Special Education

A Special Case

March 01, 2004 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

“A Special Case”

Stories in this series include ...

Not Separate, but Equal:
James Russell Lowell Elementary has shut down all of its special ed classrooms.

Tandem Teaching:
A cooperative approach at Clark Middle School asks special ed teachers to master new subjects.

Supplemental Success:
With a study-skills class, Cabrillo High School helps students with disabilities learn how to learn.

The notion that all children can—and should—meet challenging achievement standards has become the mantra of standards-based reform. Both in the individual school microcosm and in the larger academic universe, those standards boil down to numbers. And the numbers are telling.

Consider Byng Elementary School in Oklahoma, where 17 of the school’s 38 5th graders receive special education services. After 14 of those children scored below the “proficient” reading level on the state’s reading test during the 2002-03 school year, Byng missed its achievement target and failed to make “adequate yearly progress” under the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

It’s a precursor of what’s to come: Within the next decade, federal law will require that all students—including the roughly 6 million now categorized as having some sort of disability—perform at the proficient level on state exams. The effects could be as striking as the laws that mandated full access to public schools in the mid-1970s; nearly 96 percent of students with disabilities are now served in regular school buildings. Today, thanks in part to the standards drive, more and more of those students—and their teachers—are joining their counterparts in mainstream classrooms.

Proponents argue that testing requirements will prompt schools to focus less on following legal procedures involving students with disabilities and more on their academic performance. Yet critics wonder whether those students will ever be able to meet the same stringent academic standards as their peers.

For its annual Quality Counts report, Teacher Magazine‘s sister publication, Education Week, commissioned a nationwide survey of 800 special and general education teachers and found that the majority share these concerns. While almost 60 percent “somewhat” or “strongly” disagree that their students with individualized education plans are unable to learn the material they’re supposed to, more than eight in 10 believe that special ed students should be expected to meet a separate set of academic standards. (See the accompanying stories for additional survey results, and visit www.edweek.org/sreports/qc04/ for state-by-state analyses as well as stories examining key trends and programs).

So far, the statistics about the performance of special ed students on such tests, widely available for the first time, seem to reflect teachers’ concerns. Of the 39 states reporting complete data to Education Week in the wake of NCLB, 30 reported achievement gaps of 30 percent or more between special and general education students scoring at or above the “proficient” level in 4th grade reading tests. At the high school level, 32 of 36 states reported similar disparities.

Along with such disparities, new federal requirements that special ed teachers be “highly qualified” in every subject they teach have encouraged more of these teachers, particularly at the secondary level, to present academic content in collaborative or team-teaching settings with their general education colleagues. Even at younger grade levels, resource rooms and self-contained classrooms are gradually disappearing. More than three in four of all public school teachers now teach some special ed students. In the stories that follow, we look at three different approaches at three grade levels.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Budget & Finance Webinar
The ABCs of ESSER: How to Make the Most of Relief Funds Before They Expire
Join a diverse group of K-12 experts to learn how to leverage federal funds before they expire and improve student learning environments.
Content provided by Johnson Controls
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Modernizing Principal Support: The Road to More Connected and Effective Leaders
When principals are better equipped to lead, support, and maintain high levels of teaching and learning, outcomes for students are improved.
Content provided by BetterLesson
Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Special Education L.A. Agrees to Do More After Failing on Special Education. Could Other Districts Be Next?
The district failed to meet the needs of students with disabilities during the pandemic, the U.S. Department of Education found.
6 min read
Conceptual image of supporting students.
Illustration by Laura Baker/Education Week (Source images: DigitalVision Vectors and iStock/Getty)
Special Education Protect Students With Disabilities as COVID Rules Ease, Education Secretary Tells Schools
Even as schools drop precautions like mask requirements, they must by law protect medically vulnerable students, a letter emphasizes.
3 min read
Image of a student holding a mask and a backpack near the entrance of a classroom.
E+
Special Education Hearing, Vision ... Autism? Proposal Would Add Screening to School-Entry Requirements
Nebraska legislators consider a first-in-the-nation mandate to assess all children for autism before the start of school.
5 min read
Image of a student working with an adult one-on-one.
mmpile/E+
Special Education Florida Changed Rules for Special Education Students. Why Many Say It’s Wrong
The new rule contains a more specific definition of what it means to have a “most significant cognitive disability.”
Jeffrey S. Solochek, Tampa Bay Times
7 min read
Richard Corcoran, the Commissioner of the Florida Department of Education sits next to Florida Department of Education Board Chair Andy Tuck as they listen to speakers during Thursday morning's Florida Department of Education meeting. The board members of the Florida Department of Education met Thursday, June 10, 2021 at the Florida State College at Jacksonville's Advanced Technology Center in Jacksonville, Fla. to take care of routine business but then held public comments before a vote to remove critical race theory from Florida classrooms.
Richard Corcoran, Florida’s education commissioner, and Andy Tuck, the chair of the state’s board of education, listen to speakers at a meeting  in June.
Bob Self/The Florida Times-Union via AP