‘College for all’ includes learning disabled


Amanda Carbonneau (in pink top) laughs with friends at University of Central Florida. Photo: Red Huber, Orlando Sentinel

Amanda Carbonneau, 21, who reads at the fourth-grade level, is enjoying her first year at the University of Central Florida. A new program for students with learning disabilities has made it possible for her to live in a dorm, learning independent-living skills, and participate in campus activities, reports Gabrielle Russon in the Orlando Sentinel.

“We’re paying for a college experience,” said her mother, Janet Carbonneau.

Amanda Carbonneau is living away from home for the first time. Photo: Orlando Sentinel

Disabled students who aren’t seeking a degree can live in University of Central Florida dorms.  Photo: Orlando Sentinel

Amanda has taken an early childhood education course and study skills.

Students in the program take low-level classes (often P.E.) and have access to tutors, but are not working toward a degree. UCF may award a special diploma or certificate.

A new state-funded center in the College of Education and Human Performance “will grant $3.5 million annually in scholarships to students with disabilities.”

I know this is supposed to be a feel-good story, but . . . Shouldn’t the “college experience” including higher education? Florida will spend $3.5 million so young people who lack the ability to do college-level work can live in a dorm and hang out on a university campus.

Untimed tests: ‘not such a crazy idea’

Untimed tests — aren’t such a crazy idea, opines Robert Pondiscio in the New York Daily News. In response to the opt-out movement — 20 percent of students skipped New York’s state exams — this spring’s test takers will be allowed as much time as they want.

Dropping time limits won’t invalidate the results, writes Pondiscio. Research shows extra time helps students with learning disabilities, but has no significant effect for students without disabilities.

Most state math and reading tests are “power” tests rather than “speed” tests, according to University of Pennsylvania psychometrician Andrew Porter. Power tests “are designed so that nearly all students will be able to complete all items within the allotted time.”

“Education officials seem to think that allowing unlimited time will give parents one less reason to complain about test pressure,” writes Pondiscio. He doubts it will work. “The real source of test pressure is not the clock, it’s adults pressuring kids to perform.”

Any leveling or reduction in the number of parents refusing to let kids sit for state tests this year will likely be a function of New York’s moratorium on linking test scores to teacher evaluations. School administrators and teachers are less likely to transfer their anxieties to students, wittingly or unwittingly.

The moratorium ends in 2020.

I’ve worked under deadline for most of my life. I do the best I can in the time and space I’ve got. Then I stop. I find unlimited time very stressful.

Don’t call me a ‘retard’

It’s Time to Stop Using the Word “Retard,” writes Kasey Studdard, a professional football player. Before he had his growth spurt and became a star athlete, he was a “slow, little, fat kid” with learning disabilities. He was “teased, ridiculed, and isolated.” 

His mother, a teacher, helped him keep up in school, despite his information processing problems, he writes.

In college and the pros, he had to work much, much harder than anyone else to learn the plays. “Even after I considered them memorized, I still made sure to go back to my diagrams, to stay late to ask questions of the coaching staff, and to sit for extra video sessions.”

With his wife, Studdard is launching a foundation to “allow children to experience the joys of the outdoors . . . without fear of being singled out on account of being disabled, or slow, or poor … or different.”

Studdard is part of a Special Olympics’ campaign to stop the use of  “the r-word” (retard). It’s often used as an insult.

Here’s an argument in favor of keeping “retarded” as an acceptable term for intellectual disability.

Stacie Lewis, who has a disabled daughter, agrees that the word “retard” isn’t the issue. “Treating the disabled humanely is.”

Florida drops special-ed diploma

Florida’s special-ed students must take college-prep classes required for a standard diploma, reports The Ledger. A new state law has abolished the special diploma alternative. .

At Roosevelt Academy, a school for learning-disabled students in Lake Wales, ninth-graders were transferred from intensive math to Algebra I two months into the school year to comply with the law.

The special diploma is not accepted by state universities and may not be accepted by state colleges, technical centers, employers or the military.

But at Roosevelt Academy, teachers don’t encourage their students to go to college.

“We tell them that if you want to go to college, don’t come to our school,” said Phillip Miles, a life skills math teacher. “We’re preparing you for work, not college.”

Miles’ students are way behind in math. His class taught practical skills such as how to make a budget or calculate sales tax.

About 80 percent of Roosevelt Academy graduates have jobs by the time they collect their special diploma. That’s goal they and their parents set when creating an Individualized Education Plan.

Till now, special-ed students could earn a special diploma by mastering the “employment and community competencies” in the IEP and completing a semester of successful employment.

Now all students will have till age 22 to pursue a standard diploma — or settle for a certificate of completion.

Teachers are supposed to make college-prep courses accessible for disabled students.

In geometry, for example, a student who has trouble writing or speaking might point to an equilateral triangle rather than draw one or explain why it is equilateral.

. . . “They have to fail for four years before they even get a certificate of completion,” said Henry Smith, vocational teacher and career placement coordinator for Roosevelt. “I guarantee you the dropout rate is going to be astronomical.”

Seventeen states offer only a standard diploma, according to a 2013 report by the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

The dangers of IQ tests

Testing a child’s IQ can pin on a permanent label that denies future learning opportunities, writes Jessica Lahey in an Atlantic review of Scott Barry Kaufman’s Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined. The Truth About Talent, Practice, Creativity, and the Many Paths to Greatness.

As a failing elementary student, Kaufman was tested by a psychologist, who decided he had a low IQ and was “seriously learning disabled.” His parents gave up their plan to send him to an elite private school and instead sent him to a school for children with learning disabilities. “My fate was sealed by a single test,” writes Kaufman.

(Not really. He earned a doctorate at Yale and became a cognitive psychologist. But it wasn’t easy.)

Intelligence changes depending on environment, Lahey writes.

. . . people who believe intelligence is fluid, and can be increased through hard work, are much more likely to put in that hard work and show that intelligence is fluid. Unfortunately, children who believe their intelligence is fixed are far more likely to avoid challenges and simply allow the label to speak for itself. Put simply, children who believe they can become smarter, become smarter through effort and persistence.

Labeling all kids as “gifted” doesn’t work, however. Students who think their intelligence is fixed, whether they think it’s high or low, don’t work as hard as kids with a “growth mindset,” according to Stanford’s Carol Dweck.

For “gifted” kids, that can mean that they are so worried about marring the shiny veneer of that label that they never risk failure, and for the “seriously learning disabled” kids, the grungy tattiness of their label can lead to apathy and hopelessness.

Analyzing learning disabilities can identify what sort of help different children need, Lahey concedes. “I have even recommended intelligence testing for students who, despite their persistence, diligence and effort, are not succeeding in school.”  However, all too often, “a label signals a death knell for future effort, learning, and academic achievement.”

 What if we praised our students’ efforts to learn and grow and improve rather than praised them for showing up at school or on the soccer field, label affixed and prominently displayed? What if we watched those kids carefully, and taught them that they are not the measure of their IQ, but of their efforts to do their very best with what they have?

Yes, but some kids have more than others to work with. Kaufman wasn’t just a slow kid who worked hard.

Kaufman found a book on intelligence in the library and looked up the IQ he’d been assigned at the age of 11. The chart said: “Lucky to graduate high school.” He didn’t believe it, even though his teachers did. Finally, a learning resource teacher said she’d noticed he was bored. “You don’t seem to belong in this classroom,” she said. “Why are you here?”

He left the learning resource room with “his growth mindset and his well-honed skills of grit, diligence, and persistence,” Lahey writes. Now an adjunct psychology professor at NYU, he writes the Beautiful Minds blog on Scientific American. Here’s Kaufman asking Is Your Child Ungifted?

Fewer students called ‘learning disabled’

Fewer students are being classifed as learning disabled, reports Education Week. But nobody’s sure why.

Learning-disability enrollments declined from 6.1 percent in the 2000-01 school year to 5.2 percent in 2007-08, according to the U.S Department of Education. Overall,  special ed enrollments dropped from 13.8 percent to 13.4 percent.

Forty percent of special ed students are considered learning disabled; 80 percent of those have trouble with reading.

So, scholars say, the dropping numbers could be linked to improvements in reading instruction overall; the adoption of “response to intervention,” which is an instructional model intended to halt the emergence of reading problems; and a federally backed push toward early intervention with younger students.

All those efforts could be serving to separate students with true disabilities from those who just haven’t been taught well in the early grades.

In the first year Florida schools adopted Reading First, 10.4 percent of third graders were identified as learning-disabled, wrote Joseph K. Torgesen, a psychology and education professor at Florida State. That dropped to 6 percent of third graders by the third year. In each year of school, more children learned to read well.

But some see another explanation: Schools may be classifying fewer children as learning disabled to avoid higher costs or to evade accountability for educating special-ed students.

It’s also possible that some children who would have been diagnosed as learning disabled in the past are now categorized with  autism spectrum disorder or “other health impairments,” which are showing growth.

On Children of the Code: “Mind-shame” endangers the schooling of children who struggle with reading.