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.