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Saturday, June 17, 2006



In my experience, learning disabilities are too often MISdiagnosed. This will come in one of two flavors, depending on the school. Either the school gives an IEP to a student who doesn't actually qualify (e.g. when the cognitive and educational scores are commensurate with one another and a few classroom accommodations without a full IEP will probably do the trick), or the school will give an IEP based on LD when there's likely something else going on (e.g. ADHD, language disability).

In the first example, the school has forgotten the third bullet point of Horn & Tynan, but this is often the case with many schools and it's sometimes my job to rein them in a little bit with the accommodations. In the second example it's either laziness or negligence on the part of the IEP Team. Sometimes, but not often, it's ignorance, but I don't often count on that being a reason.

Maryland Law requires that every school maintain a Student Support Team, which is supposed to meet and offer strategies for students prior to referral to the IEP Team. Many schools, alas, pay little more than lip service to the SST. The ones that have good, functioning SSTs are usually the ones that have high performance records with the standardized tests, and a higher percentage of IEP Team referrals involving kids who actually need Special Ed, meanwhile having a lower overall number of referrals to the team.


A secondary problem arising from Student Support Teams (or whatever the local name for those may be) is teachers who try the intervention once, see it fail, and decide it will never work. In my building this year, I have been very successful in holding teams to answer the question "what is the disability?" When they tell me there isn't one, the conversation moves away from special education to an accommodation plan. It's been difficult, frustrating work, but it has kept the percentage of weak referrals that move to special education out of teacher frustration down.

Horn and Tynan's third point remains lost, particularly in a society that increasingly feels entitled. Yes, special education is an entitlement system at its core, but it needs to return to the heart of its mission, to provide access to students who would not have it otherwise.

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