Feds end ’2% rule’ for disabled students

Disabled students won’t be counted as proficient — unless they’re really meeting college and career readiness standards, under  new regulations proposed by the U.S. Education Department. Currently, the “2 percent rule” lets states count up to 2 percent of disabled test-takers as proficient, regardless of their achievement levels.

“We have to expect the very best from our students and tell the truth about student performance, to prepare them for college and career,” said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan. “That means no longer allowing the achievement of students with disabilities to be measured by these alternate assessments aligned to modified achievement standards.”

Being honest about students’ achievement is a good thing, but educators will be embittered — even more so — if they’re held to impossible standards. Students with disabilities achieve more when expectations are high, but — even with the best teaching in the world — many won’t able to meet standards linked to college readiness. (“Career” is thrown in there, but there are no lower career-ready standards.)

ACT: College hopes rise, scores fall

Most students aren’t ready for college, according to the latest ACT college readiness report. The composite score dropped to 20.9 in 2013, the lowest in eight years. That’s probably because more students — including less-capable students — are taking the exam.

Only 26 percent of test-takers in the class of 13 met all four readiness benchmarks in English (grammar, sentence structure, organization, rhetorical skills), reading, science and math; 39 percent met three of the four and nearly one-third did not meet any.

Twelve states are testing more than 90 percent of seniors, including students who don’t plan to go to college. Also, for the first time, disabled students with testing accommodations, such as extended time, were included in the overall reporting numbers.

College-readiness benchmarks were developed by ACT to predict whether a student has a 75 percent chance of earning a C or higher or a 50 percent chance of earning a B or higher in a typical first-year college course. Students this year did best in English, with 64 percent achieving the standard. Forty-four percent met it in both reading and math, and 36 percent hit the benchmark in science.

This year, ACT moved the reading benchmark up 1 point to 22 and science down 1 point to 23 to match expectations for performance at a national sample of colleges.

It’s time to debate ‘mainstreaming’

It’s time to debate whether debate whether mainstreaming special-education students is fair to all students, argues attorney Miriam Kurtzig Freedman, author of Fixing Special Education, in a Wall Street Journal commentary.

When teachers focus on students who need more attention, other children get less attention, writes Freedman. Yet parents of regular-education students rarely challenge policies that place high-need children in mainstream classrooms.

The special-education system in the U.S. is highly regulated by law, expensive, and sometimes marked by litigiousness. Those working to reform the system are almost exclusively people with a direct stake in it—including school representatives, parents of students with disabilities, advocates, lawyers, special educators, academics and government officials.

Fourteen percent of students are in special education today: 70 to 80 percent have mild or moderate disabilities, including learning disabilities, speech or language impairments, social and emotional disabilities, ADHD, etc. While federal regulations govern special ed, 80 percent of funding comes from states.

Students with disabilities have the right to be in the “least restrictive environment” to the maximum extent “appropriate,” with added resources such as computers, large-print or recorded books, and personal aides, if needed.

Look into the research on inclusion and you will find that this policy is generally based on notions of civil rights and social justice, not on “best education practices” for all students. The effectiveness of inclusion for students with disabilities varies—some groups and individual students benefit; others don’t. This is one reason why inclusion remains controversial in some segments of the disability community.

Very little work has been done to establish how inclusion affects regular students—whether they are average, English-language learners, advanced, poor or homeless. Studies seem to support the social benefits of mainstreaming for children with disabilities and possibly for regular-education students, but what about the effect on their academic progress?

Teachers may tell you (privately) that inclusion often leads them to slow down and simplify classroom teaching. Yet the system is entrenched and politically correct.

Educators and parents should join a “robust, inclusive and frank national discussion” on how to fix a broken special education system, Freedman concludes.

I’d be very interested in what teachers really think about inclusion. How many are getting the supports they need to do it well?

Special ed needs waivers too

“Flexibility is education’s new buzzword” – except for special education, writes Miriam Freedman, author of Fixing Special Education, in EdSource Today.

. . . more than 6 million students with disabilities, their parents, 13,809 school districts, 98,706 public schools, and 5,453 charter schools all have to meet the same rigid legal and regulatory requirements, regardless of the local situation or unique needs of the child or community. In 2002, studies found some 814 federal monitoring requirements for compliance by state and local agencies for programs for students with disabilities.

Parents should be able to “opt out of requirements that they don’t need or want, especially when children are doing well,” argues Freedman, who blogs at School Law Pro.

Charter schools and special ed

Charter schools enroll fewer special education students than traditional public schools in most states, concludes a GAO study. In 2009-2010, 11 percent of students enrolled in traditional public schools were students with disabilities compared to about 8 percent of students enrolled in charter schools.

While traditional public schools were more likely than charters to report 8 to 12 percent of students had disabilities,  “a higher percentage of charter schools enrolled more than 20 percent of students with disabilities.” Many charter schools “faced challenges serving students with severe disabilities,” the GAO found.

“No single public school is expected to serve students with every single type of disability,” writes Mike Petrilli on Flypaper. In Montgomery County, Maryland, where he lives, 26 schools have virtually no severely disabled students and another 52 have less than 2 percent. Five schools enroll 40+ percent with severe disabilities.

What Montgomery County is doing—what every school district of any size does—is to create special programs at particular schools that can better meet the needs of students with particular disabilities.

Most charter schools are small. Some contract out for special ed services with the neighboring district. Others form consortia with other charters to share special ed resources. But most parents with a high-needs child will not find superior services at a charter school compared to what their district has to offer.

There are exceptions: I visited two charter schools that were created to educated disabled students in mainstream classrooms. It takes a lot of effort — and extra funding — to do it well. Both charters provided special classes to kindergarteners with developmental delays to prevent a disability diagnosis. Another charter, a middle school, was able to move some learning disabled students out of special ed by getting them caught up academically. I think charter founders should look at designing schools to meet the needs of ADHD and Asperger’s students — and others who could benefit but won’t ever have a disability diagnosis. There’s a niche there.

Sensible ways to fix special ed

Special education is overdue for “common-sense” reform, writes attorney Miriam Kurtzig Freedman in The Atlantic. “The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is an example of a statute that has achieved its noble mission but now urgently needs to be fixed in order to address its unintended consequences.” She proposes:

Focus on improving regular education for all students. The better that regular education is, the fewer students need to be identified for special education services. When developing inclusive programs, schools should base them on effective teaching practices that improve educational outcomes for both students with disabilities and regular education students.

. . . end the “medical model” in which IDEA eligibility for services requires a specialist’s diagnosis. This model is costly, problematic, and inexact. It often kicks in too late, after previously undiagnosed students have struggled and failed. The far better solution is to provide timely and appropriate education services for all students in our schools, based on their current performance, without the need for a diagnosis or label.

End the compliance-based approach to special education. Parents and teachers alike should be liberated from endless form-filling and meetings. Compliance does not improve student results. Only time on task — in classrooms — does.

Finally, use mediators, ombudsmen or other dispute-resolution models to encourage trust and collaboration between parents and schools, suggests Freedman.

Evaluating teachers: What about special ed?

Evaluating teachers based on their students’ performance is tricky. It’s even harder to evaluate special education teachers whose students may have a variety of disabilities, notes AP.

To get Race to the Top funds, states must boost the number of effective teachers in special education and other hard-to-staff specialties. Federal officials want to link teacher effectiveness to whether students reach “acceptable rates” of academic growth. What does that mean? States are trying to figure it out.

In Florida, the process has already begun, with a committee examining a broad range of conditions, from dyslexia to traumatic brain injuries, and analyzing the effect on test scores.

. . . the committee decided students with similar disabilities who can take Florida’s statewide math and reading assessment should be compared to one another. The student’s prior academic achievement will also be factored in. Teachers will then be evaluated based on how much above or below the average their students performed.

So every autistic child is just like every other autistic child . . .

Milwaukee vouchers boost graduation rate

Milwaukee’s school voucher program increased the chances of students graduating from high school and going on to college, according to five years of research by the School Choice Demonstration Project at the University of Arkansas. Low-income students can use vouchers to attend private schools.

“The Choice Program boosts the rates at which students graduate from high school, enroll in a four-year college, and persist in college,” said John Witte, professor of political science and public affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Voucher students’ achievement growth was higher in reading but similar in math to comparable public school students, the analysis concluded. In the upper grades, voucher students performed better in reading and science but worse in math.

From 7.5 to 14.6 percent of voucher students have disabilities, the study calculates. That’s much higher than the state’s estimate, which was based only on students receiving test accommodations. Compared to private schools, public schools are 60 percent more likely to identify a student as needing special education. Many students who switched from public to private schools no longer are considered disabled.

 

Schools liable for cyberbullying

Under civil rights law, school officials must act to curb harassment of students off campus and after school, including cyberbullying, declares a “Dear Colleague” from the Education Department. From the Daily Caller:

“Harassing conduct may take many forms, including verbal acts and name-calling; graphic and written statements, which may include use of cell phones or the Internet… it does not have to include intent to harm, be directed at a specific target, or involve repeated incidents [but] creates a hostile environment … [which can] limit a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from the services, activities, or opportunities offered by a school,” according to the far-reaching letter, which was completed Oct. 26 by Russlynn Ali, who heads the agency’s civil rights office.

School officials will face lawsuits even when they are ignorant about students’ statements, if a court later decides they “reasonably should have known” about their students’ conduct, said the statement.

. . .  “The school may need to provide training or other interventions not only for the perpetrators, but also for the larger school community, to ensure that all students, their families, and school staff can recognize harassment if it recurs and know how to respond… [and] provide additional services to the student who was harassed in order to address the effects of the harassment,” said the letter.

Facebook is adding a feature that will let users “report content to someone in their support system (like a parent or teacher),” Facebook announced March 11 after the White House conference on school bullying. Presumably some children will report perceived harassment to a teacher or principal, making the school responsible for doing something about it.

The National School Board Association objects to expanding schools’ ‘legal risks,” reports Reason.

The remedies being pushed by administration officials will also violate students’ and families’ privacy rights, disregard student’s constitutional free-speech rights, spur expensive lawsuits against cash-strapped schools, and constrict school official’ ability to flexibly use their own anti-bullying policies to manage routine and unique issues, said the NSBA letter.

School officials have a responsibility to protect students from bullying and harassment when they’re in school. Making that a 24/7 obligation . . . It’s too much to ask.

Update: Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat, plans to introduce legislation requiring schools that receive federal aid to report bullying to the federal government and specify whether disabled students were involved.

Life’s a carnival

Bellringers is hosting the Education Buzz, which includes her own post on Picture Day, math humor and bad hares.

It’s a Total Eclipse of the SEN (Special Educational Needs) in Britain, writes Old Andrew. Till now, it’s been impossible to criticize the system.

. . .  if you do not support the most expensive, extravagant, inclusive and emotive ideas about SEN then you are clearly some kind of borderline Nazi who would have had Helen Keller strangled at birth. Competitive compassion is the name of the game and anybody who asks questions like “Is that really a disability?” or “Does that actually help anybody?” must be a sociopath who thinks “A Christmas Carol” should have ended with Scrooge going over to Bob Cratchit’s house and giving Tiny Tim a good kicking.

To his amazement, OFSTED, the education inspectorate, has issued a report on SEN’s flaws.

If you asked OFSTED to investigate the cause of the First World War, they’d blame poor teaching and a failure to monitor outcomes. What is a shock is that OFSTED has correctly identified what is wrong with the system.

OFSTED’s investigation found that half of SEN students aren’t disabled; interventions for students with genuine disabilities are often useless. Teachers fill out paperwork to prove services were provided, not whether the services were effective.

Sound familiar?

Submit here by Saturday, Oct. 9 at 5 pm Central to be part of the next carnival in two weeks.

Sprittibee is hosting the Carnival of Homeschooling.