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Story Time...

Over my two decades in education, I’ve had the opportunity to hold many exciting positions but the  one that is dearest to my heart is when I was a principal at a state school. My students were deaf  and/or hard of hearing, and they taught me so much about life, diversity, equity, and inclusion. This  is where my desire for advocacy was birthed! Here’s the story. I was hired to increase the school’s  graduation rate that was well below the state’s requirements. So, it was a surprise when during my  first year in a new state, on a new job, my heart skipped a beat or two when I opened up the writing  prompt for the state’s writing assessment. It’s been nearly twenty years and I still remember the  prompt, “How Does Listening to Music Make You Feel?” I am fairly sure that after you read the  prompt, you too are now thinking exactly what I was thinking almost twenty years ago. How can a  student with a total loss of hearing and/or hard of hearing really answer this question in its totality?  My deaf students later told me that although they were not able to hear the music, they could feel  the vibrations from the music and that was important. However, it is without debate that the  question still had a level of bias. Knowing this, I wanted to jump into action, but I confess that at 34 and this being only my second principalship, I really didn’t know what the first action step should  be. When I recovered from the shock of the prompt, I put in a call to the state’s assessment  department.  

I remember the call like yesterday. I spoke with the assistant superintendent over assessment and  explained that we were definitely facing a quagmire. That conversation catapulted a series of events  and actions that positioned me and my staff to receive support from the state department that had  never happened before. From this interaction, the state department gained insights into the issue of  test bias concerning students with sensory disabilities, and we successfully addressed and  rectified the situation. Each year, the education department met with a team of teachers around the  state to look at assessment questions and give voice on whether or not the questions were biased  towards any group of students. What was missing, representation from schools for students with  disabilities as well as teachers with sensory disabilities. That summer, my teachers received a seat  at the table! The state department provided interpreters and my teachers educated others about  sensory disabilities and highlighted how test questions could introduce bias, thereby hindering  student achievement. My teachers also learned during those summer sessions as well, and I dare  say that the collaboration helped to close some academic and opportunity gaps. When I tell this  story people often want to know whether or not my students still had to take the writing  assessment? My students all wanted to answer the prompt. They thought that it was important for  them to let people know that they are just like everyone else with perfect hearing. I share this story  because as we discuss DEI along with the various definitions, it is important to keep in mind that we  all grow and learn when we accept each other’s differences and experiences. Let’s continue to  educate all students. 


Linda, Lead Learner

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