Archive for the 'Policy' Category

Thompson Road by Scott Wyatt

Because he thought I would be interested in reviewing it, Scott Wyatt, an author of contemporary fiction, sent me a copy of a new title called “Thompson Road.” The reasons he thought it was fitting for LD Blog will become clear as I describe the story.

Thompson Road follows adolescents who grow into adulthood in the Pacific Northwest in the 1930s-40s-50s. Mr.’s Wyatt’s choice of this time allows him to highlight many important ideas that touch on how people personally view learning disabilities (LD) and on issues about public policy in disabilities. But that’s not what Thompson Road is really about.
Continue reading ‘Thompson Road by Scott Wyatt’

The House should support Resolution 456

U.S. Representative Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, with the support of Representative Julia Brownley of California, introduced a resolution to the U.S. House of Representatives 10 January 2014 calling on “State and local educational agencies to recognize that dyslexia has significant educational implications that must be addressed.” The resolution, which was foreshadowed by a kick-off event by the Congressional Dyslexia Caucus in November of 2013, is drawing support around the Internet, as it should, from diverse sources:

  • Sally and Bennett Shaywitz, noted advocates and researchers on dyslexia, posted a notice on their site, Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity, and published a guest editorial in the influential political news source, The Hill calling for support of the resolution.
  • Pete and Pam Wright of Wrightslaw, the widely esteemed site for legal information about students with disabilities, lent their support to the effort, recommending constituents contact their representatives.
  • Over on Barto’s World (long-time connection with LD Blog), Amy Barto posted an entry pointing to the Yale Center’s and Wrightslaw’s pages.
  • Over on High Expectations Advocacy, Sandra Fitzpatrick posted a blog entry pointing to the Yale Center post and recommending that people contact their own representatives to encourage those legislators to support the resolution.
  • Joan Brennan, at Help for Struggling Readers provided a message of support including some useful links (along with some links to her own product).

Dyslexia is the most common reason that students are identified as having learning disabilities in the US. It is, indeed, a problem that deserves very careful consideration and systematic, evidence-based treatment. Even though some may glamorize it and others may ignore it, I agree that the most appropriate course of action is to recognize it and empower schools (and others) to address it effectively and humanely.

Readers interested in obtaining a PDF copy of the full resolution can download one.

RTI can’t stop parents from requesting evaluations

Given the continuing interest in response to instruction (or intervention), it’s important to remember that parents can still request that their child be evaluated for special education. Thanks to organizations such as the Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA), parents can be well-informed about how and why to pursue this avenue when they have a child who needs help. Just because a school is using an RTI process, that’s not sufficient reason to delay an eligibility evaluation. The RTI data may be a part of the evidence in determining eligibility, but shouldn’t be the sole criterion.

I’m no lawyer so this is not legal advice, but as I understand it, schools cannot use RTI to stand in the way of a parent’s request. LDA published a helpful position paper on this matter in 2013, and it is available for free.

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.]

Psychiatrist explains new diagnosis in 50 sec

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) posted a video of Susan E. Swedo, M.D. and Chair of the APA’s work group that developed the revised definition of “learning disorder” for APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition (DSM-5), explaining that the new definition will allow psychiatrists to use a broad classification and then focus on specific characteristics of individual cases. You can watch this 50-sec video of Dr. Swedo explaining not very much about what’s been a pretty controversial decision.

I would encourage folks not to work themselves into too much of a lather about the APA’s decision to alter its definition of “learning disorders.” The psychiatrists’ definition of these problems doesn’t have much effect in the USA on the legal definition of LD that influences decisions about services in schools. The APA (not, by the way, to be confused with the American Psychological Association, aka “APA”) uses its definition for the purposes of classification and (importantly) billing insurance companies. The diagnostic and statistical manuals are designed to be used by “a wide range of health and mental health professionals, including psychiatrists and other physicians, psychologists, social workers, nurses, occupational and rehabilitation therapists, and counselors” (see the DSM site), not by educators.

For folks wanting to learn more on this topic, the Learning Disabilities Association of America posted a brief document in the summer of 2012 in which Larry Silver summarized background and updated information about DSM and learning disorders in DSM-5.

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.

Public awareness series on PBS Rundown

Over on The Rundown, a blog affiliated with the US PBS show The Newshour, Jason Kane has an entry focused on Learning Disabilities as a prelude to segments to appear on the TV news show. In collaboration with our friend Sheldon Horowitz of the National Center on Learning Disabilities, Mr. Kane describes “Five Misconceptions About Learning Disabilities.” Check it out and that watch the segments.

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).
Continue reading ‘Bullying and FAPE’

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.

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?