Special-ed students lose math tools for AIMS - East Valley Tribune: News

Special-ed students lose math tools for AIMS

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Posted: Thursday, March 6, 2008 8:15 pm | Updated: 10:33 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

When Bryson Weinberg, 15, does his math homework, he uses a number chart and a calculator to help him solve the problems. Weinberg, a student at McClintock High School in Tempe, has severe dyslexia, which affects his ability to read.

He needs the extra tools to figure out, for example, the multiplication involved in finding a common denominator of two fractions.

In the past, it's never been a problem, said his mother, Linda.

But when testing begins in just a few weeks for Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards, Weinberg and other special education students will, for the first time, be barred from using calculators and numbers charts during the high-stakes test.

Last month, the federal government denied an appeal from state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne to allow Arizona's special education students to use special tools, such as calculators.

In the past, most school districts allowed such accommodations, meant to level the playing field for students with disabilities. The federal ban even applies if students typically use those same tools everyday in their classrooms.

"It's pretty primary, but the kids need that," Linda Bryson said. "With the four-function calculator, he could try to do some of the answers. Now, it doesn't matter. He can't even try."

Like Weinberg, many of the students affected by this ruling are dyslexic. Others have dyscalcula, a difficulty in understanding or using mathematical symbols or functions.

Each year, these students get together with a team of school staff and family to create guidelines dictating when it's appropriate for that student to use tools such as calculators in the classroom.

These guidelines are called Individualized Education Plans, said Sue Douglas, principal at Mesa Arts Academy, a west Mesa charter school.

The number of students affected by the calculator ban is relatively small. Douglas said she knows of one such child at her school.

And in the Chandler Unified School District, officials estimate about 1.5 percent of students are affected. But that's enough to make a difference.

If schools were to allow students to continue to use calculators on the AIMS test, their tests would be thrown out, penalizing the districts under federal testing laws that require 95 percent of students to complete exams, Douglas said.

In 2006, many schools failed to make "adequate yearly progress" as required by federal law because they allowed learning-disabled students to use calculators.

"That could make a big difference," said Chandler district spokesman Terry Locke. "We have to have 95 percent of our students tested."

Chandler schools have roughly 95 percent attendance rate on average, he said. So, any additional tests being thrown out would likely keep the district from meeting its required testing rate.

While calculators and number charts are out the window, many special education students will be allowed to use other tools on tests still considered "standard" testing accommodations by the federal government. Those tools include things such as Braille tests for blind students, or having a teacher's aide read aloud questions on the math test for dyslexic students.

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