Zach Hoaglund has autism. The 19-year-old from Cooper City could not pass the FCAT in high school, but he is making it through his freshman year at Broward College.
“Well, standardized testing will not measure the ability of a child with a disability,” said his mom, Stacey Hoaglund.
She works for an agency called the Family Network on Disabilities. It helps parents and their special needs kids get the help they need to succeed in school.
“Because I’ve seen countless children with disabilities do amazing things,” Hoaglund says. “The information that they store in their brains and how they process information can sometimes knock your socks off, but it is not following a standard rule.”
Hoaglund is a crusader against standardized testing for kids with disabilities. The state teachers’ union, the Florida Education Association, just made a series of videos illustrating extreme cases. In one, you see a teacher reading a scenario to a child who is in a wheelchair and obviously unable to follow along, then a script pops up on the screen that says, “The Florida Legislature requires Joseph to take this test!”
“It’s horrifying to watch a child go through that,” says a woman identified as Joseph’s mother in the video.
“And I don’t really think it’s fair for anyone who has autism to take these tests,” said Zach Hoaglund.
He got an FCAT waiver and other special accommodations, worked extremely hard, and graduated from Cooper City High School. His mother said she went “kicking and screaming” all the way to the governor’s office about her son having to take standardized tests, which are not designed for a kid with autism.
“Questions like, what was the author thinking when he wrote this story? My son’s never going to be able to answer that question,” Hoaglund said.
In Florida, every student in public school, no matter how disabled they are, must take a standardized test, either the FCAT or the Florida Alternate Assessment. Another video from the FEA shows a teacher reading aloud and showing diagrams to a boy in a wheelchair named Luis. Then we learn that Luis is blind.
“It’s not fair at all,” Stacey Hoaglund says, perhaps stating the obvious.
Some key legislators have publicly stated that they understand the absurdity of the situation, and the legislature is going to consider changes to how special needs kids are tested. But it’s anybody’s guess how far-reaching those changes will be, or whether they actually will get passed into law.