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Published in Print: April 19, 2000, as Report Charts Growth In Special Education

Report Charts Growth In Special Education

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More young children than ever are receiving special education services, and an increasing number with disabilities are earning high school diplomas, according to the Department of Education's latest annual report on such students.

For More Information

Read Twenty-First Annual Report to Congress on the Implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, from the U.S. Dept. of Education.

One of the most dramatic changes documented in the department's 21st annual report on the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is the sharp rise in children 2 years old or younger who were receiving special education services. Between 1988 and 1997, that number soared from 34,270 to 197,376, according to the report, which was released here last week.

A majority of those children—55 percent—received services in their homes. The report says that children between birth and age 2 are also receiving services in early-intervention classrooms and outpatient- service facilities.

The rise in the number of babies and toddlers receiving special education services can be attributed to better identification practices over that 10-year period, said Judith E. Heumann, the Education Department's assistant secretary for special education and rehabilitative services. Recent joint efforts involving state special education programs, mental-health professionals, and health providers have contributed to that increase, she said during a press conference here last week.

Schools also have more flexibility now in defining the needs of young children because of the addition of the "developmentally delayed" category to the IDEA in 1997. Before then, many special-needs categories required that children meet criteria tied to academic achievement, which did not apply to young children.

More Diplomas Earned

On the other end of the age spectrum, the report shows that more than 25 percent of students with disabilities leaving special education programs did so with high school diplomas.

That number rose 6.6 percent between the 1995-96 and 1996-97 school years, to about 134,000 students. "Obviously, that is a small increase," said Kenneth R. Warlick, the department's newly appointed director of the office of special education programs. "But it is still progress."

In addition, the proportion of students ages 3 to 21 receiving the bulk of their schooling in regular classrooms also crept up from 45.9 percent in 1995-96 to 46.2 percent in 1996- 97. That figure allows room for improvement as well, Ms. Heumann said.

"We do believe that there are many more children who can spend time in regular classrooms," she said.

But she added that regular-classroom teachers need to be better qualified to teach special education students, a problem that was cited in last year's report as well. ("Report Charts Rise in Spec. Ed. Enrollment," March 17, 1999.)

The new report says professional-development programs provided by the Education Department "do not necessarily support activities that would increase the capacity of regular education teachers to address the needs of students with disabilities."

The total number of students receiving special education services has also increased, but not by much. That figure rose 3 percent in 1997-98, bringing to nearly 6 million the total number of such students between ages 3 and 21.

Vol. 19, Issue 32, Page 35

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