Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Special Ed and Graduation

This AP article appeared in the PI today. It's about the lack of transition training for Special Ed students who finish high school. From the article:

"During their public school years, children with disabilities are entitled to a menu of special services, such as music or occupational therapy, extra reading help and door-to-door transportation. The law also requires they be given an Individualized Education Program, a blueprint tailored to their needs with involvement from educators and parents.

It's a comforting safety net that often ends abruptly when students leave school. They might get help securing a job, enrolling in a technical school or giving college a try. But it's just as likely they won't, says Karen Leggett of Silver Spring, Md., who leads a group trying to improve the transition out of high school for students with disabilities.

Leggett said students with disabilities face waiting lists and tight funding for services once they leave high school. "Nobody really prepares you for that," she said."

The legalities?

"Educators are legally required to prepare special education students for life after school under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act. The law says that by the time students with disabilities are 16, schools are supposed to provide planning that may include more school, getting a job or trying to live independently.

The special education law covers about 7 million students with disabilities in public schools."

The realities?

"For many schools, transition probably hasn't been a focus because of the emphasis the 2002 No Child Left Behind education law places on ensuring that students with disabilities are being taught core academic subjects such as math and reading, said Alexa Posny, commissioner of education in Kansas and former director of special education at the U.S. Education Department.

There is a sense that the focus on academics has come at the expense of teaching so-called "life skills," such as navigating public transit or learning to shop for groceries, said Nancy Reder, deputy executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Special Education."

Thanks NCLB, for yet another way for this law to hurt public education in this country. Speaking as someone with a child with special ed needs, it is vital to teach your child about day to day life. I did it but what about a parent who - for whatever reason - can't? We'll just get one more adult in our country who can't function.

This country - both in education and health care - can be so penny-wise and pound foolish.


Anonymous said...

yawn --- so is she or anyone going to figure out what they want, what it costs in human time, and what it costs in money to buy that human time?

or, are we going to be treated to paragraphs, pages and books of wiritng about what is the right, noble, selfless thing to do, because it is easier to write paragraphs and pages than it is to figure out how to actually accomplish anything?

show me the money.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I assume that in saying "she" you mean the author of this post which would be me.

No, I don't know all the "costs". There are, however, likely people in government who could tell you but that might take some work on your part. You had no suggestions just comments so I'm thinking you wouldn't go out on a limb and find out for yourself.

If you want to look at it from the Libertarian view i.e. "what's in it for me?", here you go.

It costs less in preventative health care than emergency care visits. If every single child in this country were covered, we likely could save millions and millions in health care costs.

It costs less in Social Security for disabled people if we can train some of them to take care of themselves. Given how bad off SS is, it might be a good thing to help Special Ed kids learn life skills.

And where would the money come from? Two places. Ending the idiocy that is the war in Iraq would help. That, in and of itself, is killing us financially. And two, we pay taxes to help other people because we get it back in savings by not paying later for more homeless, more people with serious health issues and fewer people in prison.

We pay now or we'll pay later. And there's nothing "right" or "noble" or "selfless" about it; it's what we do to be a strong country.

Anonymous said...

I am a special ed teacher, but no longer teaching high school. My masters degree is actually in special education transition. It was fun to study, but because of that missing link between k-12 and other agencies, it has been a pretty useless credential. Oh yeah, and there is no time set into the teacher's schedule for actually following through with any of these other service providers.

And yes, the energies do now go into setting the bar higher for special ed students, with the ultimate goal being to pass the WASL, rather than teaching them the skills they need to really be successful out there.

In my career, I have seen more and more high school students with special needs dropping out because the only option being presented is college prep, and that means nothing to them.


Anonymous said...

... and with all that effort, only 15% of special education students are passing the WASL, even with the overwhelming majority of them being so-called LD, meaning cognitively average or better. But, I wouldn't say teaching students to read and write is useless. What passes for the alternative, is even more useless. Appropriate transition support is currently a major focus from the recent special education review.

Anonymous said...

To Ms. Westbrook - I meant the she in the NYT, a paper which does a great job blathering on about problems but which rarely delves into the financial specifics of fixing problems.

I am a teacher and I don't have time for any new ideas which aren't paid for.

I actually believe that the money spent on 'special ed', or whatever is the euphimism du jour, could be good investment in our community. At the minimum, having all members of the community in school serves to remind all our young that there is more to the community than just the cool kids on the varsity whatever team heading off to the kool colleges and kool jobs.

Most libertarians can't do the math of their silly ideas - no roads / schools / power / cops / libraries = NO civil society = NO Microsoft, Boeing, Safeco ... duh.

I actually believe that there is plenty of money if we stop letting halliburton and exxon steal everything that is or isn't nailed down.

I am a teacher and I don't have time for any new 'ideas' which aren't paid for. I need help in my classes NOW, I don't need new nitwits, old nitwits, or the same nitwits in downtown, or in Oly, or in DC, waving their hands and issuing edicts.

sorry about the anon.

dan dempsey said...

I wonder how many of the special ed kids will be required to have an Algebra II credit to graduate?

This seems to be all about more rules more requirements and less support.

Let us set the bar higher and just assume that all the kids will rise to meet the expectation because some ivory tower expert said that is what will happen. Show me the data dude. I do not believe this.

Without adequate support few are able to meet increased expectation. I sure have not seen a bit of increase in support for the average classroom kid since NCLB and WASL madness invaded our State of Mind.

Remember when WASL accountability was going to improve the overall competence of Washington grads. Yeah right that sure happened in math didn't it.

My wife teaches special ed to primary school kids with multiple handicaps. her job has been invaded by a huge time commitment to WASL madness.

This reminds me of a friend of mine, a principal of a special ed school for medically fragile kids in Corona CA. After 5 years he got permission to skip the majority of principals meetings, he said my job is to keep these kids alive and my teachers and parents sane not fumble around with SAT scores and College requirements in regard to athletic scholarships etc.

Wonder if we will ever be allowed to spend more time and effort on developing powerful teaching lessons that the children need?

Spedvet said...

People are under some misconceptions about NCLB and IDEA.

First of all, under NCLB, states decide what their high standards are supposed to be, and then the states choose the test that will measure whether those goals will be met. States are free to choose a basic level of proficiency, say one that demonstrates the ability to read a newspaper, balance a checkbook and fill out a job application -- or, states are free to choose an advanced level proficiency, such as college readiness as people often point out what we are doing with the WASL.

In Washington, the powers that be (which includes us teachers, voters and taxpayers) chose the standards -- originally called the EALRs, which were refined to include the GLEs. The test WA chose -- and developed -- to measure student learning of these goals was the WASL.

Nothing was stopping Washington from using the ITBS or the California Achievement Tests, and calling the 8th grade or the 9th grade scoring level on those tests "proficient". All of us remember taking these tests ourselves when we were kids back in the day.

So the upshot is, don't blame NCLB. Especially considering all the same testing and standards were required in 1994 under the Clinton administration with NCLB's predecessor, the Improving America's School's Act (the previous reauthorization of the Elemenatary and Secondary Education Act).

The same requirements for testing and progress to reaching the goals of all children getting to proficient were in place back then. It's just that back then, there were no consequences for statesif they didn't test, or if the students didn't make the progress they were supposed to be making. So states didn't follow the law back then, much less comply with it.

I don't know what everyone else thinks, but do people look back fondly upon the mid to late nineties as being a great time for education in Washington state, before NCLB went into effect? I don't. Do people look upon this pre-NCLB time period as being great for education in the state of WA?

Finally, the effect of NCLB on special ed and the IDEA needs to be addressed.

First of all, IDEA and Section 504 mandate that disabled students have transition plans and services so that by the time they leave high school, they are prepared for post-secondary education and employment, and independent living. Post-secondary education doesn't have to be college, it can be a technical school, or an apprenticeship.

I humbly submit to folks that if a disabled kid is prepared for employment, most likely (but certainly not in all cases) that means a kid is able to read at a basic level to function in society, write at a basic level to function in society, and do math at a basic level to function in society. Pick whatever grade level you think this means. [I say it is a 5th grade level, others may say 8th grade] Is it too much to ask that special ed kids be able to read write and do math at a 5th grade level by the time they leave K-12 education? [Before you give your answer, bear in mind that only 1% of kids in special ed have severe cognitive disabilities, so the vast majority of special ed kids are 1) learning disabled and 2) all the other disabilities that have nothing to do with serious cognitive issues.]

Giving disabled kids BOTH a basic education AND services designed to prepare them for employment and independent living seems to me to go hand in hand. Yet how many special ed kids leave school having truly passed the WASL? If special ed kids were truly passing the WASL (the one the regular ed kids get, not the modified (dumbed down) version -- I submit to you that such a kid probably would be prepared for post secondary education and employment. And probably independent living too. Certainly we are not arguing that because of NCLB, the focus is off of transition, and now all these special ed kids are passing the WASL.

What is happening is that the kids are not being taught the academic skills that would enable them to pass the WASL and they are also not being taught transition skills to prepare them for independent life after high school.

It seems to me that 6 hours of school each day for 12 years ought to be enough to get any kid -- or at least the vast majority of kids, special ed or not -- to get to a basic level of education.

And that is not happening. It's certainly not happening for kids in special ed, and that's long been the sad injustice for them -- but now it's also not happening for many general ed kids, who really have nothing wrong with them like a disabling condition or learning disability. And this is in the face of school supposedly devoting all their time to get kids to the level where they can pass the test!

I hope everyone can see this irony.

Anonymous said...


1964 said...


dan dempsey said...

Spedvet said...

It seems to me that 6 hours of school each day for 12 years ought to be enough to get any kid -- or at least the vast majority of kids, special ed or not -- to get to a basic level of education.

Even I have had regular contact with lots of handicapped children, many with multiple handicaps. If indeed you are a Special Ed veteran, I am certain you did not mean any kid

Can you provide a percent for the vast majority? Is it 80% or 99% or ???

The Seattle problem is aggravated by an administration that is unable to provide effective interventions to under-performing kids. The school board does not even request that the Superintendent follow school board policies in this regard. Federal Laws are rarely an effective antidote for local incompetence. How long has NCLB been in effect? Yet the SPS leaders choose to remain unaccountable for the effective education of the children.

Competence Testing of Leadership might be the place to start.

1... Ability to provide effective interventions = F

2... Ability to follow board policies = F

3... Ability to use money in a responsible manner in regard to coaching = F

4... Ability to use data intelligently to make decisions = F

5... Ability to consider solutions from a wide variety of sources = F

and on we go

These continuing inadequacies effect not only Special Ed but every aspect of SPS.

Now we are on the verge of a large increase in mainstreaming without adequate planning or research into whether this is even a reasonable undertaking.

6... Ability to plan coherently = F

anon said...

Where have you been Spedvet? The dumbed-down, modified WASL went out in 2007. Feds said it wasn't compliant with NCLB. A very few students total (like 2%) may take the WAAS portfolio, which amounts to nothing, by design. Some sped students who qualify (and it isn't that easy) now may get "modified grading"... meaning they need a 2 (basic) to pass instead of a 3. They still have to read and understand the real WASL at grade level though.

The WASL is a double edge sword, it's good to have some accountability... but the test itself isn't really that great, and doesn't cover anything in a way that measures the skills we all think are important. And to fail entire groups based on it is beyond the pail. My guess is that it will either change drastically, or go the way of the dinosaur. Oh look, math WASL is dead, and sons-of math WASL will likely never make it off the ground.

anon said...

Yet how many special ed kids leave school having truly passed the WASL?

That one is easy. Go look at the OSPI website. In Seattle number of sped students passing the real, honest to God, WASL is 15%, which includes a tiny number who pass with a 2. Pretty pathetic. I would claim that more than 1% or 2% have cognitive impairments making passing exceedingly difficult. However, WAY MORE THAN 15% deserve an education that will give them the skills to pass this test.