Expanded Special-Education Services at High-School Level Urged
Jackson Hole, Wyo.--State directors of special education meeting here last week said that it is time for professionals and policymakers to expand special-education services at the secondary-school level.
A number of the directors said their states are starting to examine the programs available to learning-disabled students at the secondary level, as well as to question the ability of schools to help such students make the transition from high-school to the workplace or college.
Those interviewed were among officials of approximately 35 states who traveled through a freak mid-October snowstorm in this region to attend the annual conference of the National Association of State Directors of Special Education.
"Historically, special-education programs focused on younger kids," said Jeffrey Osowski, director of special education for the New Jersey Department of Education. "Now, when we are looking for accountability in education, we realize that if we don't do the job well at the secondary level, we will lose all the ground gained at the preschool and elementary levels."
Earmarked U.S. Funds
Last year, for the first time, the Congress amended special-education law to provide funds specifically for secondary and transitional programs. (The new law is P.L. 98-199, the Education of the Handicapped Act Amendments of 1983.) This year, the Congress increased the appropriation from $6 million to $6.3 million.
Martin Kaufman, director of the division of educational services in the office of special-education programs of the U.S. Education Department, said the money appropriated by the Congress for 1985 will be used to evaluate model programs that were tried last year at the secondary level and to support more cooperative planning programs between schools and service agencies.
"We feel the federal initiative is consistent with state and local initiatives concerning special educa3tion at the secondary level," said Mr. Kaufman. "This is the next iteration of trying to improve the special-education programs in the schools. It's been almost 10 years since P.L. 94-142, and the kids who started school under that are moving up through the system with new expectations."
New Jersey Program
New Jersey began a pilot program this year to meet the needs of the learning-disabled at the junior-high and high-school levels. Ten school districts received a total of $1.2 million from the state's federal funding for special education to implement the three-year program.
"We had three very simple objectives," Mr. Osowski said. "We wanted to decrease the dropout rate, increase the basic skills, and increase employment--not simply employable skills, but actual employment."
The state then conducted a nationwide study of secondary-level special-education programs and created its own general plan, incorporating a variety of factors "that would lead to success," Mr. Osowski said. These include involving parents, community agencies, and employers; managing disruptive behavior; and providing a curriculum for the learning-disabled that is integrated with the regular curriculum. Using these general objectives as guidelines, each school created its own plan.
Mr. Osowski said that in the first year schools will focus on planning the programs. In the second year, they will proceed with full implementation, and in the third, they will concentrate on evaluation and communication to other districts.
"If we are going to do special education really well, we must not only have the narrow vision of what we are going to do in kindergarten through 12th grade, but also have a vision of what we're sending kids to," he said. "If we have the blinders on, we'll end up sending a lot of kids out there thinking we did a job really well, and they go out there and they can't hold a job, they can't function independently. ... At the national level and at the state level, we're beginning to realize we've got to prepare kids for what's beyond."
Idaho is also pressing for changes in the type of special education available to adolescents and to "fit that in with the initiatives for excellence," said Martha Noffsinger, special-education supervisor for the State Department of Education.
"The learning-disabled student at the high-school level is generally competing with regular students in credit-bearing courses required for graduation," she said. "As these standards increase, the ld student is under an increasing handicap, unless we, at the state level, provide more adaptive curricula in required courses." Idaho is one of many states working on a curriculum for learning-disabled students that can be adapted to a regular curriculum at the secondary level and can be taught by regular faculty members, Ms. Noffsinger said. In Idaho, as in most other states, learning-disabled students take regular courses but receive special tutorial help in a resource room set up specifically for their needs.
"The tutorial Band-Aid isn't working," she said. "We feel that what should be done is to free the resource-room teacher to do the work preparation, the daily-living skills, the work-attitudes instruction, and the individualized instruction that can't happen anywhere else."
Douglas Householder, special-education director for the Northeast Colorado Board of Cooperative Education Services, agreed.
"People sincerely believe we're helping these kids [by tutoring them], because you help them get through each class, each day, each exam,'' he said. "But what we're really doing is fostering dependence, and these kids aren't prepared to step out of the high-school situation and make it in the world."
Ms. Noffsinger also said Idaho hopes to begin preparing such students for the working world early in secondary school with a vocational assessment that identifies a student's interests, abilities, and potential. Furthermore, instruction, in many cases, would include community-based work experience.
For the learning-disabled, as well as for the more severely handicapped, the school has to play a "broker role," Ms. Noffsinger said, in planning transitions from high school to the workplace. "We feel strongly that the parents have to be party to this, and that there is also a strong linkage between the schools and the adult-service providers to help parents identify early the kinds of access to services that will be needed," she said.
State officials are beginning to realize that the transition cannot begin "when the student's last iep [individualized education plan] rolls around," said William Capehart, director of special education for the West Virginia Department of Education. "We're having the biggest problem in the actual definition of 'transition.' Special-education administrators view transition as only the bridge in that child's last year with us. ... When we take the secondary-school initiative nationwide, we need to start in the early-childhood years--that's where the transition actually takes the first step."