State institutions should not restrict learning disabled students from education

Washington State Governor, Chris Gregoire, on March 30, 2012, passed House Bill 2483 aimed at expanding the Student Achievement Council. [1]

“The legislature finds that increasing educational attainment is essential for maintaining the health of a democratic society and the competitiveness of the state in the global economy. It is necessary to have educational opportunities that meet both the educational and economic requirements of the state. Increasing educational attainment means Washington needs more students with high school diplomas, postsecondary certificates, [associate] degrees, bachelor’s degrees, and graduate degrees. According to a fall 2010 study by the Georgetown University center on education and the workforce, Washington will rank sixth in the nation in jobs that will require postsecondary education or special training.”

While in primary school and at university, I was tested and diagnosed as being gifted and learning disabled. I have two specific learning-disabilities that are documented in my medical records and are supported by the Americans with Disabilities Act. There has been a considerable amount of research that has concluded that students with my “twice-exceptional” condition are continually misunderstood by schools and even personal mentors.

“Intellectually gifted individuals with specific learning disabilities are the most misjudged, misunderstood and neglected segment of the student population and the community. Teachers, counselors, and other are inclined to overlook signs of intellectual giftedness and to focus attention on such deficits as poor spelling, reading, and writing. Expectations for academic achievement generally are inaccurate—either too high and unrealistically positive or too low and discouraging of high aspirations. It is not uncommon for gifted students with learning disabilities to be told that college study is inappropriate for them, that professional careers will be unattainable, and that jobs requiring only mechanical or physical abilities are more fitting to their abilities. Without equal opportunity to try, these individuals may be denied access to appropriate educational and professional career opportunities.” [2]

With much support and thanks to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, I was accepted as an Achievers Scholar and successfully graduated, this year, with an undergraduate degree in Information Technology and Administrative Management from Central Washington University. An undergraduate degree is not a stopping point. I have applied to the University of Washington’s Master of Infrastructure Planning and Management (MIPM) online degree program with an explicit interest in communications and cyber infrastructure systems. Upon applying to the University of Washington degree program, I requested a Graduate Record Examinations exam waiver. My request to submit a waiver was denied. Retrospectively, I have been denied the opportunity for graduate-level education from a state-sponsored institution. The Graduate Record Examinations exam has no bearing on critical thought or creativity. Generalized examinations are dramatically more stressful for learning-disabled students, especially when accommodations are not provided.

“Many educators and psychometricians agree that using a single test score to make a high stakes determination represents an ethical abuse.” [3] writes Dr. Peter McLaren, professor, UCLA Graduate School of Education, in his book Life in schools: an introduction to critical pedagogy in the foundations of education.

Disability Rights Advocates, a non-profit public interest law center, has written an applicable paper titled, “Do No Harm–High Stakes Testing and Students with Learning Disabilities”. Highlights include:

“Learning disabilities stem from neurological and sometimes heritable differences in brain structure, and can dramatically impact the manner and duration in which persons with learning disabilities read, write, learn and take tests. They cannot be cured.” [4]

This is a direct contradiction to the expectations of Educational Testing Services:

“For LD, testing must generally have been completed within the past five years.” [5]

My “LD” medical records were created in 2003 and thus not valid for accommodation. I have not grown out of my disability and do not have the funds or the time to retake a stressful psychological examination. The University of Washington, who has chosen to support this discrimination by requiring my participation of the Graduate Record Examinations exam, an intellectual monopoly, should be liable for discrimination because they offer no alternative.

“Federal civil rights statutes protect students with learning disabilities in the educational context. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq. (“IDEA”), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (“Section 504”), and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”) all prohibit schools from discriminating against students on the basis of their disabilities. These laws, and the regulations under them contain specific prohibitions relevant to the high-stakes standardized testing and its impact on students with learning disabilities. …. There is no educational or legal basis for limiting the availability of alternate assessments.” [4]

“As noted in a recent report by The National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences, “[t]ests that are valid for influencing classroom practice, “leading” the curriculum, or holding schools accountable are not appropriate for making high-stakes decisions about individual student mastery unless the curriculum, the teaching, and the tests are aligned.”” [4]

It was clearly stated on May 15, 2012, in the online information meeting about the MIPM degree program, that prospective students should take the Graduate Record Examinations exam as a matter of procedure, and that the score itself does not matter.

Dr. Sir Ken Robinson, in his TED talk in 2006 states:

“We have a huge vested interest in [education], partly because it’s education that’s meant to take us into this future that we can’t grasp. …. My contention is that creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status. …. [A]cademic ability, which has really come to dominate our view of intelligence because the universities designed the system in their image. If you think of it, the whole system of public education around the world is a protracted process of university entrance. And the consequence is that many highly talented, brilliant, creative people think they’re not, because the thing they were good at at school wasn’t valued, or was actually stigmatized. And I think we can’t afford to go on that way.” [6]

Dr. Barbara Endicott-Popovsky, Director for the Center for Information Assurance and Cybersecurity at the University of Washington included this information in her recommendation for me to the MIPM program:

I have known Christopher since AY2009 when he became a student in my Information Security and Risk Management certificate. During this time he worked on a variety of projects in class that demonstrated to me that he had exceptional abilities for research and graduate studies. He distinguished himself with his questions and the kinds of connections he discovered in the materials he read. He developed several models for describing organizational approaches to information assurance that reflected a sophistication of thinking unusual for someone working on their bachelor’s degree. He was well received by students and other faculty alike.

The critical infrastructure of Washington State requires a diversity of intellectual strengths to support its function and longevity. Leaders in the White House, Congress, and Senate have repeatedly stated that there is a shortage of cyber-security talent in this nation [7]. I deserve the right to participate in education, including the responsibility to take on the tremendous financial dept to better our state.

Thank you for your time.

[1] HB 2483 – 2011-12: Creating the office of the student achievement council. Revised for 2nd Substitute: Regarding higher education coordination. http://apps.leg.wa.gov/billinfo/summary.aspx?bill=2483

[2] Whitmore, J. & Maker, J. Intellectual giftedness among disabled persons. Rockville, MD: Aspen Press., 1985.

[3] McLaren, Peter. Life in schools : an introduction to critical pedagogy in the foundations of education. New York: Longman, 1989.

[4] Disability Rights Advocates. Do No Harm–High Stakes Testing and Students with Learning Disabilities. 2011. http://www.dralegal.org/downloads/pubs/do_no_harm.pdf

[5] Educational Testing Services. Policy Statement for Documentation of a Learning Disability In Adolescents and Adults, Second Edition. 2007. https://www.ets.org/disabilities/documentation/documenting_learning_disabilities

[6] Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity. 2006. https://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html

[7] Homeland Security Secretary Discusses Cybersecurity in Oversight Hearing. http://www.c-span.org/Events/Homeland-Security-Secretary-Discusses-Cybersecurity-in-Oversight-Hearing/10737430136/

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