Dear Madam Mayor, School Committee members, and Superintendent Salim,
Cambridge Special Education Parent Advisory Council is an all-volunteer group of Cambridge parents and caregivers working to improve special education and general education practices with particular attention to the needs of black and brown scholars with disabilities and special needs in our community. Our guiding principle is that decisions must be made based on the needs of the child, not the availability of programs or resources.
We want to begin our comment by saying thank you for basing your latest proposal on the needs of our scholars and community, rather than adopting a one-size-fits-all model. Your new proposal is a significant improvement and we can see that you have been listening.
On order #20-204, parents of scholars with disabilities have a range of opinions on standardized testing. The core mission of Cambridge SE-PAC is to focus on the needs of students and to demand accountability for ensuring they are learning to their greatest capacity.
Under current conditions, we are united in a belief that standardized testing in Spring 2021 would place undue burden and stress on students and teachers alike.
However, our students — particularly students of color with disabilities — are most at risk for being left behind during this pandemic and we demand that CPS adopt an alternative assessment that is reliable, transparent and family-friendly. CPS must commit to improving practices for sharing information about how our students are doing in relation to grade level standards.
We have repeatedly asked the district to adopt the iReady system, which is used in charter schools and private schools to share real-time data on student learning between teachers and families. The system is more timely and more family-friendly than the MCAS, and our students with disabilities in charter schools find it easier to demonstrate their learning. This would replace the district’s use of FAST assessments and make student learning data fully transparent.
Statewide accountability measures should not be discarded until appropriate and transparent in-house measures are in place to ensure that parents and families understand how our students are doing during this difficult time, such as the iReady System. We have recommended adoption of iReady in writing, in public testimony, and in meetings with the Superintendent and Office of Student Services. If the CEA is serious about finding an alternative to the MCAS, we call on you to be allies to our students by investigating and publicly supporting this measure.
On #20-209, understanding that being outdoors reduces the risk of transmission of COVID-19, we remind our community that the needs of all students must be considered in this and any other procedural change. Specifically, there are a number of medical conditions that would result in the exclusion of students if outdoor learning were to take place during certain New England weather. For instance even if warm clothing were provided on cold days, many conditions such as sickle cell anemia, asthma, and allergies which are prevalent in communities of color would be exacerbated, compromising immune systems further. Please keep in mind that some of our teachers and staff also suffer from these conditions.
In addition, some students with special needs have a tendency to bolt away from their classroom and therefore would be unable to safely participate in outdoor learning without added adult supervision. Finally, the very common issue of inattention among students with disabilities should be proactively taken into account by ensuring that learning activities and curricula support students who may be easily distracted in the less-controlled outdoor environment.
With all of this said, there are also benefits for many students with disabilities to spending more time outdoors and specific classrooms or groups of students who may be able to adopt this measure without a problem. It is our role and responsibility to ensure that any course of action under consideration keeps in mind the needs of students with disability from the outset, and not as an afterthought.
We support the spirit of 20-205. In spirit, this order would provide parents and caregivers with greater transparency about children’s learning progress. Research shows that clear communication with families about what students are expected to know, and how students are progressing, is an important strategy for improving student achievement.
Under conditions of remote learning, this type of transparency and collaboration is especially important. Whether the district develops its own means for communicating student progress on “power standards,” or adopts the iReady system as we have repeatedly recommended, school-caregiver partnership is crucial to building a more equitable, anti-racist, person-centered and socially just school system.
We encourage the District to continue to listen and actively seek out input from parents and caregivers to ensure that all families understand and agree with any adjustments made to student expectations when teaching and learning under conditions of a pandemic.
In Conclusion, our comments tonight point to the importance of transparency and accountability for student learning. The district’s revised proposal and inclusion of diverse parent voices on the COVID-19 Task Force suggest a deepening of respect for the role that parents and caregivers play in education.
We would like to point out that IEP meetings are a context where the parent/caregiver role in education decision-making is legally mandated. We call on CPS to treat IEP teams as a microcosm for fully collaborative decision-making. Unfortunately, at this time, IEP teams do not provide a model of what collaborative decision-making should look like. Too often, decisions seem to have been made before the team even sits down at the table. When our views differ from the district’s position, we often face hostility.
We will continue to raise this issue, but take heart in the actions the district has been taken to fully include diverse parent and caregiver voices in decision-making at the district level.
Thank you very much for your time and for all you are doing to support the best possible decision-making during this difficult and unprecedented time.
The Leadership Team of Cambridge Special Education Parent Advisory Council:
- Nicole Ahart
- Ruth Ryan Allen
- Bernette Dawson
- Lisa Downing
- Karen Dobak
- Gardite Fougy
- Love Holloman
- Julie McKinney
- Alec McKinney
- Berry Pierre
- Rosalie Rippey
- Mercedes Soto
- Ena Valenzuela
- Linda Vick