62°
UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Dyslexics Aren’t the Problem: the System Is

If you’ve grown up in public school, the two words you probably feared the most were  “standardized testing.” Since the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) passed in 2001, schools are mandated to test their students with mandatory exams, such as the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS). These tests are meant to show where the students are in their educational level so that schools can see what needs to be improved on. The main problem with this is that all of the tests are relatively the same, yet not every student learns the same way, especially those with learning disabilities such as dyslexia.

Dyslexia is a learning disorder where the afflicted person has trouble reading and understanding words, letters, and symbols. While being a large hindrance, this does not affect general intelligence. This disorder affects one-fifth of the population. Can you see the problem here? If these standardized tests are created with the mindset that almost every student knows everything that every other student knows, that they all learn the same, and that they are able to take tests like the rest of the students, then where does this leave students with learning disorders?

According to the MCAS website (www.doe.mass.edu), they offer an alternative test for students with disabilities. The problem is that they state that only about one percent of students statewide are allowed to take it. With only one percent of students able to take the alternative test, that leaves the other nineteen percent of students with dyslexia or similar learning disabilities to contend with the regular test. To qualify for the alternative test, students must have severe cognitive disabilities or have significant challenges with taking standardized tests. This alternative test is meant for students with severe learning disabilities who would not be able to test otherwise. MCAS only offers students with “average” learning disabilities limited accommodations “if possible.” The website even offers a diagnostic flow chart to help visitors tell whether or not a student needs this.

The largest problem with these criteria is that students who have common learning disabilities are not getting the help they need and deserve. Dyslexia affects people of every race and gender, and anyone could have it. These students are forced to sit in classes with students who are better suited than they are for it. How do you imagine these students feel, seeing their classmates thrive while they struggle? You have to go through a series of tests just to be “diagnosed” with dyslexia, and that’s only the beginning. From there you have to deal with public school systems that think that they know what is best for the afflicted student, only offering accommodations that they think the student needs, not what the student actually needs.

Dyslexics have a very specific way they learn, which isn’t worse than the way students without disorders learn; it’s just different. Teachers should all be taught the former method first, so that they can teach the entire class this way. How is it fair that a dyslexic has to sit in a class where they struggle to learn and everyone else doesn’t, when there is a way to teach everyone equally so that they don’t feel like outcasts?

But it’s not the teacher’s fault; it’s the way they were taught. Most college teaching programs offer teaching and teaching for the disabled, but not together. Most teachers are not taught what dyslexia is, let alone how to spot it in a classroom. This makes is especially hard for students to get diagnosed with dyslexia because in order for the school to recognize the student as dyslexic, they must clearly show signs of it in the classroom. And in order for the student to get aid on the MCAS, they have to prove their disability and use accommodations in school. Teachers being unable to spot dyslexia in the classroom make it extremely difficult for students to get diagnosed, so many of them face uphill battles against the schools and MCAS committee all because they can’t get recognized.
This issue affects me personally because both of my brothers and father have it, my little brother having it the worst. I’ve grown up seeing him struggle through schools and hearing my parents talk about how these schools don’t want to give him the help he needs. The school system sees him as a nuisance, rather than a student that wants to learn and needs help. He is a smart kid and anyone that has met him can see that. The problem isn’t the students with learning disabilities; the problem is with the school system pushing them aside like they are outcasts and the state treating everyone like they are all the same.