CDC: Autism rate surges by 30%

One in 68 children has autism, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s a 30 percent rise over the estimate only two years ago. The “proportion of children with autism and higher IQ (is) on the rise,” said a CDC statement.

“It could be that doctors are getting better at identifying these children, there could be a growing number of children with high intelligence [who are autistic], or it could be both,” said Coleen Boyle director of the CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, in a telephone news conference.

Autism rates vary by place. “Only one child in 175 was diagnosed with autism in Alabama, while one in 45 was found to have the disorder in New Jersey,” notes the Washington Post.

The CDC is encouraging parents to have young children screened for autism in their early years. I’d guess high-IQ parents already are doing that. 

Autism begins in pregnancy, according to a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers discovered “focal patches of disrupted development” in cortical layers of the brain that are developed during pregnancy.  

The brain regions most affected were the frontal cortex, which is associated with complex communication and comprehension of social cues, and the temporal cortex, which is associated with language.

The core problem

Why is this Common Core math problem so hard? asks Hechinger’s Sarah Garland.

A frustrated father posted a subtraction problem from his second-grade son’s math quiz on Facebook.  Students are supposed to write a letter to “Jack” telling him what he did right and wrong in using a number line to subtract 316 from 427.
Common core math problem
The father, Jeff Severt, who has a bachelor’s in engineering, told “Jack” he was stumped by the problem himself. “In the real world, simplification is valued over complication,” Severt wrote.

Severt’s son is on the autism spectrum and has problems with attention and language, so this kind of problem is especially difficult, the father said.

Jason Zimba and William McCallum, lead writers of Common Core math standards, blamed a poorly written curriculum for the problem, writes Garland. Common Core requires fluency in the simple skills of adding and subtracting, just what the critics want, said McCallum.

The question appears to be aiming for several Common Core math standards for second grade, writes Garland.

Students are supposed to understand place value and to add and subtract using “models or drawings and strategies based on place value … and relate the strategy to a written method.” They must “explain why addition and subtraction strategies work, using place value and the properties of operations.” The standards call for using number lines.

“Being able to explain how you arrived at an answer – not just memorizing a formula – is also one of the standards’ key goals for students,” she writes.

In the math problem encountered by Severt’s son, “What the kid did is kept subtracting 10. So they didn’t go down to the smaller unit. And whoever is looking at the problem is supposed to see that the student was confused about place value,” said McCallum. “A discussion in the classroom is supposed to talk about how 10 is 10 times bigger than one, and 100 is 10 times bigger than 10.”

But mashing together the different standards for place value and the number line is potentially confusing. “The number line is not an appropriate model for place value,” Zimba said.

The writing component is also problematic. “The standards don’t require essay writing in mathematics,” Zimba said.

The Common Core isn’t a curriculum, said Zimba. “The curriculum authors are going to interpret the standards in different ways.” Some of them will do it badly.

There’s going to be lots of bad implementation. It’s inevitable. Test scores will drop. That’s inevitable too, if only because the tests will be new and unfamiliar. Parents and teachers can share their frustrations on social media. Politicians are getting cold feet. Arne Duncan is out of bribe money. I think Common Core is in trouble.

More pre-K, more ADHD

More pre-k could lead to more ADHD diagnoses warn Berkeley researchers Stephen P. Hinshaw and Richard M. Scheffler  in a New York Times op-ed. 

Introducing millions of 3- to 5-year-olds to classrooms and preacademic demands means that many more distracted kids will undoubtedly catch the attention of their teachers. Sure, many children this age are already in preschool, but making the movement universal and embedding transitional-K programs in public schools is bound to increase the pressure. We’re all for high standards, but danger lurks.

Early intervention helps kids who really have ADHD, the professors write. But millions of children with ADHD labels — and prescriptions — don’t truly have the disorder.

Our research has revealed a worrisome parallel between our nation’s increasing push for academic achievement and increased school accountability — and skyrocketing ADHD diagnoses, particularly for the nation’s poorest children.

“By age 17, nearly one in five American boys and one in 10 girls has been told that they have ADHD,” Hinshaw and Scheffler write. That’s a 40 percent increase from a decade ago.

Disabled students struggle in college

Students With Disabilities Aim For A College Degree, But Often Get Stuck, reports Joy Resmovits in the Huffington Post. 

If the U.S. is to lead the world in college graduates by 2020 — President Obama’s — more students with disabilities must go to college and earn degrees, said Sen. Tom Harkin at a committee hearing on the higher education act. “We need to understand the barriers students with disabilities face, and the services and supports that facilitate their success.”

Eighty percent of high school students with disabilities say they want to go to college, but only 60 percent enroll and even fewer complete a credential, said Harkin, who co-authored the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Students have trouble making the transition to college, where they need to become their own advocates, said Melissa Emrey-Arras, director of education, workforce and income security at the Government Accountability Office.

Many don’t ask for help, reports Matt Krupnick. They want to go it alone.

Just a quarter of students who received help for their disabilities in high school acknowledge in college that they need the same assistance, according to the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

And while 94 percent of high school students with learning disabilities get some kind of help, just 17 percent of learning-disabled college students do.

Just 34 percent of learning-disabled students complete a four-year degree within eight years of finishing high school, according to the National Center for Special Education Research. By contrast, 56 percent of all students nationally graduate within six years, reports the National Student Clearinghouse.

In other words, people who have trouble learning have trouble learning in college. But we need to get more of them to go to college.

Suspended at 6 for ‘sexual misbehavior’

How apraxia got my son suspended from school is a horror story:  School bureaucrats became convinced that a first grader with an “invisible disability” was a victim of sexual abuse or a predator because he rocks when stressed.  

Apraxia is a movement and coordination disorder affecting about 5 percent of children, but it’s often missed or misunderstood, writes Michael Grazianao, the boy’s father and a professor of neuroscience at Princeton.

People look at apraxia sufferers and see a clumsy child who won’t try hard enough, a child who must not be very bright because he can’t keep up in math and reading, or a disobedient child who won’t stop moving in weird ways and bumping into people.

Handwriting is stressful for his son because of his disability. That struggle was affecting his reading and math. Unable to get any help from the school, the parents paid for an occupational therapist to help with coordination problems and a psychiatrist to help their son cope with classroom anxiety.

When the six-year-old began rocking to calm himself in class, his teacher decided he was masturbating. The principal, who didn’t know about the movement disorder and didn’t ask, reported the family to a state agency for possible child abuse.

Our son’s psychotherapist wrote a letter to the school to tell them about his classroom anxiety. Our son’s pediatrician also wrote a letter to the school telling them that he saw no medical evidence of any abuse. These experts asked the school to intervene with a step-by-step behavioural plan to help our son’s classroom difficulties. Under federal law, he was entitled to what’s called a 504 plan, in reference to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which is meant to ensure that disabled children have full access to education, but the school refused.

After a monthlong investigation, the parents were cleared of abuse charges. The state investigator told the principal in person. Within hours, the first grader was suspended on charges of sexual assault. Playing “Zombies” after lunch, he‘d hugged a friend.

The parents took the district to court.

The principal’s written testimony included a set of classroom notes about our child to show how he willfully misbehaved. Strangely enough, the school had given us an alternative version of this document about a month earlier, which we still had. . . .  The version that was submitted to court as sworn testimony offers a noticeably different account, including several additional sentences that make our son’s conduct sound willful and sexual. It looks to me very much as though somebody in the district was willing to lie in court and falsify documents in order to damage a child.

According to the written testimony of the principal, the psychiatrist supported her claim that our son was sexually assaultive and a danger to others. . . . (The psychiatrist) wrote a letter . . . noting that he thought our child was not sexually assaultive, not a danger to others, and should never have been suspended from school.

The judge ruled for the parents, but there were no consequences for school officials who denied special education services, lied or forged evidence.

The Grazianos’ son moved to a new elementary school. The school psychologist talked to him about his stress and set up a reward system for good class work. “Within a few days, the rocking stopped.”

Graziano urges other parents to fight for their kids’ needs, but admits that he and his wife barely saved their son, despite money, leverage and “degrees in neuroscience, psychiatry, and psychology.”

Via Instapundit, who thinks responsible parents should not entrust their children to the public schools. (The Grazianos believe strongly in public schools, despite their ordeal.)

New standards are tough on special-need kids

Teachers are supposed to enable all students — including those with “the most significant cognitive disabilities” — to “access” the new, more rigorous Common Core standards, writes Katharine Beals in The Atlantic. How?

Beals teaches special education teachers at Drexel and Penn education schools. Most have been told that all their students must be given grade-level assignments, regardless of their abilities.

Common Core tells schools to offer “support services, individualized instruction, and assistive technology,” but don’t “state what these services are or how they would work,” writes Beals. Curricular materials may be altered or presented “in multiple ways,” but only “within the framework of the Common Core.”

One eighth-grade English language arts standard:

 Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to the characters, setting, and plot; provide an objective summary of the text.

Using a simplified or alternative text at the student’s reading level appears to violate the requirement for “grade-appropriate level of verbal complexity,” writes Beals. A teacher might add glossaries and storyboards, but not provide a readable text. 

A sample task is provided: 

Students summarize the development of the morality of Tom Sawyer in Mark Twain’s novel of the same name and analyze its connection to themes of accountability and authenticity by noting how it is conveyed through characters, setting, and plot.

Beals imagines a 14-year-old who comprehends language at a fourth-grade level. No technology or storyboards could provide “access to how accountability and authenticity play out in the complex paragraphs of Tom Sawyer.” Take the sentence describing Tom taking a beating from the schoolmaster for an infraction committed by Becky Thatcher:

“Inspired by the splendor of his own act, he took without an outcry the most merciless flaying that even Mr. Dobbins had ever administered; and also received with indifference the added cruelty of a command to remain two hours after school should be dismissed—for he knew who would wait for him outside till his captivity was done, and not count the tedious time as loss, either.”

What, short of simplifying the text or spoon-feeding its meaning to her, will it take for our language-impaired 14-year-old to grasp this 67-word sentence, with its complex syntax, words like “flaying,” “indifference,” and an outdated sense of “should,” and the inference needed to grasp the contextual meaning of “captivity”?

And just wait till she gets to Shakespeare.

Another eighth-grade reading goal, R-L 8.3:

Analyze how particular lines of dialogue or incidents in a story or drama propel the action, reveal aspects of a character, or provoke a decision.

Students with autism struggle to understand character and motivation and to draw inferences from dialogue, Beals writes. In a journal article for special-ed teachers, Stephen, an eighth grader with Asperger’s Syndrome (mild autism), doesn’t understand a text in which a bullied and ostracized boy quits going to school.

How, the authors ask, can Stephen’s teacher help him meet R-L 8.3? By creating a comic strip that shows the characters’ thoughts, including a thought bubble for Matt that reads “I am a loser. Everyone hates me. I am never going back to school!”
In other words, the teacher can help Stephen meet the standard by giving away the answer!

Six percent of students have significant cognitive disabilities, writes Beals. “Forcing all students into the same, age-pegged standards deprives atypical students of optimized learning opportunities and attainable goals” and lowers their achievement.

LEGO kid builds cheap Braille printer

The Braigo, a low-cost Braille print, was built out of a $350 set of LEGO MINDSTORMS.A California seventh grader has built a low-cost Braille printer out of LEGOs, reports the New York Daily News.

Shubham Banerjee, 12, used a $350 LEGO Mindstorms set, modifying a robot model to make a “Braigo” printer. Basic Braille printers retail for about $2,000 online.

“This is so easy, even my little sister can do it,” Shubham says in a YouTube video.

When his family received an appeal to help the blind, Banerjee decided to get creative. He plans to be an engineer, scientist or surgeon.

‘Smart pill’ doesn’t improve schoolwork

The “smart pill” isn’t so smartreports Nature. ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) meds improve classroom behavior for the first year or so, but do little for academic achievement, according to “a growing body of evidence.”  

In the early 1990s, the MTA study began following four groups of elementary children with ADHD. They received medication, behavior therapy, medication and therapy or whatever care they had already been receiving.

After 14 months, the medicated groups showed better control of ADHD.  The drugs/therapy group had higher grades, but the regular care group was second best. And the gains didn’t last.

By three years in, the four groups had become indistinguishable on every measure. Treatment conferred no lasting benefit in terms of grades, test scores or social adjustment. Eight years later, it was the same story. 

. . . A 2013 review of randomized controlled trials longer than 12 months similarly concluded that there is scant evidence for improvements in ADHD symptoms or academic performance lasting much beyond a year.

A few studies show long-term gains in academic performance, but the boost is small and fades over time.

Alternative diploma limits options

Mississippi students must pass regular courses and four exams to earn a high school diploma. Many special education students settle for an “occupational” diploma. But they may be denied access to academic programs and some job training programs at community colleges.

Attrition is lower at NYC charters

Attrition is relatively low at New York City’s charter elementary schools, concludes Staying or Going, a report by the city’s Independent Budget Office. After three years, 70 percent of charter students remained at the same school compared to 61 percent of students at nearby district schools.

The city’s charter students are somewhat poorer than students in nearby district schools the study found. They’re much more likely to be black (61.1 percent vs. 33.3 percent) and less likely to be Latino (26.7 percent vs. 47.8 percent), white or Asian-American.

However, charters lose more special education students than district schools, notes the New York Times. Only 1 percent of charter kindergarteners are in special education compared to 7 percent in nearby schools. Eighty percent of special-ed charter kindergarteners have transferred after three years, compared to 50 percent in nearby schools.

Disability diagnoses are rare in kindergarten. By third grade, 13 percent of charter students — and 19 percent of district students — have received a special needs diagnosis.

Schools of choice may not be designed to serve every kind of student, writes Matt Di Carlo on Shanker Blog. If accountability measures can be adapted to control for high-need students, “you would expect to see the emergence of more and more schools that were tailored to meet the specific needs of students with low test scores and/or behavioral issues.”