Thursday, October 27, 2011

Performance Incentives Part 2

There is a very unique individual on our soccer team.  He works fairly hard and has made notable improvements, but he is, quite frankly, most likely completely unable to reach the skill level of the next least capable player on our team.  Not for many years.  There seems to be a disconnect between what his brain intends and what his muscles do in response that I would call impossible to ignore.  His movements are jerky and awkward, far beyond the point of a lanky teenager after an extreme growth spurt.  His head jostles, tilted, when he runs.  Furthermore, he has a brand of humor and interpersonal skills that initially left his teammates speechless.  When he began the season without speaking much, it seemed reasonable to hypothesize about where he fits on the autistic spectrum, but he soon opened up and became less inhibited than almost any other player.  I do not have the adequate training to postulate what makes his mind so different than that of his peers, but it's very clearly different.

The funny thing is that while he has a Gifted Individualized Education Plan (GIEP), he doesn't have any other IEP stuff or diagnosis of any sort of mental variation from the norm.  Side note; while he's considered gifted, he isn't taking any honors classes...but I don't know how common that is.  I've spoken to his guidance counselor and have information from his nurse as well.  His parents, I'm told, have some similar social characteristics.

I'll admit to having a debatably unfair curiosity about the psychology (and perhaps neurology) of this player (and perhaps his parents), but I don't want that to detract from a point I'd like to make about incentives.

This student very likely receives an "advanced" rating in most categories tested by the state, and because of that, the school has no incentive to seek clarity in their understanding of his psychology.  To clarify, a school has three possible incentives to evaluate a student for an IEP or any other form of support:

1) Parents' request.  Federal law requires that schools thoroughly follow through on these.  In this student's case, this hasn't happened and probably never will.
2) Inadequate state test scores.  As discussed in Performance Incentives Part 1, schools invest a lot of energy and resources into these students.  In this case, this incentive doesn't exist because his tests are fine.
3) Righteousness.  Alas, there isn't much room for this when higher priorities (test scores, dangerous behavioral issues, maintaining a safe environment, addressing abusive situations) exist.

The third possible incentive is one that understandably ranks low in priority, and that is the crux of the point I'm making.  If "test scores" could be removed from the list of things that trump a righteous moral obligation to understand every student well enough to prepare them as well as possible for their adult lives, schools would be more capable of providing their best support to every student.

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