"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Sanctioned Abuse of Special Education Students

Since passage of NCLB in 2002, about 90% of all special education students have been required to pass the high-stakes tests at the same rate that other students are required to pass. Justified on grounds that no disabled child will be left behind, millions of special education students have suffered the indignity of repeated failures over the past five years. Never mind that there has been no extra help or proposed strategy to make it possible or even likely that the vast majority of these children, emotionally disturbed or cognitively challenged, will ever pass these tests. Cruel and unusual punishment guaranteed to produce failure? Don't get me started.

This year Tweaker-in-Chief Spellngs has grudgingly acknowledged the insanity of her department's policy regarding the impossible demands placed on special populations, so that in the coming year only 70% of special education students must suffer another round of failure. From the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

. . . . One of the bedrock beliefs of No Child Left Behind is that schools should be held accountable for the academic performance of all students and should test them - in grades 3-8 and at least once during high school - to determine if they are proficient in math and reading.

But since 2004, the law has allowed schools to exclude up to 1 percent of their students with severe mental disabilities from taking the tests their peers take. Some states, such as Ohio, granted additional waivers to districts to exclude more students from regular tests.

The new rule is aimed at "gap kids" - students who are academically below grade level, but are higher-functioning than students with grave mental impairments.

Added together, the two exemptions - the original 1 percent and the new 2 percent - will exclude as many as 30 percent of all special education students from regular testing.

While that percentage scares some advocates, many educators believe it is a modest accommodation for schools and students alike.

"For an urban district, 2 percent isn't high enough," said John Foley, interim superintendent of the Toledo schools and a former special education teacher. "Giving many of these children standardized tests is incongruous to what special education is supposed to be doing."

Federal education officials insist the new 2 percent regulation in no way backs off from the law's commitment to education for all children.

"We will still hold these students to grade-level standards, but give students more time to get there," said Raymond Simon, deputy secretary for the U.S. Department of Education. "This is going to make teaching and learning for special education students a whole lot better."

More time to get there? A whole lot better? What does that mean?

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous9:43 AM

    This is my kid we're talking about: a nine-year old third-grader with higher-functioning autism.

    He wasn't excused from these tests for two reasons: one, there are too many "more involved" kids in his school, who are in effect, using up the "you are excused" slots; and two, he can pass the reading test, so even though he's two years behind in math, he couldn't be excused from either. The rule (at least in Ohio)is, if you can pass one of the tests, you must take both.

    This has the result of canceling out his IEP. Instead of concentrating on functional math skills, the ones he will need his whole life, like counting money and telling time, his teachers feel it necessary to teach him things like how to estimate and what "mode" means, because "it's on the test!"

    What makes me the most frustrated and sad is that the disability community seems to like NCLB. Yes, I know, a lot of special needs kids have been ignored academically through the years and not pushed to their full potential. But this is not the way to correct that.