MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

December 22, 2013

OSB teachers fret over new testing policy

By Cathy Spaulding
Phoenix Staff Writer

— Discontinuation of modified state testing could affect nearly one-fourth of Oklahoma School for the Blind students who take state tests, officials say.

The Oklahoma Department of Education is eliminating the Oklahoma Modified Alternate Assessment Program, or OMAAP, starting this school year. According to a brochure from the state education department, the alternate test is based on modified academic achievement standards. Students who participated in this option were in Individual Education Programs taught based on grade level content standards. The state tests are given in grades three through 12.

OSB Principal Carolyn Sheppard said about 25 of the school’s 100 test-taking students would take the OMAAP.

“The OMAAP has given us another option for students on an IEP,” she said.

OSB middle school math and language arts teacher Faye Miller said the OMAAP tests helped improve accessibility to the same content as other students.

“It is important we provide the opportunity for our students to demonstrate their knowledge,” Miller said. “Tests that are not accessible to our students test their ability to scan, keep their place, filter through cluttered information rather than testing their knowledge and skills.”

Miller said OMAAP tests were more accessible for visually impaired students because test items and choices were consistently on the same page.

“The regular test is a lot longer,” Miller said, adding that many visually impaired students get visual fatigue.

“And visual fatigue leads to mental fatigue,” she said.

Although the OMAAP test covered the same content as the regular test, answers were simplified, Sheppard said. For example, a question might have three answer options instead of four. Sheppard said that a standard test might ask students about something  “in the third paragraph” of a passage. The OMAAP test would have the question right after that third paragraph, she said.

Sheppard said elimination would “not necessarily hurt them, but it would eliminate a very important option for them.”

The state says its Special Education Services division is committed to helping students with disabilities gain access to the general education curriculum. A brochure said the division has created special web pages and tools to help ensure that students who took the OMAAP have access to the general education curriculum.

This year, all Oklahoma School for the Blind students in grades three through 12 would be included in its state test results and school report card, Sheppard said. In previous years, only residential students — those living in faraway towns such as Lawton or Enid — were counted. Commuting students, such as those in Coweta or Fort Gibson, were counted in their districts’ results, Sheppard said.

Reach Cathy Spaulding at (918) 684-2928 or cspaulding@muskogeephoenix.com.