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Education Letter to the Editor

Letters To The Editor

May 16, 1984 6 min read
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As a mathematics teacher, compensatory-education coordinator, and Florida Statewide Student Assessment Test (ssat) administrator, I share James T. Stasio’s concern about alternative testing programs (“Exit Tests and the Handicapped: An Unfair End to Years of Struggle,” Education Week, April 11, 1984).

Passing the ssat is a requirement for receiving a standard Florida high-school diploma. The ssat tests students’ mastery of basic reading, writing, and mathematics skills. Students are given at least five opportunities to pass the test. Those who are unsuccessful may receive a certificate of completion in lieu of a diploma.

Exceptional-education students may opt to fulfill the test requirement and receive a standard diploma, or to receive a special-education diploma, thereby waiving the test requirement. Florida also makes provision for students who are physically handicapped. Adaptations are made according to the nature of the handicap.

However, there is one very important group of students for whom no provision is made--those with limited English proficiency.

A student who has been in the United States and attended school for two years is expected to be able to demonstrate mastery of the skills that are tested. This requires proficiency in English. The test requires a student to read and comprehend the question and choose the correct answer. I am sure that I would have a great deal of difficulty passing such a test in a language other than English.

Although I agree that a student can become functionally literate within two years, I question the ability of the same student to pass a test that requires comprehension and application of English grammar and usage.

Why is no provision made for alternative testing for students with limited English proficiency? I cannot believe that present testing procedures for these students provide results that are valid. I hope the Florida education committee will take this into consideration in upcoming legislative sessions.

Pamela A. Bachman

DeLand, Fla.

As a guidance counselor in an 800-student elementary school that draws a large number of students from a low-income housing project, I found Irwin A. Hyman and John D’Alessandro’s recent commentary, “Oversimplifying the Discipline Problem” (Education Week, April 11, 1984), particularly interesting. I agree with the authors’ assertion that student misbehavior is a complex problem that reflects the problems of the neighborhood and of society at large.

Counselors work consistently to develop such goals as decision-making skills, respect for self and others, and a sense of pride in school and community. Often I face the irony of teaching students to select options other than fighting to settle their disputes, only to see their parents fighting with one another at the bus stop.

Because our staff members are concerned about the problems of student discipline and searching for new directions, we are documenting incidents and behaviors that are disruptive within the classroom and around the campus so we can identify patterns of behavior to determine the best form of school discipline. Corporal punishment may be effective in getting the attention of the chronically disruptive child, but paddling produces little long-term behavior change.

Programs that suit the curricula to individual needs, build self-esteem, and treat students with fairness and respect will result in the development of the whole child--physically, intellectually, and emotionally. This direction, which is the aim of the elementary guidance program, is a much more positive approach than a return to “good old-fashioned discipline” in our public schools.

Patricia A. Ruehl

Guidance counselor Blue Lake Elementary School DeLand, Fla.

We were pleased to read your recent articles on the increased number of learning-disabled pupils being served in our nation’s schools (“Rise in Learning-Disabled Pupils Fuels Concern in States, Districts” and “Philadelphia To Study Classification of Learning-Disabled Pupils,’' Education Week, April 25, 1984). While we are aware of many issues relative to identification and service delivery, there are many children with this hidden handicap who need to be helped now and many others who are still neither identified nor served.

The mission of the Foundation for Children with Learning Disabilities is to increase public awareness, provide information to parents and professionals, and support nationwide projects to improve services to learning-disabled children ages 3 to 21 in public or private schools, colleges, and recreation and cultural centers.

The foundation publishes materials through our funded projects and an annual magazine called Their World. The magazine is designed to help parents understand the various problems affecting the academic, social, and recreational activities of their learning-disabled children and is free for single-order requests.

Among the materials we publish is The fcld Guide for Parents of Children with Learning Disabilities, the first compilation of state-by-state resources on schools, clinics, and diagnostic centers, selection of a professional, and rights provided by P.L. 94-142.

For information, please write to the foundation at 99 Park Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.

Sandra Kuntz Executive Director Foundation for Children with Learning Disabilities New York, N.Y.

You report in your article on the rise of learning-disabled students that the U.S. Education Department’s office for civil rights’ annual survey of placements in special-education programs has consistently found a disproportionate number of minority students in programs for the “educable mentally retarded.” Nowhere in the article, however, is there mention of an equally significant imbalance in the ratio of males to females receiving special-education and related services.

Data collected by ocr in the fall of 1980 reveal that approximately 67 percent of all students who were identified as needing specialized educational services and 72 percent of those identified as learning-disabled were male.

One reason often given for the large number of boys who are identified as needing special services is the higher percentage of boys born with birth defects. However, physiological differences alone are an insufficient explanation. Just as the overrepresentation of minority students in the educable mentally retarded category raises questions of race bias, the disproportionate representation of males in special-education classrooms may be an indication of sex bias in the identification process.

Sex bias and stereotyping detrimentally affect both male and female disabled students, although the consequences differ by sex. Incorrectly identifying boys as needing special services limits their educational choices and labels them for the rest of their lives. By the same token, failure to identify girls who do need special services limits their access to specialized educational opportunities.

Educators often cite behavior and academic problems as reasons for referring students for special education. Since boys and minority students are often considered to be more difficult to manage, it is possible that these students may be more frequently referred for special-education programs simply to remove “troublesome” students from the classroom. Meanwhile, the special needs of passive, well-behaved students--many of whom are girls--may be overlooked.

An appropriate education, one that meets the needs of each individual student, must be free of the limitations imposed by sex and race stereotyping. In order to achieve this, we must first recognize that the problem exists.

Claire Cunningham Jane Kratovil Project on Educational Equity for Disabled Students Resource Center on Sex Equity Council of Chief State School Officers Washington, D.C.

A version of this article appeared in the May 16, 1984 edition of Education Week as Letters To The Editor

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