Saturday, January 31, 2009

Special Ed Students Immune From Failure?

Yesteday, I took part in an IEP (Individualized Education Program) meeting for an autistic student on my case load. The goal of the meeting was to evaluate whether the student is progressing academically with the strategies we have put in place for him.

And, out of the blue, there it was. One participant, a "resource teacher" specializing in autism, said, "Well, the child is recieving special ed services. There is no reason he should be failing."

I worked hard to keep my jaw from dropping. A few months ago, I would have said something to follow up such a comment - something to the effect of, "Special education students can fail, if they are not doing the work required desipte our best efforts." I would have said something like this but have learned to keep my mouth shut so as to avoid an "everyone against Kevin," scenario. Sadly, the view that kids recieving special ed services should not fail is commonplace.

To clarify, I do not accuse those holding this view of suggesting that students should pass simply because they recieve special education services. Their view is more nuanced: if a student receiving special education services is failing, then it must be because their work is not appropriately tailored to suit their abilities or strengths. This was what the participant at Friday's meeting was saying: as the student is failing classes, it must be because we special and general educators are not meeting his/her needs.

IF there is one over-arching problem with special education as administered in public schools (particularly high schools), it is this: special education inadvertently ends up shielding students from accountability. Special educators will pay lip-services to the idea that students must "meet teachers halfway," but these words collapse each time we introduce new services for a child in proportion to how badly they are failing. The worst part is that, by high school, students often know this and use it to their advantage. (I can't tell you how many times, for instance, I have seen kids recieve new services only to become lazier, thereby recieving new services, etc.)

The situation gets particularly delicate when we realize that, fairly often, a student is placed into special education because they are coming in far below the grade level required of the actual grade they are in (10th graders reading on a 3rd grade level, for instance.) Thus, when we talk about what "modificaitons" we need to make to their work, it often consists of reading things for them, scaling down the reading level of readings we give them, and, in a nutshell, making "10th grade english" into "3rd grade english that carries a 10th grade credit." This obliterates the entire idea of a "standards based" education by allowing some students to pass the same class as their peers, while having to master far less content in order to do so.

"Well, the child is recieving special ed services. There is no reason he should be failing." There has simply got to be a better way.

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