wrong, wrong, wrong…
It’s all so wrong! The public school system has many faults. Sadly, it’s true. The thing is… it’s not the teachers. It’s not even the administrators. And it’s definitely NOT the students. Perhaps… the parents? Just kidding ;). I don’t believe the fault lies within individual professionals, not even within collective groups of professionals. It’s the system. Years of misguided policy, piece-meal iniatives, and misapropriated funds.
As a result of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, we are supposed to provide a free and appropriate education to all students. Albeit free, it’s hardly appropriate for a growing number of primary school students. To label or not to label? That is the question!
Many school districts are careful about not labeling students as having learning disabilities during the early years of the their education. Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Of course it does! However, if we don’t label those children and they don’t receive special education services so that they CAN learn to read, write and develop early numeracy, then what happens?
The general education teacher is supposed to differentiate his/her instruction to accomodate for all of his/her student needs. Sounds reasonable, right? Sure, to a point. As a special education teacher myself, I can say that I’ve worked with some really great teachers. Teachers who do care. Teachers who have a high level of professionalism and who do everything they can to meet the needs of their students. The problem is that there are just too many students for them to do it well when they have a couple who just don’t seem to respond to any of their interventions.
So those 2-3 get “left behind.” Not intentionally. If they are lucky, they qualify for English as a Second Language (ESOL) services or maybe the reading specialist will read with them and they get a pull-out session once or twice a week. But that’s not going to cut it for these kids. So as the year comes to an end, their classroom teacher has to decide whether or not to retain them or to push them up to the next grade without having met the grade level benchmark.
This happens in kindergarten, and then again in first grade, and maybe again in second, until… the pressure of the high stakes test scores finally create some urgency and these kids all get tested and begin to receive services in the hopes that the third grade special education teacher can teach them all to read, write, and do math well enough to receive a passing score on the third grade exams.
If that’s really happening, “Why?” you ask, “are we holding out on testing for special education?” The answer to that is tricky. Age does play a role. Students between the ages of 5 and 8 respond to stress in very different ways. Some completely shut down, enough to convince an entire child study team over the course of months that he/she was mentally retarded! Some act out and might seem bipolar, even to the trained eye. Others respond more cooly to stress and are able to function fairly well. So the hesitancy to label is there for good reason. Furthermore, I’ve been told that it’s very easy to test “too high” for special education in kindergarten and first grade. And third, I’m sure that funding has something to do with it too… even though it doesn’t factor directly into the round table discussions at the local school level.
What we are dealing with is a lack of early intervention for any student in need. Not just kids in Title 1 schools or who are limited English Proficient (LEP).
We shouldn’t simply push students on to the next grade without mastering basic competancies and we should equip/support general education teachers with intervention programs and staff!!!
Yes, these are costly propositions but there are ways to save money… I’ll save that for a post at a later date.