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Spec. Ed. Students Being Left Behind?


A growing number of students with disabilities are being excluded from federal accountability provisions, driving up the number of public schools able to make adequate yearly progress but raising questions about the pledge to leave "no child behind." Yet-to-be-published analysis found that more than 80 percent of schools that made AYP under the federal law in 2003 or 2004 did so without having to meet standards of proficiency for their special education students as a separate subgroup.

How will this trend affect special education students? What additional steps or rules on the state and federal levels need to be implemented to address this issue? Can subgroup accountability ensure high achievement for all students?


When I posed the question to a representative of the Ohio Department of Education about the number of rural schools in Ohio in regard to the 45 limit on special education students, he evaded the question and stated that there are not that many rural schools in Ohio. This is farm country and there are many rural schools. I then addressed the next speaker on accountability and asked if he realized that schools in Ohio are cutting their numbers by taking children off IEPs to lower their numbers. He stated that this was ethically and morally wrong. My comment was that if they were ethical and moral they wouldn't be doing this in the first place. I now see that Ohio is not counting 85% of their special needs students due to the count being set at 45. Our kids are being left behind in huge numbers.

It is discouraging that this Talk Back has been here over a week and I am only the second commenter (and both of us parents).

While it is true that the numbers game does help buildings to evade accountability, the addition of testing at more grade levels has helped to boost the number of students that must be counted in each building. And districts DO feel the pressure in ways that they never did before.

I just came from an IEP meeting pleased that some of the things I have been asking for for years are finally being put into play--not just for my child, but across the Board.

Children with learning disabilities have individualized education plans for a reason. Their growth is to be measured by their goals, not by NCLB. It has nothing to do with pressure applied at a federal or state level, I teach children and as long as they are making progress toward their goals I know they are learning. It is unfair to hold students, schools and teachers accountable based on whether or not a special education child has met some pre set goal that has nothing to do with an IEP.

I too feel the frustrations of waiting for the feds to finalize laws to then be interpreted by each state. The current wait to fail system is very frustrating and I hope the revisions will look more closely at those students who are considered slow learners. They are the ones getting left behind.

It is most regretable that the U.S. Department of Education has found it necessary to let states retreat from their obligations to students with disabilities via this numbers game. The requirement to disaggregate performance by subgroup is one of the strongest drivers for change and improvement - yet, as the Center on Assessment study has shown, most states have managed to negotiate an "n" size that lets the majority of schools off the hook for the performance of students with disabilities -- at least until the year 2011.

NCLB is clear regarding the setting of "n" sizes: "a number insufficient to yield statistically reliable information or the results would reveal personally identifiable information about an individual student." Clearly, "n" sizes of 50 or more are pereposterous given these guidelines.

The outcomes experienced by students with disabilities are unacceptably low -- a drop-out rate of 41 percent - a graduation rate of just 48 percent. Students with disabilities need the accountability provisions of NCLB to gain access to better instruction, higher expectations and improved outcomes.

NCLB has transformed education into a numbers game, and perhaps this was the intent. What you have, are schools competing against each other, to stay off of the needs improvement list... and while figures don't lie, liars can figure. The easiest way to do this, is by "dumping" the bottom 10% of your students into another school, or system. As immoral as this may sound, jobs and careers are at stake, and even the best efforts of teachers, and the best intent of schools, are going to find themselves stuck with about 4% of their total student population, who are for lack of a better phrase, "holding the rest of the students back". Bottom line...there is a simple economic solution to failing schools. Change the state constitution, and privatize education. As cruel as this may sound, the notion that education can make everyone equal in this country, is ridiculous. Last year, five guns were confiscated in our school system, and two so far this year. Public schools are experiencing record numbers of assaults, rapes, thefts, vandalism, suspensions, and permanent expulsions. In one of my classes, I had a former student convicted of murder, one convicted for lewd molestation, and a former student who died from a drug overdose. Fighting breaks out at the drop of a hat, and test scores continue to plummet. Clearly, a lot of kids come to school with a lot more things on their minds, than reading and writing. NCLB puts a tremendous burden on those schools that have to deal with these problems every day. we need to have a discussion on the impact of privatizing school education, as a means of improving performance, containing costs, and addressing the social problems schools are held accountable for solving.

Accountability also means taking a serious look at local practices to assure that students are having access to meaningful learning. Policymakers simply raising the "n" will do nothing to support teachers and students in their classrooms. Touching data alone will not touch a classroom.

There needs to be less talk about making data appear better, and more action surrounding the delivery of true instruction (and how carefully selected individualized supports and services will help bring it along for students who happen to have disabilities).

The best way to realize improved results is to improve access to instruction in the first place. When are we going to hear more about this in the press?

I read these responses with interest because I too am concerned with the "numbers game" being played out in districts nation-wide. What I find most difficult to deal with is the problem of developmentally inappropriate assessments being conducted on young children. The required assessments in K-3rd grade assume all children develop reading, writing, and comprehension skills at an even rate and that all "normal" children will do well if the school/teachers do their job. This does not take into account the varying achievement levels at each grade level as well as the individual development that can vary greatly between reading and comprehension as well as the fact that many young children (especially in kindergarten and 1st grade) do not perform well on such tests. Perhaps we need to give teachers of children with special needs the freedom to assess and test their students in the way that best fits the learning needs/challenges of the individual rather than rely on a standardized test to reveal progress. A local school district psychologist often declines to formally test students at this age because the results often do not reflect what the child is capable of doing in the natural classroom setting.

I am a special ed teacher in an "urban" district. Most of the students with special needs on my caseload are considered emotionally disturbed. Although, they are also challenged with learning disabilities and struggle immensely in the regular education classrooms. We, as special education teachers, feel it's important that they do their best to grasp the concepts being taught. It's my job to make the accomodations necessary in order for them to be successful, yet it is tough. Instead of them being responsible for every problem in the assignment, I'll have them do every other. So far this has been productive and it gives my kids higher self esteem. We too are frustrated with the testing situation, the kids already feel the pressures of "not fitting in" or "inability to keep up." Were all about setting the bar high, as it should be, but to make it defeating to their esteem is a different issue. Their goals are written in attainable language and measures, perhaps we can assess them on their goals, a formal assessment? But every child works at their own level, that's how they develop and flourish. Unfortunately, this is a tough situation...let me know if there's any responses...

I also want to note, I am co-teaching in an inclusive Math class. It is so upsetting to me because the district removed their general math class, and basically threw all levels into a college prep math class. What's happening is you've got an array of diverse abilities; the ones that need extra time are lost, because the pace is too fast, therefore, they misbehave. Or, there's the ones who feel it's moving to slow and aren't challenged. We've ALL told our administrator this is so unfair to the kids, that many of them are trying but unable to keep up or grasp the material, but it's swept under the carpet. Were very frustrated ourselves, we want whats best for all kids. We all need extra support in certain classes, why should they suffer? Most importantly, whats the point of moving/flying through a curriculum if half of them aren't getting it?

I am reading the comments above and surprise that no one is speaking about progress monitoing. In my school district we are trying to focus on the child and the goals set. I have a progress monitoring system for each goal I write for the child. The progress monitoring is used to inform me if my materials and methods are working for the child. If I find the child is making little or no progress, I re-evaluate what I am doing and change the child's program to find ways to have positive progress. This information is shared with the parent at least three times a year at the normal report card periods in our district. Of course we still have our annual review once a year. No, this is not the high stake testing that concerns everyone but we need to keep the child at the center of what we are doing to develop an appropriate educational program. Children are on IEPs for a reason, because they are performing below their peers in the general education classroom. It is our responsibility to find ways to educate the child to succeed. The place where that success happens is not the main concern, it is the child's ability to succeed and feel positive about their learning. That can be in the general education classroom or it may be in a pull-out porgram or combination of both. The child's ability to learn and succeed will control that. The high stake testing will not provide that kind of information. It is also my responsibility to take every opportunity to share with my legislators the failure of NCLB and its impact on special needs students.

While we’re on the subject of special education programs, I should recommend a book that I recently read called “The Emergency Teacher.” This book totally exposes the various failures in the school system and was written candidly by a woman who actually taught for a year in an urban middle school. I found it seriously disturbing to read some of the trials that she faced (especially in the special education department) due to a lack of funding and a bureaucratic administration. Thank God that she’s exposing the real issues behind each student’s failure to learn because we often like to blame the students or the parents or even the often poorly prepared teachers, but in the end I believe the problem goes much deeper. We have a government that is not in touch with the real issues keeping schools from succeeding, school boards who are more concerned with maintaining an image of success than of working with the individual children, and an inability to effectively change policy on a grassroots level. It opens your eyes to the reality of the public school system as it now stands. I don’t think it’s in bookstores but I know you can order it directly from her website, www.TheEmergencyTeacher.com.

NCLB was an excellent idea with incredibly poor execution. Once again the rush to say look what I have done for education more than 7 years ago and nothing since is a typical approach to education in this country. It was a reactive approach not proactive. Students and teachers are now paying the price of this experiment in good intentions. The plan, the model for success the funding is not there to support it. NCLB has become a mess with no clean up in sight. Shame on us for letting the people we vote for represent us so poorly.

Coupled with Maine State legislation where the goal is "one up man ship" which compounds the issues for students with disabilities here in Maine only makes education an incredibly stressful period in a students life not an educational period. Again the experiments continue on a reactionary approach. An experiment in which the test lab material is under a constant state of change in hopes to calm the waters.

My inquiries, my offers of discussion, my constant vigil over the schools and the State activities is never ending. The day my son graduates, if they let him, I am going to celebrate and sleep for a week. Certainly nothing to celebrate now and yes it does keep me awake at night. It should for all parents, especially those of us with children who Learn Different.

D. Whittier
Sanford, Maine

Mary Wrigley et al,
I most certainly agree that our government has indeed failed our children and us. I found this site by doing research on whether our students are being challenged to think critically. However, I have been challenged. Thank You. And as Beverly mentioned before, our (e.s.e.) students are being assessed on material that is normed for their average or normal developed peers. Ironically enough, quite a few of the "normal" students are also failing miserably. When teachers ask for help, they are told to refer these students for testing. Teachers themselves are frustrated because of the requirements placed on them to present and complete the curriculum in a timely manner. There is a remarkable correlation between reading and comprehension in our students who learn differently.
Special Education Children Left Behind.

In Florida, our students with IEPs are given extra time to take the FCAT. We can even read the science and math portions to them. If they do not possess the core phonemic awareness or decoding strategies, HOW are they supposed to read the remaining directions, short and long reading passages or answer questions? How does that make sense? That is a wrenching sight to see. They do not have access to the curriculum. Our students are supposed to show AYP, but how can they when the bar is being raised every year? The IEP states, the individual should be in a Least Restrictive Environment. Well guess what, placing a child (with one or more disabilities, that should be ready to enter middle school and cannot read) in a general education classroom from a sheltered/ self- contained one is called the Most Restrictive Environment. That is a disservice to the child. I believe that if the people we trust to make important decisions for us were in our predicament, these discussions would not exist. Point Blank.

Hello there. I realize that I am posting this well after the original responses were made, but I have a huge concern. My 17 year old son just mainstreamed from a special ed. program into high school fulltime January of 2007. We are just now finding out, that if he wants to apply to one of our state colleges in California, that the special ed. English, History, Math, etc. classes that he took under that program, will not count towards the state college requirements. My son has a 3.0 gpa! He wrote his first paper ever this semester, and got a C! It's bad enough that the 2 science classes he took under the special ed. program don't count towards the science equivalent, because they didn't have a lab with them. If he has to make up, or test out, of all of those classes, he won't finish college until 6-7 years have passed. And that's probably going to be fulltime at a junior college, and then maybe, someday, transferring to a state college. I feel that he will get burnt out before then!
I am also concerned that the special ed. curriculum is severely watered down from the general ed. curriculum. My son had NEVER written a paper before this year. He had never researched a topic, assembled note cards, sources, footnotes, bibliographies, etc. This should at least be done in 6th grade or earlier, even as a "practice" paper, with the whole class participating.
My son is very smart, but was too hyperactive and emotionally involved to be in a general ed. classroom. Now, however, we are "paying" for that valuable special ed. program, by denying him the right to go to college when all of his peers are.

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Recent Comments

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  • K. Policape/ SLC/ Support Facilitator: Mary Wrigley et al, I most certainly agree that our read more
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