a while, which makes sense because we are supposed to use all caps for our novel titles when we submit a query letter to an agent. Other writers just omitted any punctuation at all for titles on Facebook, perhaps because we associate all caps with shouting.

That would not have been so bad, but then authors (AUTHORS!) stopped using any punctuation for titles on their own blogs, even though those sites allowed them to use italics or underlining. I wish I could convince everyone to use single quotation for novel titles on Facebook, but—alas—I am only one person. So I sigh whenever I see a title with no punctuation.

We can’t even tell whether we are looking at one or two novels when we see a sentence like this: I enjoyed reading Basted and Tasted. If we used single quotation marks, we could write: I enjoyed reading ‘Basted’ and ‘Tasted,’ or I enjoyed reading ‘Basted and Tasted.’ I know I won’t win this battle, so I merely move on and sigh dramatically.

I hate Facebook. It is the reason I have not finished my novel or my memoir.

I think I will just go see what my friends on FB are doing right now. They’ll understand my pain.

Bye. Sigh.

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I prefer to proofread carefully.

I prefer to proofread carefully.



I recently ordered a porcelain cup that showed proofreaders’ marks on the left side, with examples of the marks being used in sentences on the right side.

When I opened the box, the first thing I saw was the slogan “Proof carefuly” on the side facing away from the drinker. Oops.

The other side of the cup listed eleven proofreaders’ symbols with examples for each one. Unfortunately, half the sentences used as examples were incorrect. The symbol was used correctly, but some of the resulting sentences were incorrectly worded or punctuated.

For the symbol denoting “Insert a comma,” the example sentence was
“A stitch in time, saves nine.”
The sentence violates the rule “Do not insert a lonely comma between a subject and its verb just because you feel like pausing.”

But wait. There’s more.

The better to see you with. said the wolf.
was changed to
“The better to see you with.” said the wolf.
but it should have been
“The better to see you with,” said the wolf.

The win dows (Two words for windows?) on the bus goes up and down.
was changed to
The windows on the bus goes up and down.
but it should have been either
The windows on the bus go up and down.
The window on the bus goes up and down.

“I’ll huff and puff” said the wolf.
should have been
“I’ll huff and puff,” said the wolf.


Some of my friends have suggested that perhaps it is a joke mug, but I think they would have gotten all the examples wrong if they had meant it to be funny.

I contacted the company that sold the mug and received a gracious reply telling me that they would refund my money. They also said not to bother sending it back. I’m not surprised. They are probably happy to get rid of one of them. I wonder how many more they have on their shelves.


(Note: All the names have been changed to protect the guilty.)

Not long ago, I became Membership Chair of an organization I’ll call San Antonio Mystery Writers Association (even though it isn’t). Weeks went by before I was told that I needed to talk to the previous chair to get the box of materials so I could perform my duties. The chapter called it “The Membership Box,” but hereinafter I shall call it “The Box.”

“Rosa” had not been attending the meetings for quite some time, and I had never met her, so I asked the current treasurer for her phone number and email address. I phoned her, but the call went to voice mail, so I left a message asking for her to call me. I explained what I wanted so she would not think it was a sales call.

I also emailed her a request for the box of materials, even offering to go pick them up at her house, if needed.

A week passed and I did not receive a response, so I left another message and emailed her again.

Another week went by, so I asked the treasurer for her address. All SAMWA had was a post office box number. I told the president of the organization, and she said we would just have to wait for her to contact us.

Several more weeks went by, and I was asked to do some work with the membership forms.

“What membership forms?” I asked.

“The ones in The Box.”

I had only the forms for the people who had joined after I took office. The rest of the forms were in – you guessed it – The Box.

I went online and used a website to locate her address.

I was determined to track her down. If I can write about how a sleuth manages to find out information, surely I could do it myself.

I found three different addresses and a phone number that was different from the one I had tried. I dialed the phone number, but it was disconnected.

I found out from the Internet that she worked in one of the public libraries in town. When I went there and asked for her, the young man went into the back room and said she was not available.

“Will she be in tomorrow?” I asked.

“I’m not sure.” He looked at me as though he thought I might be a collections agent or bounty hunter.


Would I receive the same answer every day? Perhaps he had been the victim of a bill collector or process server and did not want to help me find her. He even might become an obstacle in my caper.

I was now determined to locate The Box. My terrier instincts kicked in. If she wasn’t at work, maybe she was at home. I decided to try the first address on the list, 803 W. Aberdeen. (Don’t try to find it. I changed everything for this story.)

I went to that address even though it was 30 minutes from my house. The numbering system seemed not to be quite right, so I stopped at a McDonald’s nearby and asked what their street address was so I could work backward.

After finding 805 W. Aberdeen, I assumed the next house was 803. I did not find a street number, just a faded place on the curb where the number probably once was. The house I found looked haunted, with an unpainted exterior, loose boards on the porch, and yellowed lace curtains in the windows. It did, however, have four mailboxes on the wall beside the front door.

An electric bill peeked out from one of the mailboxes attached to the house.

Hoping it was not illegal to just look at a piece of mail, I pulled it up just enough to see the address, which turned out to be 801. That meant that 803 was the vacant lot between 801 and 805.

Well, perhaps it was E. Aberdeen. I drove there. It was now a doctor’s office, housed in a relatively new building.

I had another home address from the web, but one said “Oak Street” and one said “Oak Lane.” I found both on the city map, but they were both 30 minutes from my house—in different directions.

I decided to try the library again before I drove to those addresses. Just in case the guard dog (excuse me, her fellow librarian) was going to hide his friend from me, I used a little deception. I carried with me a brightly wrapped present. It was not for her, of course. It was just to get past the young man.

The next day, I went to the library, casually held the package in full view and asked for her again. He looked at the present and said, “She’s in the shelves somewhere.”

When I said, “Can you describe her for me? I don’t know what she looks like,” he looked puzzled, but he did describe her well enough for me to find her.

Once I located her, I looked around to make sure our discussion would not be overheard since I had a bad feeling about what she was going to tell me. I didn’t want to embarrass her.

First, I introduced myself and told her that we would really like for her to join SAMWA again. She graciously replied that she was too busy, with school and work.

I then asked if I could go to her house to get the box, or perhaps she could bring it to the library for me to pick up.

She said, “I threw it away. I had paid for everything in it anyway.”

“Even the lapel pins that cost three hundred dollars?”

“Little gold pins?”

“Yes,” she replied.

“I never had those.”

That was not what the president had told me, but I know a lost cause when I see one.

So I now have no membership box and no pins, but I did get my man. Er, woman. At least I did not have to go to the two addresses to find out The Box no longer existed. My task was finished. Unsuccessful, but finished.