As the year comes to an end, I have to review my students’ progress and determine if I want to recommend placement, advancement, or retention for next year. As I began this process as a novice, I looked over my school provided rubric to determine if my students met the criteria quantitatively. I went through and according to that rubric, everyone should move on to the next grade.
Something didn't feel right with that process, so I decided to confer with my paraprofessional on how she felt regarding student placement. We had a conversation on the qualitative growth of each student. We asked each other if the student matured sufficiently, if the level of work he or she was able to produce this year suggests success next year, and if we felt the student would be able to achieve success in the general curriculum standards, especially with the Common Core State Standards being rolled out next year.
I looked at my seventh grade students and had a few tough calls, but decided that with support and extra enrichment they will be able to succeed. I will be returning next year as their teacher and case manager so I felt assured they will receive everything they need from day one instead of having to wait for a new teacher to get to know them, their needs, and learning styles as I did this year.
I did decide to recommend retention for my sixth grader. He just learned multiplication and fractions this year and made major gains in reading fluency, however because we spent so much time on reading and math, we did not adequately prepare him for seventh grade curriculum. I am not disappointed that he is not prepared for seventh grade yet; I am proud that he has made gains this year that will allow him to be able to be successful in a full fledged sixth grade curriculum with support. I approached his mother about the idea and she was very accepting and noted that she has wanted him to stay back a year for a few grades.
During our IEP meeting, we discussed little of grades and more about individual growth, needs, and maturity. I was surprised at how important student maturity was to the conversation. In the end I was pleasantly surprised when my sixth grader spoke up and noted that he doesn’t want to be in the same grade twice, but is happy that things are getting easier and will do it if it makes him ‘better.’ His mom hugged him and I was a very proud teacher.
After meeting conversations, I expressed to the counselors how simply looking at students’ grades should not determine their ability to succeed, just as an SAT or GRE score does not tell a university how well students may do in school. I emphasized that especially with special education students grades are often manipulated either in actual numbers or in the requirements of the assignment to ensure student success and may not be as clear a picture of ability than your typical student.
How do you feel special education students should be evaluated for placement or retention? I found this parallels a lot with the current debate on teacher evaluations—there is more than numbers to address.