Michael is 9 years old and has never attended school.

He was born premature at four pounds with only a brain stem and can't speak or see.

Judy Harris owns the Russell House and has cared for Michael since he was brought to her right after he was born.

A teacher works with him twice a week for an hour, but Harris wouldn’t call it schooling.

“Michael loves music, he loves to hear, and he loves for you to talk to him and things like that, but as far as testing him, or questioning him on what is an apple and a peach, what is the difference? Michael wouldn’t know what that is,” explained Harris.

Imagine the shock from Harris when she was told two months ago Michael would have to take a standardized assessment test, similar to the FCAT.

The Florida Department of Education said it’s called the Florida Alternate Assessment. Cheryl Etters, the spokesperson for the department, said under state law all students have to be assessed. She didn’t say what group Michael will fit in to or exactly how he will be assessed and scored.

“An average third grader might be at a third grade or a second grade level, or a fourth grade level, Michael, there’s no blips on the radar,” said Orange County School Board member Rick Roach.

Roach was made aware of the situation by State Representative Linda Stewart.

“A child like Michael, who was born with this condition and grows into it, the law says that these children have to be tested,” said Roach.

Both Roach and Stewart met Michael and instantly saw a problem.

“Michael can’t see, he can’t cognitively interpret that particular test and so teachers are almost being forced to move the hand into one of three boxes and then they to make the determination did he move he hand or did I move the hand. If I didn’t laugh, I’d probably cry,” said Roach.

Roach says the district has its hands tied and must comply with the law.

Stewart was in Tallahassee trying to pass an amendment to exempt students like Michael from state standardized testing.

“We can’t expect him to do something that is never going to be possible. And it’s a resource drain on, I think, our schools,” said Stewart.

The testing could also have an impact on Michael’s teacher, whose merit pay will soon be determined by the scores of her students.

“That teacher's merit pay, her evaluation, his or her career could be based on that particular evaluation and Michael’s one of many kids in the state like this,” added Roach.

Stewart said if the amendment doesn’t pass she will try again next year.

Break Out Info

Number and Percent of Students with Disabilities (SWD) who participated in the Florida Alternate Assessment (FAA) in 2011-12.

  • 20,316 or 9.9% of all SWD statewide were assessed on FAA Reading (grades 3-10)
  • 20,319 or 10.9% of all SWD statewide were assessed on FAA Math (grades 3-10)