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Feeling Discouraged

So let me take a moment out of my usual posts and have a pity-party.  We've spent the last few weeks doing our state standardized testing, end-of-the-year tests, and finishing out IEP reviews.  

In my state, 3rd grade is the BIG testing year.  Students must pass the FCAT to move onto 4th grade.  In case they don't pass the FCAT, there is a back-up plan that is the 3rd grade portfolio.  Basically, it's 14 cold read comprehension passages covering different areas (Main Idea, Context Clues, Multiple Meaning Words, Author's Purpose, etc.).  The students have 3 rounds to take the 14 different passages and must get at least 5 questions right on each area during those 3 rounds.  

Sounds fairly easy enough right.......basically 14 passages in total and they only need to get 5 out of 15 questions correct to be considered passing on each of the 14 passages.  We did round 1 in January and we're doing round 2 now.  If you don't pass the FCAT or the portfolio during rounds 1 & 2, you do round 3 in summer school.

However, my kids are reading below grade level and these passage are hard for them.  I feel like I've worked hard this year with them....real hard.  We've done 2 direct instruction programs working on decoding skills.  I pushed them hard through those programs.  We've done guided reading.  We've worked on fluency.  We've done weekly word study where we spent a lot of time working on phonics patterns.  I've done a bunch of comprehension lessons.  

And they've made progress!  A lot of progress.  Most of my students came at a 1st grade reading level and are now reading on a 2nd grade reading level.  If you checked out my fluency post {here}, you saw how one of my kids started the year reading a VERY basic 1st grade passage at 13 wpm and is now reading a 2nd grade passage at 50 wpm.  Now that's a whole LOT of progress!!

So while I keep trying to tell myself that we've come a long way, these kids are doing great, I've improved their reading progress........I'm sitting here asking myself have I done enough?  What else could I have done?  I didn't take them from reading on a 1st grade level to reading on grade level (3rd grade).  Is there a way to do that?  What am I missing here?  There seems to be a lot of pressure to hold special ed students to the same standards as gen ed students.  Parents want their kids on grade level.  And believe me, I want my kids on grade level.  Is there some program I'm missing out on?  Some instruction I'm not doing?  Something I could do better?

I'm having a hard time here and feeling really discouraged.  Do other special ed teachers feel this way?  Is there a magic solution out there that people use to bring kids up to grade level when they're so far behind?  How do you guys feel about your students' progress?


  1. I am a former special ed teacher. I get what you are saying, but am going to try to put it in perspective. These students spent three years in school before this year and after three years in school were reading at a first grade level. It took them THREE years to get to the first grade level. Then what happened? You, my dear, helped them get to the second grade level in one year!!! That is phenomenal! (...and you have some time left). Once a child is behind it is so hard to get caught up. These children who have made minimal progress in the past, have to make more than a year's growth each year to get caught up. If you are able to get these kiddos to make just a little more growth this year and then do the same thing next year, they might be caught up at the end of fourth or fifth grade.

    Bear in mind that it took them three years to get this far behind. If in three years you can help them arrive at grade level, you are a miracle worker. Really and truly!!!

    Hang in there and keep up the good work!!!
    An Open Door

  2. I totally understand this feeling!!! It is so hard. Sometimes when writing goals, I have such a hard time because I need to "close the gap" but I also have to write a realistic goal, and I know that it isn't realistic that they will make over a year of progress in some cases. You should be very proud of yourself with the progress your students have made. They have made huge gains! Great job! I'd actually love to know what kind of strategies and things you use because some of my kids do not seem to retain much at all or make progress... or if they do make progress.... they lose it after awhile. I teach students with Emotional Disabilities and other eligibility categories that have a Behavior Plan. I have students that refuse to take tests, shut down, throw fits, or just guess. I try incentives, social stories, etc... but I constantly worry about that because I don't feel like I'm doing enough for them... but when it comes down to it.. I can only do so much to prepare them and to reinforce them, but I can't force anything or make them try. It is so hard! Please know you aren't alone, but you did a great job with your students!

  3. I completely know where you are coming from, our assessments are done in the fall so we are getting results now from the state, it's disappointing when I see my students scores, I know they've made a lot of progress but they still need to make so much more! This year I'm teaching K and it's been a long year, most still don't know all their letters it makes me really sad but when I think about where they came from (not knowing any letters or even their own names) and I understand that their disability it why they are learning at a slower rate I do get why they are not at grade level. Still to be so far behind at such a young age is heart breaking, I'm always wondering if they will ever catch up especially with the increasing demands being rolled out with the common core and a completely new state test that I honestly looked at and cried thinking about how many of my high school students could not pass that third grade test right now. It's always a struggle as a special education teacher, I want them to excel, but reality is they have a disability, and most likely will always be behind the gap you've closed with your students truly is amazing!!!


  4. I completely agree with Camille! If you are able to get a kid with special needs to make a year's worth of progress in one year of time, that is AMAZING!! They wouldn't be in special ed if they didn't have special needs. I agree with you so much that special needs shouldn't be held at the same standard as their gen ed peers.

    Our state passed a similar law this year for our 3rd graders. If they don't "pass" they do not pass to the 4th grade. However, we do have exceptions. Any child with an IEP or who is the RTI process can continue on to 4th grade even if they do not pass the test.

    I do wish there was a "magic" program that worked for our kids the way all other reading programs work for other kids. I have a small group of 1st/2nd graders that I have worked so hard with this year, but nothing seems to work for them. It is so frustrating (for me and them) to work so hard day after day with so little progress. I'm off to check out your fluency post. Sounds like I need to borrow some of your amazing ideas and put them to use in my room!

    Try not be discouraged. Celebrate your many successes! Sounds like your students have truly earned a celebration for all of their hard work! Congrats on your success this year.


  5. I definitely agree with what all of you are saying! As special educators I think we always question "have I done enough?" But we have to remember we are working with special, amazing, teach-us-something-new-everyday kids and they are learning and growing even if the test doesn't say they are. All we can do is keep working at it. For me, especially this time of year I always ask myself what the heck I did all year thinking that there is so much more I could have done. Hang in there and keep doing what you're doing because those kids are making awesome progress!


  6. I too teach special Ed, students w autism, intellectual disabilities and traumatic brain injury. Testing is so hard! My students struggle to even color in the lines of the bubbles, much less read and answer them! Yet they have made amazing progress from not talking to reading cvc words and facing the right direction when I talk to them and going to the regular boy's bathroom without freaking out...where is the tests for those things???

  7. love2read- You are so right. My TA and I often talk about making a list of all those skills we teach, but will never be on the test. If our kids can't master all of those other skills (look at the person who is talking to you, going to the bathroom independently, walking up and down the steps quickly and safely, handling frustration, asking for help, etc. ) how will they ever function as an adult? It's so hard to keep it all in perspective sometimes. We teach our kids more than we realize, but it is so easy to become discouraged especially during testing time.


    1. I've been thinking about doing a linky party on this subject for awhile and finally decided to start it. You all are welcome to link up and list all those skills we teach everyday that will never be on a state test. You can link up here:

  8. We all feel the same way! I'm working with one child who was reading 2 wpm when I began working with her. 2 1/2 years later, she is reading an average of about 95. She had to have lots of outside help to achieve that goal. Hang in there and know that you are making a huge difference!

  9. I know your feeling exactly! I teach 8th grade resource Pre-Algebra and I get so excited to see how much they have improved, but then comes the standardized tests. My students are not on portfolio, but will be when they get to high school. You are doing a great job! It really takes a special person to teach special education and I never realized that until I took this position. Keep your head up!

  10. I have to say all of your comments really made me feel better. I was really down in the dumps this week and just feeling like an uneffective teacher. I really needed to hear some perspectives from others who were in my shoes. I don't need a state test to tell me that my kids are below grade level! I know that everyday! I just wish there was a way to show their growth on THEIR ability level. I'm constantly giving them all these grade-level tests that they don't do well on. I wish for once they would give them tests that showed their TRUE instructional level and where they need the most help. That is something I could actually use, instead of telling me something I already know.

  11. You should be so proud of your student and all of this progress! I too teach spec. ed. and the pressure from state testing and how parents perceive these scores are incredible! It sounds like the state of Florida also doesn't understand what a disability means if they expect all 3rd graders to pass at grade level standards.

    Thank you for this post. I've been doing a ton of triennials and feeling frustrated that they have not made as much progress as I had hoped.

    Wishing your kiddo's success on the FCAT next week!

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