What makes a child gifted and talented may not always be good grades in school, but a different way of looking at the world and learning.  Chuck Grassley

A little after the appointed 2 p.m. meeting time, on Friday, I entered Tootles’ classroom.  Not as a parent volunteer this time, but as a parent, meeting with the teacher to discuss what she has observed of Tootles’ progress in his first grade class.  I wasn’t worried or dreading this meeting.  I was looking forward to learning about what my son’s teacher observed of him in that seven hour a day period she has him under her watch.

Tootles is a smart boy.  I’ve known that since he first started talking.  Despite his echolalia, and his quirks, including his speech, he can do any task if he sits down and works at it. He knew his colors before his 2nd birthday.  He was spelling and reading by the time he was 2 years old.  When he was diagnosed with autism at age 3 years and 10 months, the MIND Institute report described him as “at risk for Borderline IQ”.  I was angry and dismayed at this assessment.  I knew, in my heart, that beyond any standard way of communicating, my son was highly intelligent.  And almost three years later, in this meeting, I learned the result of his STAR Reading test (remember, Tootles is in the second month of 1st grade):

This student’s Grade Equivalent (GE) score is 3.8.  [Tootles] test performance is comparable to that of an average third grader after the eighth month of the school year. [Tootles] achieved a national Percentile Rank (PR) of 98.  This score is in the above average range and means that [Tootles] scored greater than 98% of students nationally in the same grade.  The PR Range indicates that, if this student had taken the STAR Reading test numerous times, most of his scores would likely have fallen between 97 and 99.  It reflects the amount of statistical variability in a student’s PR score.”

I can’t help but be proud of my son.  Despite his trouble with pronouns, (we are making a lot of headway with diagraming and correcting him verbally every moment of every day…), he is grasping the text beyond his grade level and the next and most of the next.

Most of his grades were great. Tootles is graded this way:  O= Outstanding;  S = Satisfactory; N = Needs improvement.

He received Outstanding in 10 categories.  He received Satisfactory for 11 categories. And, he received “Below Satisfactory” (S-) in 3 categories and one “Needs Improvement”.

What’s he having trouble with?

For “Below Satisfactory” it was: Does careful and neat work; Penmanship; and Oral communication.  For “Needs Improvement”, it was “Works Independently”.

How does that sound for autism to you?  He has a full time ABA aide at his side which made it difficult for the teacher to grade him on working independently.  She told me she struggled with this one.  But, honestly?  If he did not need improvement in this category, why would he need a full time tutor at school?

Again, his oral communication is fraught with difficulty.  He can read and write (albeit not always legibly).  Neat work?  Have you seen my kid color?  It is painful to watch and more painful, I’m certain to grade.

Often, instead of erasing, which is extraordinarily difficult for him, he will write over a letter to change its imperfection, or scratch it off and start over.

All of these “grades” are justified, if not actually a little generous.

But of, course, the whole grading thing got me to thinking.  How does one grade the high functioning child with autism in the neurotypical classroom?

Is it strict comparison to neurotypical peers without the disability he carries?

Is it some type of compensatory system in which he is given a “handicap” as in golf before his score is determined?

Certainly, he cannot be graded against his “autistic peers” because there is no such thing.  Every child with autism is different.  Just the fact that he is in a strictly neurotypical class with no other autistic students is a difference from many children with autism.

So, what is the grade designed to measure?  Should it be strictly his ranking among all students, disabled or not?  It was with his reading.  And ultimately, in life, isn’t that what its all about?  Or is that unfair because it would be similar to grading a physically disabled person in the subject of running against a fully-abled person or athlete?  What is fair?  And how is “fair” defined and by whom?

My child has a disability but he also has gifts.  Not superstar, superpower gifts but abilities that surpasses even the neurotypical students, in reading, spelling, and computer skills.  Is it “fair” that he excels the others in these areas and then I ask for “compensatory” grading in areas that are obvious connects with his disability?

Then, I have to consider Tootles’ teacher.  She is not an autism expert.  She’s a teaching expert but that expertise is with children who do not have autism.  How is she to know what kind of scale to use to ‘compensate’ for the disability?  Right now, Tootles does not receive letter grades.  But when he hits 3rd or 4th grade, he will start acquiring letters that will shape his future life opportunities.

I Google-searched the issue of grading for high functioning autism students and found no articles dealing with the how-to’s in grading.  (I did find an interesting article on how teachers should teach the HF autism student here)

There has to be a way.  Because it matters and it is not easy.


About solodialogue

I'm a lawyer and the mom of a 6 year old boy with autism. I work part time and spend the rest driving here and there and everywhere for my son's various therapies. Instead of trying cases, I now play Pac-man and watch SpongeBob. I wear old sweaters and jeans and always, always flat shoes to run after my son. Yeah, it's different but I wouldn't change it for anything. The love of my child is the most powerful, beautiful and rewarding aspect of my life.
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13 Responses to Grading.

  1. I think, unfortunately, that a lot of this conversation will depend on individual teachers and their particular understanding of ASD — especially when it comes to grading in “gray area” subjects where there is no rule to define right or wrong.

    Math? Yeah… that’s easy to grade. 1+1 is always gonna be 2… no matter how you go at it. But whether the handwriting on the page is enough to convey the ability to perform the calculation — or even whether the calculation is developmentally appropriate… that is a conversation that must be had for each child with each teacher.

    That’s part of the curse of a spectrum disorder, isn’t it? We’re destined to repeat the same conversations over and over so that each person who deals with our child is able to start in the place where the last person left off. There simply is no one effective guideline for all.

    • solodialogue says:

      There is no effective guideline, true. And I don’t think there could be but in the broadest sense. More importantly, how could that broadest sense not sometimes, inevitably impact our kids negatively where they do not fit the broad mold? It’s a strange thing and where “regular” teachers teach our kids, they are always going to be compared to the NTs…conversely how can an “autism specialist teacher” grade within that NT world? Either way – it’s a difficult position. (PS- you have a good point there about the math part. 🙂 )

  2. This is a sore topic in our household. Random doesn’t grade well. He is always just catching up to his peers in things like math and reading. He is not typical in his interests, he likes to read encyclopedias rather than fictional stories. He’s been that way since he was three. We have had to arrange a whole array of adaptations for math and testing for him. Even though he doesn’t test well, eventually the teachers will “get” it that he is actually quite intelligent. My task each year is teaching the teachers how to teach my child. I am so glad that Toots is doing so well and that you have no convincing to do at school. Great job Karen!

    • solodialogue says:

      Arranging a whole array of adaptations for testing sounds full of interesting information. Perhaps, you could share that in a post on your blog? 🙂 Thank you for your kind words, but I cannot take credit for what Toots does. He is who he is on his own. I just push him to do his thing… We are lucky to have an understanding, eagerly interested teacher! I’m grateful for that every day.

  3. Allie says:

    Go Toots! This sounds to me like a classic case of a Twice Exceptional aka 2E student. You might want to start advocating with that in mind and see how you can tie it into his IEP. Being 2E does have a HUGE impact on a child’s education, especially when it comes to testing be it achievement or IQ tests. We can talk more about it if you want to shoot me an email.

    • solodialogue says:

      I am fascinated by your mention of this and thank you, Allie! I must admit I had no idea what 2E was until you (and Lisa) mentioned it and I looked it up. I spoke to someone locally who told me, at least here in California, that the gifted program is pretty much non-existent here at Tootles’ age and grade. It plays more of a role once he starts getting letter grades. It can be a double edged sword, is what I’ve heard… Always interested to hear more if you have the urge to share in a post… I’m sure many people would be interested and would love it if you would come back and link it here!

  4. Lisa says:

    Way to go, T!!! Love all of his great work–and he is a total smartie-pants!

    I am interested in how “grading” our children is accomplished, too. Tate is a high-functioning autistic. Tate is quite smart. But, because he really doesn’t fit the traditional mold of a “student”, the traditional evaluation methods don’t work for him, and he tests lower than he really is for reading and math ability. His teacher is really trying to figure out different ways to test Tate..and to introduce concepts to him, because he absorbs like a sponge..and has a memory like no other. He remembers everything.

    Just keep doing what you’re doing…get in there, research, work with his teachers and tutors…get him challenged and work to dig into that intelligence!! I like Allie’s suggestions…it does sound like T is 2E. Best of luck.

    • solodialogue says:

      Thanks Lisa! It’s always going to be harder for Tate and Toots, given their non-traditional ways… It’s great that Tate’s teaher sees the issue and is looking for ways to test and introduce concepts to him. He sounds so much like Toots with the memory. This may be their compensatory method of functioning in an NT dominated world. I wonder if Toots’ qualifies as 2E – it would just be his reading and spelling for now. But I worry about nurturing it so he will grow from here and not plateau with everyone else catching up. Since that score, we’ve been reading a lot more and I’m learning more about ways to teach him that I will share on Friday…

  5. Mary says:

    I think it’s important to remember that grades don’t mean a lot–especially in the early grades. That’s why they don’t get letter grades. Once in kindergarten, Freckles flat-out refused to read the sight words so the teacher could count how many she knew for the report card. So the teacher told her she would just tell me that she couldn’t read any of them. Of course, she read every one. lol

    I always learn something here. The article you linked is useful for parents and other relatives as well as teachers. I liked the line, “They are incapable of being manipulative.” 🙂 Not so sure that’s always true, but I would like to have my doctor read it until he got it. And the sarcasm and idioms are some things Freckles still struggles with. Honestly, I think she is borderline ASD if there is such a thing. I could probably push the diagnosis either way.

    Now what is this 2E?

    • solodialogue says:

      Oh Freckles! Lol! She is not a show off – or is she? 😉

      I had forgotten about that “manipulative” remark but I reacted exactly the same way you did! Lol! I know that’s not true but a great deal of the other information seemed quite useful. Tootles struggles with humor and sarcasm too.

      2E was something I’d never heard of til Allie and Lisa mentioned it. I found a good explanation here – I don’t know how the determination is made but I think the AR testing result is probably a good qualifier. Perhaps they’d have him take it a couple more times to verify. I don’t know. I just know I need to work on nurturing his talents to give him the advantages he can get to compensate for the deficits and to help him capitalize on every opportunity he gets…

      • Mary says:

        I did some searching, too. Turns out I always knew what 2E was; I just didn’t know the name of it.

        I did know that the same laws that are used to get children with disabilities special services are also used to get gifted children special services.

        In my state the gifted program doesn’t start until 3rd grade. They have some short programs for kids who are recommended by the teachers. And then in 4th grade (or later) they are officially identified as “gifted” after having taken standardized tests at the end of 3rd grade. Our state changed all the testing last year and the scores don’t compare (and are just now coming back) so I’m not sure how this is working right now. I do need to find out.

        Last year Freckles did a 6-week geography program and learned all about Hawaii. She has Kanani (American Girl doll) and was interested/motivated to learn about that. It was great.

        And yes, her “giftedness” masks her disabilities which is why her school can’t see any of her issues. 😦

  6. Very interesting post. I think of fair as being that every child gets what they need, rather than being treated the same. We just got Pudding’s school report, which was all over the place, but I’m not interested in how she compares with the other kids, it is apples and oranges. Having said that….98%? Wow! Sing it from the hilltops! He makes all the oranges (and their mamas) proud.

  7. Pingback: Reading Pictures. | Solodialogue

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