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Fewer Special Ed. Students? Or Fewer Identified?

While some places in the country are identifying more students as having special needs, San Diego is finding fewer, reports the Voice of San Diego.

"School district officials counted nearly 1,600 fewer special education students this December than three years ago. That adds up to a 9.5 percent drop over the same time that overall enrollment fell only 1 percent," writes Emily Alpert.

Some schools in the district have become devoted users of response to intervention, or early identification of students' learning problems and the use of focused lessons, or interventions, to address those problems before they became entrenched. (My colleagues just put together a whole package of stories on response to intervention, or RTI.)

But RTI isn't used evenly in San Diego schools. The district apparently is still reeling from a report that found that minority students were especially likely to be put into special education. This is the plan they created to move forward after those findings.

The answer isn't that students are exiting special education programs in growing numbers. And there are questions about decreasing financial incentives for identifying kids as having learning disabilities, a diagnosis that has become less common, while more students are found to have autism, as in the rest of California.

Nationwide, the percentage of 3- to 21-year-old students nationwide classified as having a "specific learning disability" dropped steadily from 6.1 percent in the 2000-01 school year to 5.2 percent in 2007-08. my colleague and predecessor on this beat wrote last summer. The U.S Department of Education's 2009 Digest of Education Statistics reported that a drop from about 2.9 million to 2.6 million students.

Is this happening in your district or school? Or is the pattern exactly the opposite? Tell me about it.

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