Jewel Topsfield September 10, 2010
A 17-year-old student with autism is suing the Education Department for discrimination because his teacher refused to modify questions in his maths tests.
Lewis Walton, who received an A-plus in general maths and B-plus in maths methods in year 11, said his scores plunged in VCE specialist maths because his language difficulties meant he struggled to interpret open-ended questions that related to real-life situations.
''I was sitting there freaking out and I had to leave the test halfway through. Sometimes when I get stressed my eyes go fuzzy and I was about to pass out,'' he said.
He became so anxious about the School Assessed Classwork tests (SACs) that he was almost admitted to hospital two weeks ago and left Frankston's Mount Erin College last week.
Lewis will allege in the Federal Court that the school discriminated against him under the Disability Discrimination Act by refusing to remove open-ended questions and those containing analogies.
He said his teacher refused to modify the test questions despite knowing he had autism and pragmatic language disorder.
''His exact words, in a sarcastic tone, were that other kids in my class have diagnoses too. To me it came across as: 'We don't treat other kids with disabilities properly, so why should we treat you properly?' ''
In one SAC, students were asked to solve a series of problems about complex roots. They were then asked to summarise the significance of the results and where they could lead. ''I went nuts - philosophy and maths doesn't make sense to me,'' Lewis said.
Although VCE end-of-year exams did not use the English format, SACs scores comprised 50 per cent of his assessment.
Discrimination advocate Julie Phillips said the Disability Discrimination Act required schools to consult with disabled students and then make reasonable modifications.
''He is not asking for any big deal, he is asking for them to stick with the standard for maths tests,'' Ms Phillips said. ''The fact he has had to sue the state of Victoria and the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) is outrageous.''
Mount Erin College co-principal Karen Lee refused to comment. But in minutes of a meeting on June 17, Ms Lee said the specialist maths SACs had been sent to the VCAA to verify whether the language used was appropriate for students with language difficulties. ''The SACs were deemed to be fair and did not pose any language difficulties,'' she said in the minutes.
A spokeswoman said the Education Department strongly denied any allegation of unlawful conduct but said it was inappropriate to comment as the matter was the subject of confidential proceedings at the Australian Human Rights Commission. ''The college and the department take their obligations under anti-discrimination laws extremely seriously,'' she said. ''The department is committed to working with all students and their families to support them in achieving the very best educational outcomes.''