Special Education Column
Some testing situations are inherently biased against children who are handicapped, poor, black, or Hispanic, according to two Vanderbilt University researchers.
Douglas and Lynn Fuchs, both special-education professors, found, for example, that such children perform more poorly than their peers when given a test by someone they do not know. Performance improves markedly when the examiner is someone familiar to them.
The degree of familiarity with the examiner had no effect on the performances of children who were white, nonhandicapped, or from middle-class families.
The researchers said their findings could be significant because the norm-referenced tests given to children thought to need special-education services are often administered by "a stranger." As a result, they said, some may be placed in special programs when they do not need to be.
"It's certainly something examiners need to keep in mind when they administer tests to certain segments of the population," Ms. Fuchs said.
The conclusions were based on original research and a review of other studies. The combined data included information on more than 700 children, from preschool to grade 5.
California lawmakers are weighing a controversial measure that would restrict the use of aversive therapy in public and private schools.
The therapy, which uses physical punishments as a means of modifying behavior, drew statewide attention in 1986 after a 14-year-old severely handicapped boy died following such treatment. The boy, a student in a state-operated center, suffocated after his teacher rolled him up in a carpet in an effort to curb his "thrashing" behavior.
The new bill would ban aversive procedures that cause pain or emotional distress, such as electric shocks, harsh restraining methods, and food or water deprivation. Milder forms could be used only if they adhered to specifications outlined in the bill.
Under those guidelines, the aversive treatment would have to be part of the child's individualized education program, and school officials would have to include a "lay advocate" and an "independent, qualified professional" in meetings held to discuss whether a child should receive such therapy.
Parents who disagreed with the use of an aversive technique would be able to appeal to a state hearing officer.
The measure has already passed in the California Assembly and is now being considered by the Senate.
The U.S. Education Department has apparently modified its emphasis on integrating handicapped children into regular classrooms.
In a letter to the National Association of Private Schools for Exceptional Children, Madeleine C. Will, the department's assistant secretary for special education, said federal officials "never intended to imply that the regular classroom is always the appropriate location of services for handicapped children."
"In some cases, separate environments have been recognized as the least restrictive for some individual children," she wrote.
Ms. Will's statement was prompted by a letter from the group noting that some school districts interpret recent federal special-education guidelines as a mandate for placing all handicapped children in regular classrooms.
In 1984, Robert J. Kinderman noticed that his high school's efforts to mainstream special-education students were producing a good deal of unresolved frustration.
Teachers felt ill-equipped to deal with handicapped students; students were frustrated at their inability to keep up with the rest of the class; and no one was discussing such problems with anyone else.
Mr. Kinderman's solution was to form "The Breakfast Club," an early-morning, problem-solving meeting.
"We have vocational-education teachers, special-education teachers, regular-classroom teachers," said Mr. Kinderman, the vocational coordinator at Spooner High School in Spooner, Wis. "There might even be a custodian who was having problems with a particular student."
The orginal core group of 10 to 12 educators still meets once every other week at 7 A.M. for coffee and donuts. And "breakfast clubs" are being instituted, with the help of the state department of public instruction, in at least 12 other Wisconsin school districts.
The idea has won national recognition from the Council for Learning Disabilities.
"It's so simple," says Mr. Kinderman, "I'm amazed at the attention it's getting."
The Educational Resources Information Center Clearinghouse on Handicapped and Gifted Children has published an updated series of directories on federally funded research in special education.
They include a master directory listing abstracts of all such research projects, and a series of topical directories on research in specific areas. The clearinghouse, operated by the Council for Exceptional Children, also publishes a free, periodic newsletter with summaries of new research findings in the field.
All of the publications are available from the eric/osep Special Project, Council for Exceptional Children, Reston, Va. 22091. The directories range in price from $3 to $5.--dv