High expectations for special education

While education groups want flexibility on No Child Left Behind guidelines for special education students, advocates want schools to be held accountable for helping special ed students reach grade-level standards. After all, most “special” students have moderate learning disabilities.

Under NCLB, schools are judged on the academic progress of subgroups, including special education students. Schools can miss “adequate yearly progress” goals if special ed students don’t improve their reading and math scores. Education Week reports:

The reporting provision has forced administrators to pay attention to a group of students that is too often ignored, disability-rights advocates contend. They point to studies that show that students with disabilities, even those with cognitive impairments, can achieve at higher-than-expected levels when teachers hold them to grade-level standards.

As disability-rights advocates lobby federal lawmakers, their focus has been on maintaining what they see as the strong standards of the law, while allowing schools to get credit for a student’s academic growth towards proficiency, even if the student occasionally falls short of a particular benchmark.

Three percent of students — equivalent to about 30 percent of disabled students — may take less challenging alternative assessments.

Two reports from the National Center for Learning Disabilities look at the cost of low expectations:

Special education classification has too frequently been used to diminish the expectations for the students designated as eligible for such services and to minimize the responsibility of general education teachers and administrators for their progress. Also, data suggests that special education classification is used to segregate minority students, particularly Black boys.

The Quick and the Ed adds:

Studies have shown that the process of diagnosing a disability isn’t color-blind, and minority student have a higher chance of being diagnosed with a disability. This makes reducing the accountability for educating special education students an even riskier proposition, because it will disproportionately reduce accountability for minority and low-income students.

See KitchenTableMath for more on the segregation of special ed students.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Special education students – surprise – need special education. Procrustus don’t work in education any better than in innkeeping.

  2. Until you’ve spent time observing a special education classroom, you have no idea how many of these kids cannot function on what we in education define as “on-grade-level”. (My mother is a veteran special education teacher who is eligible to retire in a year.) In my brief experience as high school teacher, I was exposed to the egalitarian propoganda that all kids can learn. I suppose that’s true… except not all kids can learn Shakespeare or algebra or human anatomy nor can they progress at a rate comprable to their peers as it may take them twice or thrice as long to master basics. No level of high expectations will suddenly make people capable of doing what is beyond their cognative skills.

  3. Ragnarok says:

    Tom,

    Can you comment on Ken DeRosa’a observations on what %age of kids can actually learn?

  4. Silly question, why isn’t testing benchmarked against a child’s IQ? If a child’s IQ is within a certain range, say 60-65, then a school’s ability to reach goals is set by how well other schools nationwide perform within a particular IQ range. I suppose that there may be some fear that introducing IQs into the NCLB benchmarks is that it may open a pandora’s box.

    The NYT’s this weekend profiled an absolutely delightful young woman with William’s Syndrome, The Gregarious Brain. She’s going to be enrolled in college. I worry about giving some of these children and their families a false sense of hope.

  5. I might if I could find the observations to comment.

    The traditional concern of advocates for the disabled is that children aren’t always given the chance to demonstrate what they know because of their label – this is a fair observation that really should be addressed. Still, the nature of testing now is to measure whether children are progressing at a certain level – which presumes that 100% of students are capable of maintaining the mythical “on-grade-level” knowledge that is currently being sold to us.

    If a child tests below a set of norms in 1st grade and continues to fall further and further behind year after year, is the only plausible explination that all of these teachers are inept and incapable?

  6. Most children in special education aren’t mentally retarded. They have learning disabilities, usually “moderate.” Good reading instruction in the early grades cuts the disability rate.

  7. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Williams syndrome sounds an awful lot like democrat to me. Rename it “Kennedy Syndrome”?

  8. Ragnarok says:

    Try D-Ed Reckoning, I think it’s on this blog’s masthead (blogroll).

    Also, IIRC, the 100% is a myth. There was a rather detailed discussion of this figure some time ago, and hence the reference to Ken DeRosa’s blog.

    “If a child tests below a set of norms in 1st grade and continues to fall further and further behind year after year, is the only plausible explination [sic] that all of these teachers are inept and incapable?”

    No, it’s not, but it’s a possibility.

  9. Most of the kids on IEPs in my school are identified as having speech and language disorders. After that, the bulk are students with moderate learning disabilities. Next come behavior disorders. There are about 4 students in my school (that’s less than 1%) who have disabilities so severe that meeting even the most basic grade level objectives would likely be impossible.

  10. Tracy W says:

    Still, the nature of testing now is to measure whether children are progressing at a certain level – which presumes that 100% of students are capable of maintaining the mythical “on-grade-level” knowledge that is currently being sold to us.

    Who is doing this?

    The NCLB allows 3% of the population to be tested using alternative measures, so clearly the NCLB does not presume that 100% of students are capable of maintaining “on-grade-level” knowledge.

    I have never run across anyone who believes that 100% of students are capable of maintaining “on-grade-level” knowledge. There are plenty of people who believe that schools could be doing a lot better job of educating special education kids and a lot more special education kids could reach grade-level than do now, but that’s a very different thing from maintaining that 100% of students can.

    I think you’re attacking a strawman here.

  11. Bill Leonard says:

    Both my sister-in-law (who will retire in about two years) and my daughter-in-law have had to deal with kids who were “mainstreamed,” but who should have been in special ed or other classes, as the kids in question typically had severe emotional, cognitive or medical problems. The upshot? Most of the time, everything tends to slow down and move at the pace allowed after the teacher has dealt with the “special” kid and his/her problems.

    My personal experience with this progress-at-the-speed-of-the-slowest happened when I was a draftee in basic training 40 years ago. We were learning — everyone in the military must — the nine major component groups of our M-14s (rifles, to the young and naive). Every draftee who had a college degree or a trade school/skilled trades background got it the first time through. But since the entire company was part of this exercise, we still were in the huge armory warehouse one hour and 45 minutes later: “Alright, one more time. EVERYONE hold up the buttstock. Now, everyone hold up the trigger group assembly…”

    Bill

  12. Ragnarok: I absolutely agree its a possibility and public education needs to weed out a significant number of mediocre teachers. I just want the standards to reflect the job title: teacher not magician. As for the percentage, I guess I’ll have to investigate that later (I’m already procrastinating on grading algebra tests.)

    Tracy:

    The NCLB allows 3% of the population to be tested using alternative measures, so clearly the NCLB does not presume that 100% of students are capable of maintaining “on-grade-level” knowledge.

    Response – Yes it does:

    States must define AYP so that all students are expected to increase academic performance and by the end of the 2013-2014 school year all students will achieve at the state-defined “proficient” level on assessments of reading and math.When NCLB was passed, states set the starting point—or the first achievement bar—toward reaching 100 percent proficiency by 2014.(source: Aspen Institute

    Long term this is hardly a strawman. NCLB will no doubt be changed at least somewhat once a new administration is in place but at least some people in positions of authority decided that 100% can master proficiency standards.

    Rhetoric aside, I agree that there is a lot of progress can be made in improving reading skills and critical thinking skills of students with disabilities. I don’t disagree with most of the general ideas behind NCLB. I do have significant problems with defining objective standards which ignore human psychology and laws of natural distribution. To one of Joanne’s points about the increase in students with moderate disabilities, I think the important issue this raises is we’re doing a better job of identifying the types of students we have and this gives us a better chance of helping them. It does not change the fact that some students, even with incredible desire and effort, will struggle to master certain skills. Thus, will we end up lowering standards across the board in order to achieve the façade of universal achievement?

  13. Ragnarok says:

    IIRC, the state can exempt upto 5% of the students from testing, and 100% of the remaining 95% must be at grade level.

    I think there was another exemption, but can’t remember the details. I’m quite sure that Ken would have all the details.

  14. Well, Walter, given that the opposite of Williams Syndrome is sociopathy, I’d say you may have a point.

  15. Tracy W says:

    Tom:
    From the Department of Education’s “Title I–Improving the Academic Achievement of the Disadvantaged; Final Rule”
    http://www.ed.gov/legislation/FedRegister/finrule/2003-4/120903a.html

    An alternate assessment may be scored against grade-level standards, or, in the case of students with the most significant cognitive disabilities, against alternate achievement standards.

    An alternate achievement standard is an expectation of performance that differs in complexity from a grade-level achievement standard.

    In consideration of schools that, for example, are small schools or provide special services to students with the most significant cognitive disabilities, the numerical cap of 1.0 percent does not apply at the school level.

    The Department of Education clearly states here that children with the most significant cognitive disabilities will be tested by alternative achievement standards to the other kids. This is from the Department of Education’s own website on the NCLB. I presume your own quote is a simplification of what is going on that omitted the important bit about “alternate achievement standards”. I don;t know why you regard the Aspen Institute as a greater authority than the Department of Education’s own rulings.

    You are still attacking a strawman.

  16. <headache>

    What a wonderful document to read… I can’t imagine why anyone would prefer to read anything with less legalese. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m aware that documents like these are the official ones that we actually have to follow but they are exactly the kind of thing the most people tune out too.)

    Am I misreading it – it appears all of 1 percent are excluded?

    So if 99% are tested instead of 100%, my arguement is a strawman?

    Ragnarok has a point that the question of percentage is the issue. I wish I had a number handy but if I try to give one now its not going to be well backed up. Off the top of my head, I can’t really see more than 85-90% being tested on the same set of standards with most of the remaining having a sliding scale.

  17. Ragnarok says:

    Well, here’s a link:

    http://www.emsc.nysed.gov/deputy/nclb/fieldmemos0203/test-acct-1-24.html

    “In particular, you should be aware that for a district/school to make adequate yearly progress, NCLB requires that 95 percent of students enrolled in the district/school and in each accountability subgroup, as described below, participate in required assessments in language arts and mathematics.”

  18. Walter E. Wallis says:

    And us libertarians got nopathy.
    Could I collect money for that?

  19. The key thing there is 95% of each subgroup have to be tested.

    If you have a large enough school population so that students with disabilities are a subgroup, 95% of these students have to be tested. Thus, a school can’t just pick the weakest 5% of students to avoid testing (nor should they).

    What I continue to question is whether is realistic and beneficial to hold everyone 95% to 99% of all students to the same set of standards.

  20. btw, Thomas = Tom… forgot I had signed in at my office as Thomas… and curses for me not closing my strikethrough…

  21. Ragnarok says:

    I really think you’re stretching, Tom.

  22. Tracy W says:

    What a wonderful document to read… I can’t imagine why anyone would prefer to read anything with less legalese. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m aware that documents like these are the official ones that we actually have to follow but they are exactly the kind of thing the most people tune out too.)

    It’s fine if you don’t want to read it. Just if you want to accuse someone of believing that 100% of students can reach grade-level, don’t you think it’s honourable to check what that person, or group, is actually saying?

    Am I misreading it – it appears all of 1 percent are excluded?

    Yes you are misreading it. What it is saying is that 1% of school kids may be tested according to alternative standards. Which in context means easier standards than the rest.

    The Final Rule also specifies that small schools or schools specialising in providing services to the cognitively disabled are exempt from the 1% cap.

    So if 99% are tested instead of 100%, my arguement is a strawman?

    Tom – your argument that testing “presumes that 100% of students are capable of maintaining the mythical “on-grade-level” knowledge” is a strawman unless you can find someone who believes that 100% of students can achieve grade-level.

    And even if there is someone out there who believes that, they clearly aren’t controlling the NCLB.

  23. Walter E. Wallis says:

    I just hope my pilot or surgeon was not tested by alternate standards.

  24. Twill00 says:

    The other thing to remember is that grade level standards are none too high.

  25. Tracy W says:

    I just hope my pilot or surgeon was not tested by alternate standards.

    Different situation. A pilot or a surgeon is responsible for people’s lives and can endanger lives with their skills if improperly taught.

    Teaching a severely cognitively-disabled child to read is not, in and of itself, preparing them for a potentially-dangerous career or giving them tools they can use to harm anyone else.

  26. Tracy – your argument that testing “presumes that 100% of students are capable of maintaining the mythical “on-grade-level” knowledge” is a strawman unless you can find someone who believes that 100% of students can achieve grade-level.

    North Carolina: “Target goals define the percentage of students expected to meet or exceed the state’s proficient level (grade level) in reading and mathematics each year. Target goals change in three-year increments until 100 percent proficiency is expected by 2014.” (source: http://www.ncreportcards.org/src/glossary.jsp and note the document added grade level parenthetically, not I)

    Every public document about NCLB stresses 100% proficiency in reading and math by 2014. The only question is whether proficiency is defined as grade level knowledge. I think this is simply an issue of semantics – any minimum set of standards you expect students to know in a particular grade is effectively grade-level knowledge.

    The document you bring into discussion at best frees 1% of students from achieving the state-defined proficiency levels (just above [Page 68704] of the document: In practice, alignment with the State’s academic content standards means that the State has defined clearly the connection between the instructional content appropriate for non-disabled students and the related knowledge and skills that may serve as the basis for a definition of proficient achievement for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities. Several paragraphs later: The alternate achievement standards may include prerequisite or enabling skills that are part of a continuum of skills that culminate in grade-level proficiency.)

    —–

    Ragnarok – I’m hardly stretching. I would argue I’m being conservative because the implications are so profound.

    Twill00 – that is true. Of course, one way to ensure everyone makes grade level is to lower the standards further.

  27. Walter E. Wallis says:

    I did not object to the need for educating special needs students, just the fiction of the rubber ruler. An honest assessment is invaluable. I also consider the Special Olympics to be misdirected concern. Somewhere, the rubber meets the road and you can’t be there to cushion the blow.

  28. I also consider the Special Olympics to be misdirected concern. Ever volunteer at one, Walter?

  29. Tom – sigh. You keep missing that the 100% proficiency includes the 1% of the population who are allowed to be assessed by an alternative achievement standard.

    Must all students take a grade-level test?

    Up to 1 percent of a district’s students, those with the most significant cognitive disabilities, can be counted as proficient when tested against alternate achievement standards. An example of an alternate achievement standard would be a sixth grader taking the third grade End-of-Grade test.

    From http://www.ncpublicschools.org/nclb/faqs/testing/

    To repeat myself. 100% proficiency includes 1% of students – the most severely cognitively-disabled – being assessed under an alternative standard. Basically there are two levels of asssesment – one of grade-level knowledge that 99% of students are held to, and one for the other 1% with the severest cognitive disabilities. Not all students are being held to the same standards.

    Tom your argument that “presumes that 100% of students are capable of maintaining the mythical “on-grade-level” knowledge” is a strawman unless you can find someone who believes that 100% of students can achieve grade-level.

  30. I give up – no, 100% of students are not supposed to be on grade level despite the fact that that is what every publicity document emphasizes. But in practice, it’s 99%.

    So tell me, can 99% of students function on grade level?

  31. Let me add that education establish has already done its best to dumb down high standards for above average students over the past four decades. I fear the NCLB will succeed in obliterate any meaningful standards for average students to ensure that “only one child in a hundred gets left behind”.

  32. I better edit before Tracy claims I’m throwing straw again.

    It is my opinion that John and Jane Doe interpret proficiency as being on grade level. Granted, the DOE does not for the bottom 1%.

  33. Ragnarok says:

    No, Tom, you’re flat wrong.

    Upto 95% of the student populaton must be tested and score proficient according to the state standard.

    States set their own standards – the infamous “race to the bottom”bang!

    So (1) Bang! goes your claim that 100% of the students must test “proficient”, and (2) substitute “watered-down” for “proficient”.

    You might start by accepting the fact that public schools are a mess, overfunded, bloated, full of useless rubbish such as TERC and EM, and havens for people who couldn’t survive anywhere else.

  34. So we’re in agreement that between 95-97 percent of the school population must be at the state’s grade level standard by 2012, which as far I know, states are locked into based on acceptance of their original plans to meet NCLB? (You could set the bar low to begin with, but I don’t think you can lower it now, can you?)

    Is it reasonable to conclude that this is an achievable goal?

    To me, it’s only reasonable if the standards are pretty low. More than five percent of the public school population probably can’t mastering what ought to be the standards for high school graduates, but they can probably pass minimum proficiency tests on basic skills.

    For the level of work that reflects preparation for the work force or college, I don’t think that many can do it. Some are too dumb. Some are too lazy/unwilling to try. Some are still learning English. Some are too emotionally/physiologically dysfunctional. Some are too burdened by family obligations. My guess, for meaningful high school standards, would be 85-95 percent of all kids in the whole distribution ought to be able to do it. But the thing is that the kids aren’t distributed in schools along any kind of normal distribution. Some schools would be lucky to get 50% to master the skills. Some schools could coast and get 99%.

    One of the beautiful things about tracking sub-group performance is that it will eventually expose schools who are just riding on their demographics and reward schools who get their tougher populations to succeed.

  35. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Mike
    Jul 10th, 2007 at 10:50 am
    I also consider the Special Olympics to be misdirected concern. Ever volunteer at one, Walter?

    No, I give little import to eyewash touchy-feely crap. I believe it does more harm than good in the ultimate development of the child. When you tell a plain girl she is gorgeous, you need to keep her away from mirrors.

  36. Walter, I’m not surprised. I pity you.