Not really a paradox

In Washoe County, Nevada, some schools that scored in Newsweek’s top 5 percent list for offering advanced courses also failed to meet No Child Left Behind standards because of the low achievement of special education students. This “ugly paradox” isn’t a NCLB bug, writes Edspresso. It’s a feature.

Aren’t special education students the ones that commonly get left behind? This district’s schools are top performing on AP and other college prep. courses across the nation; at the same time they’re failing the students at the bottom. The point of NCLB is to expose any problems with even the smallest of groups — problems that used to be completely masked among standardized tests that simply “melted” everyone’s scores together.

Board members didn’t pledge to find better strategies to teach special education students; they called for relaxing standards.

Remember that most students in special education are capable of achieving; only nine percent are mentally retarded. Under NCLB, schools can give easier tests or no tests at all to about 30 percent of special education students.

About Joanne


  1. Group mentality is the problem here. Kids at schools are not merely members of groups or classes or levels. They are individuals. Each kid, special ed, right-smack-in-the-middle, gifted, is hurt by the system when we view them according to the group to which they belong (or are assigned to) instead of as individuals who will use their educations to further their own lives in the future. When the bar is lowered because of the performance of one group, the education of each individual child is hindered.

    I think Ayn Rand said it best: “The smallest minority on earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights, cannot claim to be defenders of minorities.”

  2. It’s not that I don’t accept the premise that special education students can learn; I do. But it seems silly for me for people to act surprised and outraged when they don’t perform as well as other students.

    If they learned as easily and as well as other students, they never would have been identified, tested and labeled special education.

    And even though the NCLB standards are plenty low enough, one of the things that I think people forget is that the modifications that parents seek and students received during the regular school year for their disabilities may end up causing them to do worse when they are held “accountable” for performing like their peers in situations with fewer modifications.

    For example, one modification may be that a student receives any teacher-made multiple choice tests with fewer distracters (or wrong answers) than the regular education students, which may be a reasonable modification for some disabilities. However, if the student then is not entitled to this same modification on the NCLB testing, that kid is not as well prepared as if he or she had taken the same type tests all year.

    And if you allow too many modifications on the NCLB test, then you really aren’t measuring the kids real progress: you’re allowing school to build in even lower expectations.

    I think people want to buy in to the idea that special education teachers have magic wands and are able to make the disabilities go away. They don’t.

  3. Joanne, I’m not sure where your NCLB special ed data comes from, but at my school, ALL students with disabilities take the tests. That’s MH, LD, CD and ED.

    Just who is this 70 percent who get altered tests or take no test, at all?

    If you have a source, I’d love to have it. Perhaps we need to make a change at our school.

    Thanks for yet another insightful blog.

  4. Rational Jenn,

    How familiar are you with IEPs?

    Your comment about individuals and education just seems a little under-informed when you are talking about the one segment of the public school population who get Individualized Educational Plans as a matter of federal law.

    Do you imagine that Ayn Rand would have supported public education at all?

  5. If you hit the “capable of achieving” link, you’ll get to an Education Sector analysis which states that NCLB allows exemptions — no tests or modified tests — for about 30 percent of special ed students. These should be students with serious disabilities. Special-ed students also are eligible for more time on tests or other accommodations, as specified in the IEP.

  6. John Thacker says:

    There are a lot of schools that are viewed as “good” merely because they have students from good values that value education. It doesn’t mean necessarily that the school is doing a better job, just that they’re starting with students who have advantages. Some of those schools might not even be doing a good job with their gifted students, they just have more students who come from the right backgrounds.

    Of course, even aside from any peer effects, most of the time a parent would still want their child going to a school with lots of good kids, since then that school has the population and the incentive to offer advanced classes.

  7. In Texas the students in Special Ed are far from being left behind — especially in the large school districts. Those that leave special needs kids behind are the general ed teachers who are myoptic to the world around them.

  8. I could be wrong, but my understanding is that the NCLB modifications are pretty limited compared to what the teachers do to modify throughout the year.

    In Georgia, I think the high school students can have the test read aloud and get extended time and small group settings, but beyond that, I think they get the exact same test in the same form as other students.

    Here’s an example that I’ve heard: hearing impaired students will frequently have trouble compared to their hearing peers with Standard Written English because the syntax of sign language isn’t the same as SWE. So a regular education teacher who works with a hearing impaired student all year will make accommodations and modifications for the student in terms of drafts and revisions, etc. In theory, there’s no reason why a final draft of an essay would be different from a hearing peer.

    But when a student takes the Georgia graduation test in writing, although the student can have extra time, ultimately the reader and grader of the writing sample submitted won’t know that the student is hearing impaired, so if the student hasn’t mastered the standard syntax on his or her own, he or she won’t pass. And even if he or she did pass, would it be reasonable to assume that he or she would do as well as student who used the syntax of SWE in their speech everyday all day?

    (Now the writing test isn’t part of our NCLB testing, but it does determine whether students can get regular diplomas.)

  9. Bravo! When I first became a principal, Ron Edmonds has come out with the Effective Schools Movement. Our battle cry was “ALL CHILDREN CAN LEARN.” It’s hard to believe that such a thought was controversial, but it was. You can see the old prejudices behind the comments from folks who think it’s okay to let special education children fall behind. It still is controversial to believe that all children can learn. They can and do when the time and effort is devoted to making sure that they do not get left behind. Thanks for your insightful and positive post.

  10. Miller Smith says:

    Dig what we did in PG county, MD last school year.

    All students who were were failing biology by the third quarter were withdrawn from that class. They were to take biology again in the summer. Okay…so what? Well, biology is our state’s NCLB beanchmark test and our county schools are judged by the student’s scores on that test. Kids withdrawn from biology DID NOT take the test at the end of the year.

    Almost the entire SPED population were withdrawn in some of our high schools. Oh, and our school system is touting the raised scores.

  11. Miller,

    Where are you that biology is the state NCLB test?
    I didn’t think that many states had science standards included yet.

  12. I see it now. Sorry for not reading more carefully before.

  13. As sports and entertainment become more and more prominent in our society, I’d like to propose two new massive government intervention programs:

    No Child Left On the Bench
    No Child Not Playing an Instrument

    Because clearly if every child can “succeed” academically, then every child can “succeed” athletically and artistically – all it takes is more attention and money.

  14. Well, all children can learn, but not all children can learn the same things.

    Sorry, but I’m a parent of one of these children. Developmentally, he cannot work on the level of his regular ed peers. Period. Testing him on that level simply goes against his IEP and makes a mockery of special ed programs.

    If a child’s IEP goals are to shoot for reading on a 5th grade level, then why would anyone give him a reading test for an average 8th grader and then accuse the school of failing? He can’t be there. Possibly ever.

    Why bother meeting with IEP managers, SPED teachers, psychologists, and parents who come up with a plan based on a tremendous amount of testing and observation, file it with the state, and then ignore it when the state tests roll around?

    Why not test the SPED kids on the goals stated in his IEP instead of having Special Ed teachers running around in a panic trying to figure out how to get their students to magically appear average? I mean, enough already.

    One of my son’s teachers was in such a panic that she wrote on the board the day before the test an equivalent fraction, decimal, and percentage and told them that these were all the same thing. That was the extent of their fraction training. It was panic teaching at its worse.

    I realize there are kids who are put in Special ed who are really not special ed kids, but your bottom 3% with IQ’s hovering around borderline simply cannot keep pace with their three-digit peers. They can certainly learn, but not as much and not as fast.

    Special ed teachers are also subjected to all of the experimental curriculums that the regular ed teachers are, but the results can more than a waste of time; they can be disasterous.

  15. Hopefully, you will ignore my sad little typos. I’m a big fan of preview.

  16. At least now education is important enough to justify the risk in cheating.