As executive director of TASH, a disability research and advocacy organization, I was shocked by Virginia Education Secretary Anne Holton’s description in her July 5 Local Opinions essay, “Examining our school tests,” of “barely verbal” students being “drilled incessantly.” Ms. Holton’s choice of words suggested that students with disabilities are unable to learn. That is wrong for many reasons.
Students who have disabilities that limit verbal speech do not necessarily have limits on their intellectual capacity. One has to consider only Stephen Hawking and Helen Keller to understand this. Students with intellectual disabilities and who are “barely verbal” can perform on tests when they are taught academic material and when their communication needs are addressed. Most students with disabilities learn best in general education classrooms surrounded by their non-disabled peers. As adults, these students are more likely to be employed in good jobs and lead more-independent lives than students who were educated in classrooms focused on “independent living.”
Students with disabilities cannot prepare for the adult world when they are not given the chance to fully engage with the world as children. The least dangerous assumption is to teach all students well with the expectation that learning is occurring. Students deserve no less.
Barbara R. Trader, Annandale