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Are read alouds cheating?

Over on his Science and Education blog, Dan Willinghom, a friend of LD Blog, posted an intriguing examination of this question: “Is Listening to an audio book ‘Cheating?’” Consistent with Professor Willingham’s perspective, he takes a cognitive psychology look at this question. It’s worth reading.

He says he’s heard this question often, and I wonder whether there’s been a hint of objection to the idea of having students listen to audio books. Now maybe it is just about whether one is slighting her- or himself by listening to books on tape.

But, I wonder whether at least some of the objection to listening to audio books being a form of cheating reflects concern about children who receive special treatment in school testing situations. I can imagine a conversation in which a parent might say, “I heard that the Smith’s boy gets to have a teacher read the test to him. And it’s not just the story, but the teacher also reads the answers, too!”

Parents of students with disabilities will recognize this situation as a “read-aloud accommodation.” (People who conduct a lot of research on accommodations such as Rogers, Lazarus, and Thurlow, 2016, refer to read-alouds as “oral delivery,” by the way.) Whether they are called “read alouds” or “oral presentations,” these accommodations are pretty common. They were provided to approximately 33% of secondary students with disabilities who took standardized tests in the early 2000s, according to a report by the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (2004).

Does having someone read test content and items convey an unfair advantage? Ahh, herein lies a rub. Two meta-analyses (Buzick & Stone, 2014; Li, 2014) both reached similar conclusions. Studies that compared the effects of oral presentation for individuals with disabilities and those without disabilities found that “read alouds” helped the students with disabilities and those without disabilities, but they helped those with disabilities significantly more. The benefits were more substantial in reading or language arts areas than in arithmetic or mathematics areas.

So, is it cheating for those students who do not have fluent decoding skills? Apparently, it allows them to show what they know and can do when the handicap is removed.

For my money, the evidence is also a strong argument for doing a very good job of teaching decoding skills very well right from the beginning, thereby eliminating or reducing that handicap.

References

Buzick, H., & Stone, E. (2014). A meta‐analysis of research on the read aloud accommodation. Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice, 33(3), 17-30. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/emip.12040

Li, H. (2014). The effects of read‐aloud accommodations for students with and without disabilities: A meta‐analysis. Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice, 33(3), 3-16. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/emip.12027

National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (2004, April). Standardized testing among secondary school students with disabilities. Menlo Park, CA: SRI International. http://www.nlts2.org/fact_sheets/nlts2_fact_sheet_2004_04.pdf

Rogers, C. M., Lazarus, S. S., & Thurlow, M. L. (2016). A summary of the research on the effects of test accommodations: 2013-2014 (NCEO Report 402). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, National Center on Educational Outcomes. http://www.cehd.umn.edu/NCEO/OnlinePubs/Report402/NCEOReport402.pdf

Yet another “learning disability” as the generic

In an otherwise very important and impressive story, reporter Perry Stein of the Washington (DC, US) Post mis-uses “learning disability” as a generic term. Ms. Stein’s article is about a judge holding that the Washington DC public schools have failed to conduct appropriate child find efforts for preschool children with disabilities. Near the end of the article Ms. Stein added this paragraph about an expert’s commentary:

Judith Sandalow, the executive director of the Children’s Law Center, celebrated the decision and said she constantly sees children who are several grades behind in school whom the city has not yet identified as having a learning disability.

There’s that too-familiar confusion of the category of learning disability with the superordinate group of individuals with disabilities who need special education, a group that includes autism, deaf-blindness, deafness, emotional disturbance, hearing impairment, mental retardation (i.e., intellectual disabilities), multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairment, other health impairments, specific learning disability, speech or language impairments, traumatic brain injury, and visual impairment including blindness (Code of Federal Regulations 34 B III 300 A §300.8.)

Was it Ms. Sandalow who used “learning disability” as a generic or did Ms. Stein attribute it to her? Either way, it’s a mistake.

Nevertheless, if one is concerned about special education, I recommend this article. It appears to me to show another example of how schools are failing to provide appropriate and needed services. There is an irony that the case about which Ms. Stein wrote continues to be heard that in the same city where Mills v. Board of Education was contested. In 1972, Mills was one of the cases that led to the founding of the very laws that this judge is seeking to enforce almost 45 years later.

Janet W. Lerner

Janet Weiss Lerner, author of one of the first and most enduring texts about Learning Disabilities, died 25 May 2015. She was 88 years old. She began her career studying under Sam Kirk, Alfred Strauss, and Laura Lehtinen; having learned from the pioneers in the history of special education, Professor Lerner went on to exert giant influence, herself, especially in the area of Learning Disabilities.

Professor Lerner completed a Bachelors of Arts at Milwaukee State Teachers College (now the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) when Professor Kirk chaired the special education department there; later she took a Masters of Education from National Louis University and a Doctor of Philosophy from New York University. She taught at multiple grade levels in both general and special education in New York and Chicago, often focusing on helping children with reading problems.
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Could digital devices make attention worse?

Ever wondered if using digital devices is harmful to kids?

For those who just popped into this century, it is obvious that the education press is ripe with discussion of digital devices in classrooms. For the rest of us, the number of stories about the promise of tablets, games, and all their brothers, sisters, and cousins has just grown greater every year.

All this growth of technology has led people to voice reservations about technology in education, including education for students with learning disabilities. Some people probably needlessly fret that digital devices might deter children from learning to read and write (as noted at # 10 in “10 Big Concerns about Tablets in the Classroom”), and common complaints are that the devices are inherently distracting, that multi-tasking will reduce productivity, and that students will use them to do things other than assigned tasks (e.g., messaging each other). Probably most of these are overstated.

In fact, psychologist (and friend of LD Blog) Dan Willingham published an opinion piece in the New York (NY, US) Times entitled “Smartphones Don’t Make Us Dumb” that debunked the idea that devices disrupt attention, if not promoting inattention.

AS much as we love our digital devices, many of us have an uneasy sense that they are destroying our attention spans. We skitter from app to app, seldom alighting for long. Our ability to concentrate is shot, right?

Research shows that our intuition is wrong.

You should read Dan’s entire column (see link at the title), however, to get his full take on these ideas. You’ll have to concentrate, of course. (Also, watch for his forthcoming book, Raising Kids Who Read. I bet it’s going to be a good one.)

Ensley on LD

In a post on her blog that was also carried by the Huffington Post, Karem Ensley discussed “3 Things You Should Know About Learning Disabilities.” I don’t want to steal her content (better that one read it in its original form), but suffice it to say that she focused on foundational points (e.g., having LD does not mean one is dumb) and avoided falling into popular traps (e.g., she addressed “learning differently” without going for learning styles).

LD misrepresented again

In a recent installment of “Stephanie’s Heroes,” Stephanie Satchell, a local TV reporter, tells the story of Lauren Baetsen, Emily Nemec, and Amanda Halacy who are undergraduates at the University of Virginia and who will spend their summer working with children who have moderate to severe intellectual disabilities and other disabilities in Lusaka, Zambia. The effort by these young women makes for a marvelous story, and I’m very glad Ms. Stachell covered it. It’s too bad she does not know “learning disabilities” from this host of other problems, though.
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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.

Not LD still going strong

The misrepresentation of Learning Disabilities as a generic or catch-all term continues. I just stumbled upon another instance of it.

www.azvice.com 602-471-0346 Kim Yamamoto Arizona Advocates fights for Arizona school rights for children with ADHD, Autism, Aspergers, Downs syndrome, & other learning disabilities.

I elected not to link back to the site so as not to provide traffic for the it. Sigh.

To get an idea of how many times we’ve talked about this problem, please follow the tag “Not LD.”

Subtyping LD

Have you been hearing a lot about subtypes of LD lately? Perhaps it’s just that I’ve been especially alert to it, but it seems I’ve heard a lot of mentions about subtypes of Learning Disabilities in the last few weeks. I want to write a longer, more thorough discussion of the topic, but I’ve found myself repeating a few foundational comments, so I thought I ought to post them here and let others have a go at them.

First, the idea of subtypes of LD is essentially a given. It has to do with the heterogeneity of LD. Because LD is essentially an umbrella category for a diverse array of learning disabilities (note the plural), there are bound to be subgroups. Some students will have problems primarily with reading, some primarily with arithmetic and mathematics, some with writing, others with combinations of these. That makes for lots of subgroups right there. That is, one could start with dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia!
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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?