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Thursday, April 13, 2006



This is a very interesting question and one that came up just the other day at my school.

On a related issue, a lot of students in my school are being placed in "sheltered English" classes because their English is so poor. However if you talk to them in Spanish, their language is STILL poor. So then is it really a language barrier, or is it something else?

On the other hand, I feel more and more people are getting classified these days. Are we getting better at identifying problems, or are we merely over classifying?

Thanks for stopping by my place. Swing by anytime!:)

John Lloyd

Good question, Liz. I saw the stories about the LEAs in the northeast (MA?) where this matter seems to be hot; I left them alone, in part because they are complex. your question of "how many should there be?": I dunno.

It would be good to review the legislative history of IDEA, as I think this was a topic raised during the passage of the original US legislation (PL 94-142). As I recall, experts speculated that the percentage of children that schools could expect to serve would be ≈12%, with ≈2% of these being students with LD. Of course, the percentages of LD have exceeded that prediction, but the overall percentage, nationally, is still below the predicted 12% (11.18% of 6-17 year olds; see Annual Reports to Congress).

A statistical way to examine the question would be to accept the observed mean as the best overall guess and note that any states within a given range of that (±1 standard deviation)—9.97 to 13.30— were "normal." AZ, CA, CO, ID, & NA have identification levels beyond -1 SD low; DC, ME, NJ, SC, and WV have identification levels more than +1 SD higher than the mean.

Of course, that statistical approach has it's problems (e.g., is the observed average truly "normal?"), so it wouldn't provide the final word. How about an alternative approach?

The problem with identification of disability mostly occurs in the LD and SED areas. It's hard to tell, some folks say, whether children identified in those areas have disabilities or are just suffering from dysteachia. So, provide optimal instruction and services in general education and see how many students still qualify. I have no doubt that there would still be many children with substantial reading problems; check the data from O'Connor, Torgesen, and others who have found that even under optimal, research-funded conditions, at least 2% (perhaps 4%) of children continue to struggle with decoding. Furthermore, the identification rates for Emotional Disturbance continue to run far below scientific data examining prevalence of those problems.

Given the foregoing, it should be clear that I don't think there is a firm numerical or arithmetic answer to the question about how many students should receive special education. But, from a different perspective, I can say that I (personally) believe that every child who has a disability should receive special education and that no child has a disability should be excluded from receiving special education. I am fearful that much of the bashing of special education —it's a bad thing; people should avoid it; etc.—will lead to too many errors in the latter direction, too many false negatives.


thanks for the thoughtful and educated reply, John.

"Special Education" is such a confusing concept, covering as everything from kids who are three standard deviations above the mean in IQ, with specific learning disabilities, to kids two SD below the mean with other issues, to EBD, to kids with perceptual deficits, to .....

The thing that concerned me is this quote from the Nevada paper

Marva Cleven, coordinator for special services and early childhood education for the Churchill County School District, recently told school board trustees the number of special education students is down 47 from the 2004 count.

"Last year we found 75 students who were no longer eligible for special education services. We did an audit and found they did not belong in special education," Cleven said.

The number of referrals for testing also dropped. Cleven said last year the district received referrals to test 121 students. This year the figure decreased to 66.

She attributed part of the decline to an intervention team that seeks other ways to help a student before labeling that child as disabled.

"Teachers are learning how to implement interventions and focus on strategies," said Cleven.

For the kids' sake, I hope Cleven is correct--that the referrals dropped by 50% because Churchill teachers have gained skills. But I'm skeptical of that much change in one year.

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