Having a Child with Down Syndrome, Part LXIX: I Suck as a Dad

Copyright © 2013 Stephen Hawley, all rights reserved.

Watch this.  Just watch it.

Did you watch it all?  That’s Ricco VanArragorn (#2) helping Cory Stedman score a goal in a hockey game.  Cory, from what I could tell from searching around, was 12 years old when this video was shot and he has Down syndrome.  Here’s why I suck as a dad: Ricco does all the right things here with apparent patience and calm.  He doesn’t take the stick and assist Cory.  He does nudge him.  He just sets Cory up to succeed in his own time and making his own mistakes and gently correcting them.

I try to do this and I know I fail enough that it irks me.  I would like to sit with Ricco’s parents and find out everything they did to help raise a son who did this job so well and congratulate them.  I do celebrate on my successes with Alice, but I also spend a lot of time thinking back on when my resources ran dry – my patience, imagination, kindness – they all were scarce when I needed them.  At times like now, I feel like there is little middle ground: wild success or resounding failure.  Where’s the middle ground?

Still, we’re in the process of making some very hard decisions for the future and maybe that’s why I shouldn’t kick myself and should instead pat myself on the back for using planning, insight, and wisdom to help remove the big bumps in the path so that Alice will be able to walk down it and succeed in her own time.

Ricco – if you ever read this – you’re awesome.  Cory – nice goal.


Having a Child with Down Syndrome (in Massachusetts), part LXVIII: MCAS

Copyright © 2013 Stephen Hawley, all rights reserved.

This is my first post on this and likely not my last.  As part of No Child Left Behind, Massachusetts instituted the MCAS tests.  These are tests that are given to students in Massachusetts in grades 3-10 (except grade 9).  The grade 10 test is used to determine if you are going to get a high school diploma.  8 years ago, I had a job doing IT, technology administration, and teaching at the smallest public school in the state and it was there that I became familiar with the MCAS test and how the schools deal try to game the system as much as possible.  The commonwealth has laws that require districts to improve and to spend resources planning and publishing those plans.  The main instrument to measure improvement is performance on the MCAS.  Where I was teaching, there were two things that were done to keep out of the spotlight of the state:

  1. Every student was required to take two specific classes in taking the MCAS.  These were classes dedicated to learning how to take the MCAS standardized (one in English, and one in Math, IIRC).  Just to emphasize – these were not classes so much in subject matter but in test taking strategy.
  2. Students who were thought to be underperforming were identified in 7th and 8th grade and the parents were strong-armed to move the kids into the local vocational school.

These two things sound ridiculous–and they were–but this is a small school district.  The graduating class was routinely 20 kids.  If two kids were having a bad day on test day, then 10% of the class might fail the test, which is bad news for the school.  You can see why they try to game the system.

Alice is in 3rd grade and we started talking MCAS last year because she is taking it for the first time this year and without extra prep, she’s going to have a rough time this year (and subsequent years).  Massachusetts hasn’t done well with the MCAS with people with cognitive disabilities (see Tracey Newhart).



Alice as a baby in Tracey Newhart’s lap at the MDSC convention

There is an alternative assessment available, which is a portfolio-based assessment.  The (former) head of our SPED department noted in a meeting the Massachusetts rarely accepts them.  He mentioned a number of the total accepted and I can’t recall it, but it was fewer than 10.

So we are trying to move Alice forward in preparing for the disaster that is the MCAS.  Fortunately, we have Alice and I have hope and belief in her: