“This summer I had to say goodbye to my son Judah’s private preschool.; the place that loved him so good, that embraced inclusion and who’s name, translated, means ‘to set free.’ It was excruciatingly difficult to recognize that the bubble would be popped the second he walked into public school for kindergarten.
Fast forward to the fall. I went in with an open, yet, skeptical heart. After all, I am a kindergarten teacher in a public school. I know the demands put on these kids, I knew my Judah was going to be the youngest kiddo in that school (missing the cut off date by one day) And I know all too well how entirely overwhelming it is to tend to every child the way you’d like, when the obligations come at you like a tsunami.
We met to discuss his goals early in the school year; a circle of his teachers, physical therapist, occupational therapist, speech therapist, adaptive physical education teacher, vision therapist, my husband and myself. I was used to this kind of circle. I had been here many times at his pre-k. The one where we would laugh about all Judah’s cute quirks and everyone would rave about his marvelous hugs and incredible effort. Then we would talk delays and my stomach would knot, my eyes would brim and I would self-talk the sh*t out of myself reminding myself that this was the only way to get him all the services he needed.
This circle was similar, only a little less celebration of Judah’s strengths and a little more reminding me how he is really more like a 3-year-old. That didn’t sit well with me when I left BUT we had put some good things in place and we found some wins. FYI to whoever needs to hear this: us parents hold onto those wins for dear life. They are what keeps us fighting.
A few weeks later that marigold envelope we know so well showed up in Judah’s backpack. I wasn’t expecting his report card but I was eager to see how the goals we put in place manifested themselves. Imagine my surprise when that paper was littered with the lowest scores possible. My stomach lurched, my ears got hot, my blood was boiling. Before it could all even register, I took a screen shot of his soul crushing report card and forwarded it to anyone and everyone who could help; his former teachers, friends who work in that district, colleagues, special education specialists, and family. Responses poured in about why this happened. My logical brain understood but my mommy instinct was still pissed. So I wrote a letter to the person who developed the report card and cc’d the head of special education. Below is my statement:
Per your request, I would like to offer up some feedback on the current report card. As an educator and a parent of a child with Down syndrome in your district, I am very disappointed in the way my son is represented in this report card. Judah is a 5-year-old boy at ******** elementary and turned 5 on November 30th (yes, one day before the cutoff.) Judah works really hard and enjoys school. He has been attending school since he was 1 years old and also received EI since he was a mere 13 days old.
Judah received all 1’s on this report card and mostly ‘L’s’ in habits of the worker. Because of my concern at these alarming scores, I reached out to many colleagues, educator friends as well as his teacher. The consensus is that Judah is getting these scores because they are standards based and Judah is not meeting the standards. My concern is that the standards increase as the year moves on, meaning Judah will probably receive 1’s all year.
Please imagine the defeat a mother and father feel when it seems as though their son is making no growth, especially when you watch him shine every day. Now imagine how this little boy will feel when he understands his own report card and what those 1’s will signify??? As Judah’s biggest advocate and voice, I urge you have compassion and empathy for this situation.
As a kindergarten teacher myself, it is frowned upon to give 1’s in the first marking period because all students are just beginning to learn. I do understand all districts are different, and we operate on a 1-4 scoring situation. That being said, my suggestion is this: Meet these kiddos where they are. Adapt their report cards so that they reflect the growth that we see every day OR disregard report cards all together for students with special needs and solely focus on their IEP goals. There are so many situations in which children with disabilities are overlooked or not considered. Let’s not make the legal document called ‘report card’ one of them.
I never did receive a response to my letter, but I did post it on social media. The comments I received made a world of difference. Here are what some people said:
‘Absolutely!! That is insane to me! I’ve always said that we need to celebrate each time a child gets from Point A to Point B, not everybody gets from A to Z at the same rate.’
‘As an OT in the public schools I completely agree.’
‘He is a precious boy and I cheer with you on all the gains he’s making every day!’
‘Doesn’t give the kids a chance. My own children went through this (LD) every assessment at their school.’
‘I have been having this same conversation. My kids have all 1’s in everything. The IEP goals only measure a few skills. So this is a big issue. Who is actually measuring their progress? I don’t even read report cards these days. Just right in the trash. It hurts so bad.’
‘Greatness is achieved not by education but by insight, dedication, heart and might!!! A sad day indeed.’
‘I don’t even read them anymore. I read the IEP, I meet with her teacher. I know she’s learning and growing and basically just amazing!’
‘I agree, you remain proud of his progress no matter what those people say. He’s a 4 in my book.’
I want you to know, you are not alone and also, here is some unsolicited advice:
Pay more attention to the people who love your child than the ones putting numbers in boxes. Focus on the wins you see. You know your kid better than that whole circle of specialists put together. And stay angry. Channel it. If used the right way, that anger will be the fuel that keeps you fighting for your child.
Side note… I was a solid C student my entire life. Getting my report card made me physically ill because I knew I’d be disappointing my parents. The minute I stopped caring, there were all A’s and B’s on that thing. I don’t know what that was about, but I know this… what that marigold rectangle handed me was:
Self-doubt, sadness, illness, shame, and fear. So don’t put too much stock in a thing that has the potential to make people feel badly about themselves. Nothing about that feels right.
In solidarity and with all my love,
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Beth Craver of New York. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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