I just spent most of my week with a delightful young woman. She is a college student, majoring in art and hoping to combine her love of animals, photography, and children by having her own photography studio. Currently, she is attending her third semester of college, successfully completing her math and art classes, but unable to pass the Reading exit exam due to the writing component. Unfortunately, if she does not pass the reading exam this semester, she will not be able to continue her college career. Her college counselor advised her to seek an educational assessment and obtain a diagnosis of a Specific Learning Disorder to have the needed accommodations to continue in college. This is where I came into the picture.
I was fortunate enough to complete her assessment. I found this young lady to be one of the most driven, committed, and positive people I have met in a long time. At one point in the assessment, I do not remember what prompted the exclamation, she said, “Hope is so important to moving forward. If you don’t have hope, you don’t have tomorrow.” I wish I could accurately capture the belief and commitment expressed through her facial expression. Her statement seemed to be a mantra often recited, spoken or unspoken. The more I learned about her life, the more amazed I was by this apparent resilience and determination.
Upon investigating her educational history, I discovered, she has received special education services since she was in PK, including occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech therapy. At the age of 2-years-old, she had a spontaneous cognitive event, resulting in a significant speech and language delay. She did not begin to put words together to communicate until she was about 8-years-old. Her articulation continues to make it difficult to understand her verbal communication.
To guide my assessment, I looked back at her special education reports and programming to try and find her exiting levels of performance in reading, writing, and math. The statement about her present levels of reading performance indicated she had difficulty comprehending what she was reading at her Lexile level; however, there was no mention of her actual Lexile level in the paperwork. No accurate depiction of her literacy level. The description of her skill level was less than transparent by the exclusion of an accurate statement about her academic skill performance. Her family was not prepared for the challenges their daughter would face in college.
The results of her current comprehensive assessment indicated this beautiful young lady’s reading level is between first and second grade depending on the specific task. She has difficulty writing a complete sentence accurately expressing her thoughts. Her cognitive abilities indicate average performance. She is smart. She will gladly and accurately discuss the impact of historical events. She loves history and art-hates politics, the negative impact of technology on our initiative, and a woman’s lack of opportunity in the work place. She shared her latest photography project proudly with me, which illustrated her eye for angles and perspective.
My experience with this client reminds me, once again, of our need to see beyond a person’s differences so we do not miss the incredible spirit and talents they may bring to our world. This young lady has a great deal to give, but the danger, set up by our educational and postsecondary systems, is she may not have the opportunity to develop those specific skills and talents to support her community and consequently our economy. Our schools need to accurately depict a student’s skill level without fear of penalty by the state or federal government. We need to promote art and music, demonstrating the value of these skills. Our communities, state, and federal governments need to wake up to our need for a skilled workforce, providing opportunities for options beyond the traditional four-year college track.