To the Editor:
Now that the Every Student Succeeds Act has been signed into federal law as the newest edition of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the hard work at the state level begins (“President Signs ESEA Rewrite, Giving States, Districts Bigger Say on Policy,” Politics K-12 blog). As a special educator and researcher of early literacy interventions for students with (or at risk for) disabilities, I believe the right structures must be put in place to ensure this vulnerable population is prepared for college and careers. Together, students with learning disabilities or emotional disturbances represent up to 40 percent of the school-age population who receive special education.
Research tells us that one of the major barriers to academic success for this student population is its difficulty with reading. Many students with learning disabilities or emotional disturbances have reading deficits and perform one to two years behind grade level at a minimum. Policymakers and educators should consider the implications for such students and offer enhanced standards for reading, writing, and higher expectations.
Research also shows a connection between students’ reading difficulties, attitude, and behavior. On one hand, problem behavior can cause academic failure; on the other, poor academic performance can lead to an increase in problem behavior. Bottom line: If learning disabilities are not caught early and the right interventions employed, the challenges for students with such disabilities, or with emotional disturbances, only multiply and worsen.
In addition to task-analyzing and breaking down standards into small chunks with accommodations and modifications, these students need intensive and evidence-based interventions that allow them to master skills like reading, writing, and math.
The right supports and interventions should be used—and funded at the local level—to help all students succeed.
Yes, every student can achieve.
Stephanie Al Otaiba
Simmons School of Education and Human Development
Southern Methodist University
A version of this article appeared in the January 13, 2016 edition of Education Week as State Support for Special-Needs Students Would Supplement ESSA