Keeping kids out of special ed

Many “learning disabled” students in special ed programs have no identifiable disability: For a variety of reasons, they didn’t learn to read well in first grade. If there’s a gap between a student’s IQ and achievement, a “learning disability” is assumed to exist. So I’m very pleased to see a federal initiative to improve reading instruction in the early grades in order to keep students out of special education who don’t belong there.

Half of the nearly seven million special ed students have a learning disability, usually involving reading. Often poor readers are classified as “learning disabled” in third or fourth grade. Critics call that a “wait-to-fail” approach, AP reports. Early intervention — such as spending more time to teach phonemic awareness — works much better than waiting till students are far behind.

Under the new rules, states can no longer rely solely on the IQ-vs.-achievement method. Instead the guidelines give states more latitude, allowing them, for example, to observe how well children respond to intensive instruction in the subjects where they’re having problems.

The new federal rules also make another important change: they allow schools for the first time to use up to 15 percent of their special education funds to provide the required early intervention. That could help reduce the number of children who ultimately are labeled as learning disabled

When I was reporting on Success for All, principals told me that implementing a successful reading program dramatically reduces the number of children who end up in special ed. They didn’t identify students with learning problems; they just worked hard to teach reading well to everyone.

Via This Week in Education.

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  1. Cardinal Fang says:

    This sounds like the right idea to me. Not only will it help kids who have no learning disability at all but who didn’t have a home life that prepared them for school, but it also helps kids who do have a learning disability.

    It’s ridiculous, for example, to diagnose dyslexia by noticing, in third grade, that a kid can’t read. Far better to start earlier with intensive treatment, so that a kid with dyslexia (who does have a learning disability) can get the help he needs in K and 1st and stay out of special ed in later grades.

  2. MIke, a diag in Texas says:

    I spend an inordinate time disqualifying students who are LD. Mostly because they did catch up, or as is common in Texas, are having problems learning English.

    That said, a differential model should not be used by itself. The examiner should include a process deficit that inhibits a students learning. Unfortunately, most districts ignore that bit of “best practice” and only use the difference model.

    BTW, a diag, in Texas, is a teacher with a graduate degree in assessment. We are not psychologists, but can test and label all sped categories except for Emotionally Disturbed and Autism. It’s a 40-50 hour program instead of the 60-65 hours that psychologists do to get their degree.

  3. Stuart Buck says:

    Once I was talking to an old man who had attended segregated schools in Mississippi. He said a number of things that cracked me up, but one of the most striking was that back in his day, “we didn’t have special ed, cause the teachers just wouldn’t allow you to be that dumb!”

  4. Stuart Buck says:

    To be clear, he was black.

  5. maybe that might be the result of social promotions, students not being able to work at their grade level.

  6. I have to scamper, but the approach is called “Response to Intervention” (RtI) and it has some preconceptions that some parents doubt — such as a bountiful supply of teachers well-educated about the scientific basis of reading.

    Since very few teachers are so educated, the odds of success seem dim.

    See this article at Wrightslaw:

  7. Stuart Buck, what in the world makes you believe that kids in special education are dumb?

  8. Cardinal Fang says:

    Liz, is RtI particularly vulnerable to not having teachers well-educated about reading? I would have guessed that any individualized program would be vulnerable to that, but one-size-fits-all programs don’t work either.

  9. I am the principal of a new K-3 charter school located in a low income high crime neighborhood in San Diego. Our mission and vision is to ensure that second language and minority students are provided with a proactive instructional intervention program BEFORE they experience failure and are referred for Special Education services. Our school’s population is currently made up of 19 kindergartners; 80% Latino and 20% African American. About a third of our students were referred to us by their pre-school directors, because of behavioral concerns. The directors were afraid the students would fall through the cracks in a regular school setting.

    In neighboring elementary schools, 80%-90% of the students tested are failing to meet grade level proficiency by 3rd grade. For that reason, our school is providing a Tier 2, RtI intervention model, Direct Instruction (DI); specifically Reading Mastery and Language for Learning.

    All of our “at-risk” kindergartners are reading. About a third of them are reading on a beginning second grade level. Most importantly, they are positively and successfully connected to school. They love demonstrating their reading abilities to the many visitors who come to hear them read.

    Direct Instruction, delivered by highly trained and caring teachers, seems to be the source of the magic that is occuring at our school; but only time and assessment data will provide the proof. We are very excited that we have touched on a proactive approach to instruction that could truly close the acahievement gap for thousands of “shiny little pennies”.