Special Education Briefly Stated

Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed

January 21, 2020 7 min read
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In Detection of Autism, Minority Children Fall Through the Cracks

Once again, children of color are being overlooked—this time when it comes to how many have autism.

At least a quarter of children with autism spectrum disorder may go undiagnosed, a new study finds, and of those, the affliction in black and Hispanic children is more likely not to be recognized.

The bottom line, the findings out of the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School suggest, is that children whose lives could be improved by getting needed services may be falling through the cracks.

“There may be various reasons for the disparity, from communication or cultural barriers between minority parents and physicians to anxiety about the complicated diagnostic process and fear of stigma,” said study co-author Walter Zahorodny, an associate professor of pediatrics at Rutgers. “Also, many parents whose children are diagnosed later often attribute their first concern to a behavioral or medical issue rather than a developmental problem.”

Children of color have long been suspected of being underdiagnosed with autism, the nation’s fastest-growing developmental disability. Characterized by communication and social difficulties or deficits and repetitive behaviors, autism must be detected early to help children reach their full potential, experts agree.

The study, published last month in the journal Autism Review, was conducted by reviewing the medical and education records of children in 11 states that are part of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network. Studies are performed within the network to estimate autism-prevalence rates.

The researchers analyzed the records of 266,000 8-year-olds and found 4,550 met the diagnostic criteria for autism. Of those children, 1,135 had not been diagnosed with the disorder. Black and Hispanic children were more likely to be in the undiagnosed group.

Zahorodny, who directs the New Jersey portion of the study, said such findings underline the need for universal screening for autism.

Latching Onto Neuroscience, Teachers Venture Forth to Scan Students’ Brains

Teachers may look like they’re prepping students for a trip in a time machine or some other piece of sci-fi ware. Alas, it’s not so, though it is a new venture into science.

By placing what looks like a shower cap on students’ heads, educators are being given a new way of thinking about how students change and grow as they learn.

The Haskins Global Language and Literacy Innovation Hub, a lab associated with Yale University, has partnered with two schools to study students as they learn to read over several years. Rather than just receiving feedback from the researchers, however, teachers at the Windward Institute in New York and AIM Academy in Philadelphia—each of which serves students with language-related disabilities like dyslexia—are learning to monitor and understand their own students’ brain activity to identify neurological markers of progress or problems.

Haskins researchers train teachers to employ electroencephalography, or EEG, which uses a net of electrodes to measure electrical impulses in the brain.

Teachers monitor every incoming student in grades 2-6 twice a year, with parents’ consent. The teacher explains to the student how the EEG cap is placed and shows via computer how the sensors catch brain activity when the student blinks or moves her head. Then the teacher walks the student through tasks on speech and text perception, word reading, and even understanding movie clips. Students get time after each session to ask questions.

“We can actually see that the ... reading circuit does change as students learn the effective ways to read,” said Danielle Scorrano, an 8th grade teacher at Windward. “So, it’s really empowering for me as a teacher to know that by using these research-based methods, that I’m essentially changing my students’ brains to read better.”

The researchers and the schools hope in the long run such studies will help predict which students will respond better or worse to different kinds of reading interventions.

N.C. Compresses American History Into One Class

In today’s political climate, with all the partisan squabbling, spread of exaggerated claims and outright lies, and physical and vocal attacks on racial, ethnic, religious, and gender groups, students need all the help they can get to wade through the morass. If history repeats itself, as so many scholars say, then you’d think history classes would be a good way to sort through the confusion.

Well, lawmakers in North Carolina have decided to cut the number of American history courses incoming high school students will have to take from two to one. In its place will be a personal-finance-course mandate.

The state board of education this month adopted the new graduation requirements for freshmen entering high school in the 2020-21 school year to reflect the new directive for the economics and finance class.

Some social studies teachers have worried the legislative mandate would squeeze out U.S. history instruction.

State education officials, however, contend halving the number of classes won’t result in less student knowledge of American history. They point out that elementary and middle schoolers learn about the subject and a required high school civics class with history content has been revamped. Students also will have to keep taking a world history course.

Of course, the change will give North Carolina students plenty of company. As state education leaders told local media, 47 other states only require one U.S. history course.

Watch Out, Students: Admissions Officers Are Watching You

College-bound students, beware. Persnickety admissions officers peeking at your social media is more than urban myth. A new survey confirms it.

More than a third of the nearly 300 college-admissions officers surveyed by the Kaplan Test Prep company say they have visited sites like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube to get more information about a prospective student. That’s up from 25 percent last year but down a bit since 2015, when 40 percent said they used social media to inform admissions decisions.

Still, only 1 in 5 admissions officers say they look at social-media profiles “very often” or “somewhat often.”

And what admissions officers find is just as likely to help a student as to hurt him. In fact, 37.9 percent say they found something in an applicant’s social-media profile that helped her cause, compared with 32.3 percent who say they found something that hurt.

So what helps? Volunteer work. Awards. Performances. And what hurts? No surprise. Photos or evidence of underage drinking, partying, or sharing offensive thoughts.

Case in point: Harvard University yanked an offer to Kyle Kashuv, a conservative activist and survivor of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., when it became clear that he had sent racist Tweets.

The majority of students—70 percent—think it’s OK for college-admissions officers to check them out on TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook. Only 59 percent of admissions officers say the sites are fair game.

So should students spend hours tweaking their social-media presence to look like the ideal applicant? No, says Kaplan. SAT and ACT scores, grades, extracurriculars, and essays matter far more.

Kaplan’s advice to teenagers: “Remain careful and strategic about what [you] share,” said Sam Pritchard, its director of college-prep programs. “In 25 years, you’ll definitely remember where you graduated college from, but you’ll unlikely remember how many people liked that photo of what you did over winter break.”

Los Angeles Students Get Surprise Visitor From the Skies

The sky is falling. The sky is falling.

That may have been how dozens of schoolchildren felt when an airliner with engine trouble dumped jet fuel over a densely populated area near Los Angeles while making an emergency return to the airport, dousing students in a smelly vapor.

Now, U.S. authorities are investigating why that happened.

A Delta Air Lines flight, with 181 passengers on board, turned back to Los Angeles International Airport only minutes after taking off last week. The pilot reported an engine problem. If planes must land early because of an emergency, it can be necessary to dump fuel.

Even though the pilot told air traffic control that it did not need to dump fuel, the plane did so as it circled back across greater Los Angeles to approach the airport.

The fuel sprayed out in two streams from the wings and fell at midday in the city of Cudahy and nearby parts of Los Angeles County. The vapor directly landed on three Los Angeles campuses, and about 20 others experienced some effects from the odor of the discharged fuel. The fuel caused minor skin and lung irritation to 56 children and adults, but nobody was taken to the hospital, and the only decontamination required was soap and water, officials said.

Schools were cleaned overnight and reopened the next day.

Federal Aviation Administration procedures require fuel to be dumped over designated unpopulated areas, typically at higher altitudes to prevent the fuel from reaching the ground.

But pilots can deviate from the rules in an emergency for safety reasons, said Doug Moss, a retired airline captain and owner of AeroPacific Consulting, an aviation consulting firm in Reno, Nev.

Briefly Stated contributors: Associated Press, Alyson Klein, Sarah D. Sparks, and Tribune News Service. Edited by Karen Diegmueller.
A version of this article appeared in the January 22, 2020 edition of Education Week as Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed

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