Students with Disabilities (SWD) and Students with learning difficulties (Sld) are provided with reasonable adjustments to classroom strategies, resources and assessments so they are not disadvantaged. It is often difficult for educators to determine the most appropriate adjustments and whether or not they are reasonable. A reasonable adjustment for one student is not necessarily reasonable for another. The use of an education assistant (EA) to “help” with assessment is a common support strategy. Therefore, EAs need to have the skills necessary to support students in the testing situation without taking over and completing the task on behalf of the student.
Teachers want their students to succeed. After spending five or more weeks teaching specific knowledge and skills to their students and revising this content, teachers need to assess the understanding that has been gained. When administering assessment it can be very frustrating for a teacher to see students struggling to show what they know. The level of support or adjustment that a teacher gives can impact greatly on the end result a student achieves. Finding the balance between prompting and taking over is difficult. Teachers often walk a fine line when assisting students to get by. Considering the difficulty that teachers experience the importance of professional development for EAs is obvious.
Education Assistants work to build positive relationships with their students and have the opportunity to do so in several subject areas. Many EAs will see particular students several times a week as they work in various classes with the student. Teachers may only see these same students twice a week and are not able to take as much time building a rapport. EAs will usually have a better idea of the capabilities of a student and things that impact this such as: behaviours, learning styles, special interests, family, background, triggers and how often they need to rest. The desire an EA has to see his/her students succeed is often greater than that of the teacher. This is especially true when the EA has worked with the student for a number of years. Testing situations can place the EA in a compromising and confusing position as they battle between keeping it positive and ensuring the student given the grade they deserve.
The question is: HOW MUCH HELP IS TOO MUCH?
This question is asked by EA’s in every school. Both trainee and experienced EA’s alike will wonder if they are helping too much or if they need to do more. Maintaining the delicate balance between just enough and too much is difficult for everyone and the level of support required will change for each student. Remember: what is reasonable for one student may not be reasonable for another.
LEGISLATION and POLICY
It is important for EA’s and classroom teachers to be aware of the policies and recommendations set forward by the governing body of education in the state and district. Policy Documents are a good starting point for this and can be accessed, in most cases, online.
HEAD OF DEPARTMENT
While it is useful for EA’s to be aware of the department policy, it is more important for them to know what the head of department expects. It is easy to become overwhelmed with technical jargon and confusing processes written in policy documents. Therefore, the head of department needs to be clear when outlining expectations for support staff and communicating these expectations to classroom teachers.
There are times when EA’s are given very little warning (5 minutes or less) that the student they are working with will be completing
assessment during the lesson. In this situation it is practically impossible to prepare for the situation and ensure a level of support has been negotiated between the classroom teacher and education assistant. When possible, teachers need to explain the assessment item and criteria to the support staff (more than one Education Assistant may be required over a period of time). It might also be helpful for teachers to share their own techniques for supporting students during assessment, especially in terms of language, suggested examples and class notes they could access.
When the EA has been working in the classroom with the student and has extensive background knowledge of the subject matter as well as the student, this needs to be acknowledged. The EA needs to be recognised as a knowledgeable member of the team supporting the student. At the same time, the EA needs to remember the purpose of the assessment and the criteria, ensuring that it is the student’s knowledge and skills that are being used to complete the assessment.
I hope that has given you something to think about.