The Lindsay Lohan Award for Poor Judgment or Dopey Doings in the Annals of Testing

  • 21 July, 2013

Lindsay Lohan is a model of bad choices and poor judgments. Her crazy decisions have undermined her talent, wealth, and most important relationships. She is the epitome of bad decision making (type “ridiculous behavior” or “dopey decisions” into Google and see how fast her name comes up). Given that, it is fitting to name an award for bad judgment after her.

Who is the recipient of the Lindsay? I think the most obvious choice would be PARCC, one of the multi-state consortium test developers. According to Education Week, PARCC will allow its reading test to be read to struggling readers. I assume if students suffer from dyscalculia, they’ll be able to bring a friend to handle the multiplication for them, too.

Because some students suffer from disabilities it is important to provide them with tests that are accessible. No one in their right mind would want blind students tested with traditional print; Braille text is both necessary and appropriate. Similarly, students with severe reading disabilities might be able to perform well on a math test, but only if someone read the directions to them. In other cases, magnification or extended testing times might be needed.

However, there is a long line of research and theory demonstrating important differences in reading and listening. Most studies have found that for children, reading skills are rarely as well developed as listening skills. By eighth grade, the reading skills of proficient readers can usually match their listening skills. However, half the kids who take PARCC won’t have reached eighth grade, and not everyone who is tested will be proficient at reading. Being able to decode and comprehend at the same time is a big issue in reading development. 

I have no problem with PARCC transforming their accountability measures into a diagnostic battery—including reading comprehension tests, along with measures of decoding and oral language. But if the point is to find out how well students read, then you have to have them read. If for some reason they will not be able to read, then you don’t test them on that skill, and you admit that you couldn’t test them. But to test listening instead of reading with the idea that they are the same thing for school age children flies in the face of logic and a long history of research findings. (Their approach does give me an idea: I've always wanted to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, despite not having a career in baseball. Maybe I can get PARCC to come up with an accommodation that will allow me to overcome that minor impediment.)  

The whole point of the CCSS standards was to make sure that students would be able to read, write, and do math well enough to be college- and career-ready. Now PARCC has decided reading isn’t really a college- or career-ready skill. No reason to get a low reading score, just because you can't read. I think you will agree with me that PARRC is a very deserving recipient of the Lindsay Lohan Award for Poor Judgment; now pass that bottle to me, I've got to drive home soon.



See what others have to say about this topic.

Varner Jun 19, 2017 10:40 PM


Thank you very much for this post. Sad all wrapped up in hysterical but not surprising.

Timothy Shanahan Jun 19, 2017 10:40 PM


It is very sad. I believe that schools, districts, and states will shuttle thousands of kids onto the Special Education rolls as a result. The cost to tax payers will be in the millions of dollars, and the cost to kids will be unestimable. Sad and hysterical, indeed.

Tami Wilson Jun 19, 2017 10:41 PM


Thanks for the post. PARCCs decision and the interpretations some are making regarding the standards definitely has the potential to widen the achievement gap. I also noticed in an SBAC presentation that they have listed "Text-to-Speech" modifications on their Matrix of Accessibility Features. It is listed in the column under ISAAP, which does NOT require documentation. This has the potential to be problematic as well.

Timothy Shanahan Jun 19, 2017 10:41 PM


One of the things that is so fascinating about these decisions is how inconsistent they are with the PARCC vision statement: I guess they have given up on the idea of building "a pathway to college and career readiness by the end of high school, mark students’ progress toward this goal from 3rd grade up, and provide teachers with timely information to inform instruction and provide student support." After all these years, to find out that decoding is no longer a necessary part of reading is a pretty big shock.

Anitra Butler Jun 19, 2017 10:41 PM


Typically, if instruction uses a read-to accommodation, then assessment should include a read-to accommodation. Hence, if the reading instruction that students with disabilities have primarily been receiving is chock full of read-to accommodations, then students with disabilities begin to depend upon that accommodation and never learn to fully read for themselves. If we really want to foster reading independence in students with disabilities, then we will have to use close reading and repeated reading consistently during instruction in order to scaffold struggling readers to self-sufficient reading.

Diane Golden Jun 19, 2017 10:42 PM


To provide a very different perspective, students will disabilities are legally entitled to equitable access to an assessment. That means students with disabilities should have the right to use their assistive technology to access the content of the assessment. In the case of print, converting that print into another form (such as audio) is done via technology. This is the way students with disabilities will access print in college and their careers. It is a lifelong way of “reading” for these students. At some point in their educational career a decision was made to utilize some form of “text-to-speech” technology to compensate for their reading skill deficit to ensure they had access to the curricula and could reach their highest educational achievement. The PARCC policy simply allows these students to demonstrate academic content proficiency in the same way they will do so in college and the same way they will perform their job functions. To prohibit them from using this technology and perform poorly on the assessment provides a very inaccurate picture of their true college and career readiness.

Timothy Shanahan Jun 19, 2017 10:42 PM


That makes sense Diane, or it would if there were some way of measuring this disability separate from the poor performance in the academic skill itself, and if the accommodation hadn't been found to provide an enhanced level of performance (school age kids understand more that they listen to than that they read).

Decoding is central to reading; often when someone has difficulty reading something they ask somebody else what the text says (this is very common in countries like Egypt with high illiteracy rates, and it likely happens in colleges and on the job in the U.S.). It isn't an accommodation, it is a work around--since I can't read how else can I find out. As such this accommodation should be available to everybody or at least kids should be allowed to ask each other what the text says. The problem, of course, is that it twists the purpose of the testing so badly that we can't find out how well our population can read.

Diane Golden Jun 19, 2017 10:43 PM


Your response seems to make a bright-line distinction between written language and oral language. For students with disabilities these kinds of distinctions must be “bridged” due to the disability. You must be able to convert information into different forms for people with disabilities to access it (auditory to visual to tactile and all combinations). Based on this distinction between oral and written language, it seems you are saying that a student who has a decoding problem should be scored non-proficient on all of the English/Language Arts assessment (the whole academic area) because of the access skill deficit. For students with disabilities, we know when they have decoding problems as we have reams of diagnostic information about the minutia of that skill deficit. And we are trying or have tried every instructional technique that has any kind of proven efficacy to remediate those specific skill deficits. However, these students can achieve independent academic proficiency in English/Language Arts and non-decoding reading areas with the use of AT to compensate for their skill deficit. And they can be highly successful in college and careers using AT. It just seems illogical to deny them use of the AT so that the CCSS assessment can say they are “non-proficient”. That would seem to make the CCSS assessment an invalid measure of their true college and career readiness.

Dr. Dea Conrad-Curry Jun 19, 2017 10:43 PM


I understand the basis of your position, but PARCC has made clear the use of this accommodation will invalidate the student's reading score, their assessment outcomes will be notated, " claims should be inferred regarding the student’s ability to demonstrate foundational print reading skills (decoding and fluency). Ongoing instruction in the foundational skills should be provided to allow students to continue to attain the important college and career-ready skill of independent reading" (Draft PARCC Accessibility Features and Accommodations Manual, June 2013, p. 29). Statistical perameters imposed by NCLB requirements currently subject students who through no fault of their own or their teachers cannot read at or near grade level. What point is there is making students who cannot read sit through painful exams year in and year out. What research says that debasement strengthens decoding skills? See my blog: What is the Fairness in Forcing Standardized Assessment on Special Needs Students?

Sharron Rush Jun 19, 2017 10:44 PM


I appreciate that another perspective is explained here - thanks Diane. However I am puzzled by your mocking tone, Tim because I believe that this is a question that deserves serious consideration. There are valid points of view on both sides and dismissing a technology accommodation as a "dopey doing" does not do justice to this question. For one thing, this reading accommodation is not assigned arbitrarily but is the result of recommendation from a team of educators (and parents) who know the student well and have determined that the need for accommodation exists due to a disability. An example of a disability so addressed is dyslexia. Is it not important to consider the judgement of the teachers and parents who know the student well and who have worked with him or her to improve reading skills? Are you really saying that a system-wide prohibition should be put in place that contradicts the consideration of that team? We have seen too many kids leave school in frustration because their disability was not understood or accommodated. We now have technology that allows students to process text in different ways. From my perspective, it would be dopey indeed to continue to leave these students out.

Shannon Jun 19, 2017 10:45 PM


Thank you Diane. It is unfair to call learning disabled children, their families, or the educators who are dedicated to helping them hysterical. This article shows everything that is wrong about such an outdated educational philosophy.

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The Lindsay Lohan Award for Poor Judgment or Dopey Doings in the Annals of Testing


One of the world’s premier literacy educators.

He studies reading and writing across all ages and abilities. Feel free to contact him.