Speed Tests: How Teachers Can Make or Break Special Education

October 12, 2018 | Adam Fishbein, 2018 AAPD Summer Intern

Author’s Note: Some names have been changed in this post to protect the privacy of those individuals.

I leaned over my elementary school desk, intent on finishing the speed test before time ran out. “Time’s up! Pencils down! Hands face down on your desk!” said my first-grade teacher Mrs. Smith. For a moment, her words didn’t register. “Adam, pencil down!” she yelled, storming over to my desk. I watched in shock as she promptly snatched the pencil out of my hands, pulled the test off the tabletop, and ripped it in half.

When I got off the bus that day, I said to my mother, “I hate Mrs. Smith. She ripped up my test.” My mom was shocked. That night, she called the teacher and asked if what I told her was true. Mrs. Smith denied it and said I must’ve been confused. My mother believed her at first. Then, at a Parent Teacher Organization meeting the next day, another parent came up to her and said her son had been upset the previous day about the same thing.

My mother did some digging and confirmed through multiple other parents that Mrs. Smith had, in fact, ripped up my test and lied about it. My parents were furious. They confronted her and she, again, lied right to their faces. Then, after my parents left, she said to the class, “You know I didn’t rip up Adam’s test.”

There are a few glaring problems with this scenario. First, a teacher should never lie to a parent about what happened in their classroom. This action breaks the crucial trust that parents put in their child’s teachers when they send them off to school every day. The second problem is that Mrs. Smith was not following my Individualized Education Plan (IEP), which said I wouldn’t have to take timed tests because of my processing delay. An IEP spells out any supports, accommodations or specialized instruction a special education student in public school needs to succeed. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), teachers and administrators are required to implement the plan. However, an IEP is only as effective as the teacher’s willingness to follow it.

Fortunately for future students, Mrs. Smith retired several years ago. However, I’m sure there are many others like her. My parents advocated for me and I was switched to a different class for the rest of first grade, but this story has stayed with me to this day as a reminder of why I want to spend my career improving the lives of people with disabilities. With a rate of 1 in 5 Americans with disabilities, this population is the largest marginalized minority group in our country and the most underrepresented. Providing equal opportunity in education from a young age is one of the best ways we can improve the lives of people with disabilities. That starts with hiring teachers who will advocate for the individual needs of all students, no matter how difficult it may be, and firing the teachers who do not have students’ success as their top priority.


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Adam Fishbein is a 2018 AAPD Summer Intern. He interned with the National Center on Learning Disabilities.

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