dominoesThe amorphous they out there often say that “you get what you pay for.” Sadly, they’re wrong. You often wind up losing out on the deal, even when it’s free.

I went for some parent training last week, and while I hate to speak ill of anyone who is trying to do good, sometimes you just gotta call people out when they’re straight out wrong, misinformed, or just unpleasant to deal with.

I am not going to name names in this blog. That’s not my point. My point is that you, as a parent, must be careful of what you listen to and what you believe. Do your own research. Talk to more than one person. And be warned – this is a loooooong blog.

A few things went on during this training session that made me want to share it, and made me want to make other parents aware that they need to go into everything with an open mind and a salt shaker. (Get it? Be ready with that grain of salt? Ah, I’m so funny.)

Anyway, here’s what went down.

The person running the training session began by telling stories of all her years working in and with school districts. All schools “cut and paste,” she said, so make sure that you don’t get someone else’s goals because the schools will make them all the same if they can.

She also made it clear that while she was, of course, a wonderful person and made sure that each and every child got what he/she needed, she personally would sometimes purposely write half-assed IEP goals simply to make her life easier. And she only did it to parents who didn’t know better, wouldn’t watch carefully, or wouldn’t judge too harshly. So, she told us, make sure that you know better because then no one will do it to you. Because, she said, “It’s thunder dome when it comes to your kids unless you have stuff written in their IEPs.”

Okay, to some extent, that may be true. I know that we have let some things slide because we knew the teachers, and we knew that if something wasn’t in the IEP, Simon would still get it. But we also made damn sure other things were in because we knew that, just in case, we needed it in writing. And we always knew that we could call an ARD to make changes if anything did happen to shift.

She also talked about getting kids ready for transitions and how you had to start transition planning at 12. If you hadn’t done that, then the school district was failing you. Since Simon is now 13, and we haven’t started transition planning, I guess that included us?

And speaking of jobs, she said that there was a “98% chance that you’ll never had paid employment if you haven’t by the time you graduate from school.” I don’t know where she got that number from because a study done in 2013 and reported on in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry reported that “just over half (53.4 percent) of the young adults on the autism spectrum they surveyed had ever worked for pay outside the home within the first eight years after leaving high school. Only about one in five (20.9 percent) young adults with ASDs worked full-time at a current or most-recent job.” http://drexel.edu/now/archive/2013/September/Autism-Spectrum-Young-Adult-Transition-Studies/#sthash.C7LIqIcw.dpuf I’m not sure how that translates to a 98% chance of never having a job…but, hey, she’s the “expert.”

She pointed out the importance of having your child hold down a job because “you don’t want your kids playing with cars and trucks when they’re 21.” Except, ummm, maybe you do? I mean, I have no idea what Simon’s future holds, but if he’s unable to be employed, and if he’s happy and content doing so, what’s wrong with it? How many neurotypical “kids” that age have train sets or collect matchbox cars? How many “kids” that age are still into superheroes? I’m not sure that we want to denigrate what someone does. If they’re happy and able to do that, why make it a bad thing?

Obviously, I was already having some doubts that this was how I wanted to start my day.

She went on to tell us things, like how administration was overpaid; she advised that we look up the salaries of the directors of special ed programs so that we could be “outraged” by their pay. Think of how many teachers they could hire for that! And, she told us, there’s no reason to have curriculum coordinators. Another waste of money – money that could go to our children! They could hire three teachers for the cost of one curriculum coordinator. Three teachers for our children. Were we outraged yet?

By now, I wasn’t sure how fond of her I was. To be honest, I had seen her before, and I had gotten the impression that she wasn’t quite what she made herself out to be (a wonderful crusader), but after hearing her trash talking school districts, I wasn’t sure.

Don’t get me wrong; I think that school districts are often in the wrong. I’ve attended enough conferences and heard enough horror stories to know that school districts prefer to do what’s cheap as opposed to what’s right. In fact, about nine years ago, we had gotten a lawyer and gone after our son’s school district. But once the district got in a new head of special programs, everything suddenly got better, and it’s been better ever since. (I won’t lie and say that I haven’t heard complaints – but I haven’t heard any complaints that were borne out…they all appeared to be more of a difference of opinion or need.)

That all said, I was not really enjoying my morning.

Then it got better. And by better, I mean worse.

She handed out data.

After telling us, “I can’t do math, but let me explain these statistics to you…”

Well, I’m not good with math either, but I do understand how data works (mostly).

What she gave us was data on the STAAR Alt tests. We were told that we should be upset because, when looking at the data, regardless of grade level, it seemed that there were more boys, and more Hispanic boys, taking the alternate version of the test.

It’s all about how the schools are holding back the minorities, she told us. How the schools try to avoid working with boys. It’s nothing to do with, well, how numbers work out.

After reviewing what she said, I looked at the numbers on the sheet.

The page I had was the Summary Report for Grade 8 for the STAAR Alt 2.

The numbers:
All students who took it: 4,038
Male: 2,628
Female: 1,410

Hispanic: 2,028
American Indian/Alaska Native: 19
Asian: 127
Black or African American: 680
Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander: 8
White: 1,099
Two or More Races: 58
No Information Provided: 19

Economically Disadvantaged:
Yes: 2,710
No: 1,314
No Info: 14

Migrant:
Yes: 24
No: 4,000
No Info: 14

Limited English Proficiency:
LEP: 436
Non-LEP: 3,587
No Info: 15

Bilingual:
Participant: 5
Non-Participant: 4,017
No Info: 16

ESL:
Participant: 170
Non-Participant: 3,853
No Info: 15

Then I did some research. Just Google. While sitting there. I didn’t have time to prepare. I didn’t get to do too much of it.

But what I turned up told me this: as of 2014, there were 5 million students in public school in Texas. http://www.texastribune.org/2014/04/01/report-texas-public-schools-enrollment-soars/ Assuming that the percentage of special ep students hasn’t changed too much, then it would remain at about 8%, meaning that approximately 440,000 students in special education. http://www.dallasnews.com/incoming/20120705-texas-has-lowest-percentage-of-special-education-students-reasons-are-a-mystery.ece That means that about 1% – the number of students that would be allowed to take the STAAR Alt 2 would be about 4,000 students. Sounds right so far.

Now let’s take that further.

As of 2013, Hispanic students made up 51% of the population of students in Texas public education. http://www.dallasnews.com/news/education/headlines/20130504-hispanics-now-largest-ethnic-group-in-texas-public-schools.ece Taking that information further, we can do basic math. Fifty-one percent of 4,038 student is 2,059 students.

Hmmm. So the percentage is just slightly off. In other words, statistically, it would make sense for that to work out that way.

I tried to point that out to the presenter. I tried to say that perhaps the numbers make sense.

After all, when it comes to certain issues, such as autism, you have approximately a 4 to 1 (25%) odds that it will affect boys instead of girls.

Looking at gender, then, we have a 35% bias towards boys. A bit of a difference, but not a huge one, right?

I tried to point that out, too. To say that the numbers did make sense. That despite what happens if you look at them blindly, there is a bit of a reason why they skew the way they do.

She tried to say I was wrong. Tried to say that the statistics I brought in didn’t matter.

I let her know that my husband worked with statistics all day. I didn’t bother telling her that I had to study stats for two of my graduate degrees. I wanted to let her know that I had a clue, but I didn’t want to sound like I was showing off.

She told me that while my husband might be a “statition” (not actually a word, by the way), maybe he knew better, but she was just saying that it should be looked at. Yes, I agree. It should be looked at with an eye towards the actual science behind the numbers.

I didn’t bother bringing up the other facts that were in the numbers I listed above – that the number of students in ESL, migrant, LEP, and bilingual numbers could be responsible for the slight skewing. If there is a language barrier and a disability, that would make it extra hard for the student and might make the STAAR Alt 2 a more appropriate choice.

Okay, maybe I shouldn’t pick on the poor woman quite this much, but I can’t stand going somewhere and missing out on the facts and the truth. It’s one thing to have a personal bias and a personal belief, but when you present it as fact – as fact that you are an expert on – then you should be able to back it up. You should be able to speak to those facts. You should be able to give that information in a non-biased way.

None of those things happened that morning. I left before the Q&A, having wasted enough of my time getting frustrated, but then we have a lovely set of door prizes: used games. And that I can’t complain about because I got lucky and had first pick of the door prizes. I won a set of dominoes – a gift that Simon will enjoy playing with. So at least something good came of the morning.

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