Archive for the 'Administration' Category

Moats on CCSS and LD

In the spring of 2012, Louisa Moats published an article in New Times for DLD, the newsletter of the Division for Learning Disabilities (DLD) of the Council for Exceptional Children, that presented concerns about the consequences of US states’ adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) on the teaching and learning of students with Learning Disabilities. Moats, who is well-known for her work on early literacy and professional development, noted that the CCSS consists of goals that must be turned into curricula and lesson plans by others, and it is those instructional procedures that will be critical for students with or at risk of developing Learning Disabilities. Given how common students with Learning Disabilities, language problems, and other learning risks are, Moats said that instructional practices cannot leave mastery of fundamental skills up to incidental learning or embedded instruction.

With the recent promotion of the CCSS’ emphasis on informational text, complex text, reading aloud, and inquiry-based learning, the kind of instruction most necessary and beneficial for students with LD is getting very little emphasis in workshops, publications, and policy discussions. The teacher-directed, systematic, sequential, explicit approaches that work best for students with LD and learning challenges (Archer & Hughes, 2011) are receiving much less attention than they deserve, and the result will be lower student achievement, not higher.

Moats made additional points, including a strong appeal for advocating to prepare educators to teach literacy skills effectively. Interested readers can obtain a copy of the full copy of “Reconciling the CCSS with Realities of Learning Disabilities” from the DLD Web site, TeachingLD.org.

[Disclosure: I’m associated with DLD as a member, a former officer, and its executive director.]

Is RTI reducing identification of LD?

According to Jennifer Radcliffe’s story for the Houston (TX) Chronicle, “Experts can’t explain drop in state’s special education numbers,” students with disabilities—and, especially, students with Learning Disabilities—

… seem to be disappearing in Texas.

The Lone Star State diagnosed just 8.8 percent of its public school students as having special needs in 2011, down from 12 percent in 2000. Texas now has the lowest percentage of special education students in the nation – a full 4 percentage points below the U.S. average. Urban giants like the Houston and Dallas school districts identify even fewer children at 7.9 percent and 7.7 percent, respectively.

Ms. Radcliffe describes Texas as an atypical state in the distribution of states on the basis of percentages of students identified as having disabilities. And she explains that people do not have adequate explanations for the observed declines. She asks experts for explanations. Under the heading “National rates steady,” she focuses on Learning Disabilities.

The largest category in special education is children with a “specific learning disability.” In Texas, that category peaked in 1999 at 266,934 children, but fell to 172,148 by 2011, according to Texas Education Agency data. Nationally, the percentage of 3- to 21-year-old students with learning disabilities dropped from 6.1 percent in 2000 to 4.9 percent in 2010, according to the latest federal data.

Overall, national special education rates remained steady at 13 percent in that same span.

That data has [sic] prompted different interpretations.

“It’s very encouraging,” said Jack Fletcher, a University of Houston professor who heads the Texas Center for Learning Disabilities. “I don’t think people fully understand why, but it does seem to coincide with the state and federal initiatives for beginning reading instruction.”

Teachers are putting forth a greater effort to provide all young children with solid reading instruction and intense intervention, preventing the need for many to be referred to special education, Fletcher said.

Later in her coverage, Ms. Radcliffe interviews Gene Lenz, director of federal and state education policy for the Texas Education Agency, who refers to response to intervention (or instruction; RTI) as a way of avoiding “over-diagnosing” students. She quotes Mr. Lenz as saying, “Districts are taking care to make sure [every effort is made to refer students only after they fail to respond to intervention is] 100 percent true before they place a label on a child.”

These and similar discussions about the relationships between RTI and identification of students as having LD got me to thinking about the topic anew. Of course, alert readers recognize that the topic’s been on the front element a few times in the past (e.g., Does RtI reduce numbers of children in special education? 25 Feb 2010). There are at least a couple of ways to look at these discussions about the relationships between RTI and identification rates.

(1) One might start by looking at RTI as an independent variable. If (musing) RTI were a faithfully implemented approach to managing instructional programming (good screening, powerfully tiers of instruction, careful monitoring, flexible regrouping, strong administrative support, and so forth), what outcomes would one reasonably expect it to affect? Let’s make a list (and here I invite readers to expand my tentative list):

  1. Higher achievement, especially at the lower tail of the distribution;
  2. Fewer disciplinary referrals;
  3. Fewer absences;
  4. Fewer tardies;
  5. Higher self-concept outcomes;
  6. Fewer referrals for special ed;
  7. Fewer placements in special ed;
  8. [your dependent variable goes here…].

(2) Alternatively, if one had reduced identification rates, one would have to examine myriad possible causes for that reduction. Why might the percentage of students with, let’s say, SLD, have declined? Let’s make a list (and here, again, I invite readers to expand my tentative list):

  1. Teachers, those imperfect tests, have gotten the message that referring kids is bad;
  2. Musical diagnoses: Percentage of kids with autism (Shattuck, 2006) or ADHD has increased;
  3. RTI has been effective;
  4. Political systems have changed, leading to new biases (Wiley & Siperstein, 2011);
  5. The measurement systems themselves have changed;
  6. [your independent variable goes here…].

So, rather than looking at the situation with the preconception that RTI leads to reduced identification (i.e., RTI ==> lower SLD identification), I’m thinking we ought to be reflective about this issue. In one case, as illustrated in the first image, one is essentially looking at the matter from point of view of the independent variable, sort of looking forward in time. In the other case, one is looking from the effect, looking backward in time (see the second image).

I’d like to see the effects of RTI on these other dependent variables. Some clever data analysts ought to be able to conduct a quasi-regression discontinuity design on a grand scale to assess the effects of RTI in Florida, Texas, or elsewhere, no? Wouldn’t some of these outcomes be just as (or even more likely) to show the benefits of RTI than special education identification, which identifications are made by committees and other hard-to-model factors?

And, I’d like to see some stellar statistical models of variations in identification. In addition, to what extent is what’s being seen in prevalence today different from what was seen when Hallahan and colleagues reported about variation in rates of identification some years ago. Are the differences within the same ranges? Could any changes be essentially normal variation?

References

Shattuck, P. T. (2006). The contribution of diagnostic substitution to the growing administrative prevalence of autism in US special education. Pediatrics, 117, 1028-1037 doi: 10.1542/peds.2005-1516.

Wiley, A., & Siperstein, G. (2011). Seeing red, feeling blue: The impact of state political leaning on state identification rates for emotional disturbance. Behavioral Disorders, 36, 195-207.

Bullying and FAPE

Did you know that failing to address bullying can be the cause of schools having to pay for private placement of students with Learning Disabilities? Bullying has justified parents’ decisions to move their children to private schools and seek reimbursement for tuition. So, bullying isn’t only something that educators should address because it’s the right thing to do. Bullying might be a reason that a student can claim she is denied access to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE).
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Block those bullies

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WQp8N7P8zsU&hl
Language Warning!
Do not click play if the words n- – – – or
f- – – – offend you.

As the beginning of school approaches, many schools will be considering what to do about bullying, a problem the plagues many students with Learning Disabilities (LD). But, what do we know about the connections between special ed and bullying? Can bullying mess up a student’s IEP? Here’s a little background and some suggested resources.

As one might suspect, one of the difficulties for students with LD is that they are perceived as victims of bullies. Nabuzoka and Smith’s (1993) analysis of sociometric data from ~180 pre-adolescent students, about 20% of whom had LD, showed that those with LD were more likely to be victims of bullying than their non-disabled peers, despite not being judged more aggressive. Estell et al. (2009) reported that teachers considered fifth-grade students with high-incidence disabilities likely to be victims of bullies. However, both teachers and the students’ peers rated them to as likely to be bullies. Those students with disabilities who behaved aggressively were the ones who were more likely to be nominated as bullies.
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NCLD released its annual analysis of LD

The National Center on Learning Disabilities (NCLD), a US advocacy organization, has released its annual report about its views of the policy situation for individuals with Learning Disabilities. NCLD calls the report The State of Learning Disabilities: Facts, Trends, and Indicators and says that it includes US national and state-by-state data about Learning Disabilities and their impact.

The report documents significant advancements for students with learning disabilities as well as continued challenges facing older students, college students and adults with LD. Key findings include:

  • The number of school-age children with learning disabilities has declined by 14% during the last decade.
  • 2.5 million public school students have learning disabilities and are eligible to receive special education – representing 42% of the 5.9 million students with disabilities, down from a high of over 50% a decade ago.
  • Learning disabilities do not include conditions such as Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, intellectual disabilities, autism, deafness and blindness yet such conditions are often confused with LD.
  • More students with LD are graduating with a regular high school diploma (64%) than only a decade ago (52%) and fewer students with learning disabilities are dropping out of school (22%) than in 1999 (40%).
  • People with LD are more likely to live in poverty than those in the general population.
  • Students with LD attend postsecondary education at lower rates than their non-disabled peers. Only 10% of students with learning disabilities enrolled in a 4-year college within 2 years of leaving high school.

Interested readers may download copies of the The State of Learning Disabilities: Facts, Trends, and Indicators.

What about including students with LD?

I’ve seen a couple of messages recently in which inclusion or mainstreaming has been lamented. One of them appeared on Bignity, the new group blog devoted to students with disabilities. In it Jaime Openden talks about the importance of having all teachers prepared to work with students with disabilities and her misgivings about mainstreaming.

For better or worse, mainstreaming is the direction our educational system has been heading in for years. Mainstreaming to me is like communism or a giant hot fudge sundae with the works. Sounds pretty sweet in theory; in practice, not so much.

The second appeared in correspondence on the mailing list associated with Association for Direct Instruction. These are the DI folks, people who are, with some justification, pretty well convinced that they know how to teach students with learning problems successfully, to help them succeed. It’s a bit longer and covers a lot more concerns.

I am still teaching in xxxx county and special education is a mess….in fact teaching in FL is not fun at all anymore. The state and county have gone test crazy. I have not been able to implement Reading Mastery correctly with all its components for several years now. We have to leave our ESE kids in the classroom for instruction and we are supposed to co-teach in the reg ed room. Often our kids sit there with dazed expressions on their faces. They do not pass the state’s FCAT reading test. They cannot spell. They have difficulty writing a complete sentence with correct grammar, punctuation, capitalization and spelling. But conventions don’t matter on FCAT writing, Next year we planned to put about 12 of our severely learning disabled, ASD, and IND (Intellectually disabled….formerly educably mentally handicapped….formerly mentally retarded….it’s the same thing…..I think they change the name so lay people won’t know what it means) 3rd, 4th & 5th graders who are reading at a beginning first grade level back into a self contained ESE classroom which I volunteered to teach. I was so excited because I really do love to teach….but then the bigwigs in the ESE department said they all have to be in regular homerooms because they learn so much from being in reg ed and the “research shows that they don’t learn as much in a self contained ESE room because the curriculum is not rigorous enough”. What research are they talking about? I just would like the time I need to teach these kids to read and to understand a little math….they can’t add or subtract……they didn’t have one-to-one correspondence by the third and fourth grades!! Being in reg ed homerooms means that I will have to deal with the schedules of six or more teachers to try to find the time to teach…..and I won’t get to teach them science and social studies at their reading levels.

Lots of people interested in LD are full-speed-ahead advocates for having students with LD included full time. Others have reservations, arguing that students with LD need specialized instruction delivered in classroom environments that are not available in the mainstream.

What about you? What are your thoughts? What are the pros and cons in your experience?

Testing fraud of a different sort

In a puzzling case of a student who appears to have had problems throughout the primary grades and did not get help until fourth grade, Liz Ditz asks the question, How Often Does This Happen? Teacher accused of testing fraud to avoid special education referral for her student. Not until the parents had pushed for years were the child’s problems recognized. Was this a well-meaning, but misguided teacher? Has anti-LD sentiment become so strong that folks cheat to keep kids from having the label?

NCLD supplement for USA Today

Sheldon Horowitz and colleagues at the National Center for Learning Disabilities published a multipage supplement about Learning Disabilities in USA Today in late May of 2011. If you missed the print version, you can snag a PDF from this link.

Core standards and LD?

At a meeting I’m attending, folks are discussing the Council of Chief State School Officers’ Common Core State Standards Initiative. Here’s the basics:

The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a state-led effort coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). The standards were developed in collaboration with teachers, school administrators, and experts, to provide a clear and consistent framework to prepare our children for college and the workforce.

>>snip< < These standards define the knowledge and skills students should have within their K-12 education careers so that they will graduate high school able to succeed in entry-level, credit-bearing academic college courses and in workforce training programs. The standards: * Are aligned with college and work expectations; * Are clear, understandable and consistent; * Include rigorous content and application of knowledge through high-order skills; * Build upon strengths and lessons of current state standards; * Are informed by other top performing countries, so that all students are prepared to succeed in our global economy and society; and * Are evidence-based.

What do readers think about the idea of common standards, especially with regard to students with Learning Disabilities? Good idea overall? Good idea for our kids? Good idea with reservations? What reservations? Send this puppy to the kennel? Why?

Fletcher paper about identifying LD

The RTI Action Network published a paper by Jack Fletcher about identification of Learning Disabilities in the context of response to instruction (or intervention; RTI). Professor Fletcher, who has been a leading proponent of RTI since the 1990s, makes a strong case for the importance of examining instruction as a part of determining eligibility for LD services.
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