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Record Numbers in Special Ed Schools

Submitted by Kris Alman:

Record number in special ed Schools - Targeted programs get credit for shrinking the biggest group -- those with learning disabilities, Thursday, February 15, 2007, STEVEN CARTER and AMY HSUAN

A letter I sent to the reporters (and a letter to the editor, which wasn't printed.) I refer to a table from the ODE. Incidentally, this email was cced to Susan Castillo and some early education activists.

I should add that we are considering sending our son to the Gately Academy in Portland, which serves kids who are underserved for learning disabilities--many of whom are kids diagnosed with Asperger's and have high IQs. They specifically do not use reform fuzzy math. (See Report of Children with Disabilities Receiving Special Education on 12-01-06 Table),9171,1576829,00.html

Kris Alman

Hello Steve and Amy, I was deeply disappointed in your reporting yesterday and I hope you take the time to take a look at this ODE table that took some time on my part to dig up yesterday.

First look at page 2. By age 5, 8311 kids are identified as receiving an IEP; specifically there are 2144 with developmental delays; 5 with specific learning disabilities; 82 designated as mentally retarded. A peak diagnosis of mental retardation is age 16.

Starting at age 6 (page 4), there are miraculously no children with developmental delays. At age 6, only 84 children are designated as having specific learning disabilities and 123 with mental retardation. Only by age 9, do those combined numbers exceed the numbers of kids identified with developmental delays by age 5.

Bear in mind, the numbers of pre-school kids identified with developmental delays must be a very low-ball number because this identification requires caretakers and teachers who recognize the difficulties in the first place. Ultimately, more lower income children and non-English speaking children are grossly under-diagnosed during this critical period of development.

I was able to qualify my son for an IEP entering Kindergarten, only because I had a wonderful advocate helping me with the fight that year. I never appreciated how rare an event that is until I looked at that table. But I am grateful to Rhoda Golden for helping in this effort.

My son was disqualified from services last year like many other kids entering 6th grade. Is he cured of his learning disability? He passes benchmark testing and gets mostly 4's (a benchmark pass) on his writing efforts--even though his efforts can begin with a sentence fragment. With just that crude measure which allows deficient grammar, I fight a district policy that permits teachers to forgo direct instruction of grammar and vocabulary. So it's off to Sylvan Learning Center this morning for my own intervention.

As for math, I have been home schooling him on math, filling in holes that have either never been taught or glossed over so quickly, my son could not absorb them. I may add that my son EXCEEDED math benchmarks last year.

He learns with direct instruction. And sometimes I wonder if he learns DESPITE public education.

I worry about all those boys and girls who don't have parents who can advocate and educate their own kids.

Instead, our schools have policies that discourage ability grouping. Your article will likely be cited as objective proof that testing with DRAs and Dibels should be aggressively done for every kids--another policy that I think is specious.

And there you have it! Kids don't receive services they should qualify because we test, test, test. Costly and time-consuming common curriculum and common assessments will explode in our districts and teachers' own assessments will no longer be driven by professional expertise or common sense.

Bean counting with measures (accurate or not), without a sensible game plan to intervene or support teachers meaningfully does not make sense.

I hope the early educators and activists cced here understand this phenomenon. And I hope that Superintendents Castillo and Colonna recognize that the biggest group of kids who are disadvantaged here are the ones that NCLB strives so hard to not leave behind.

Kris Alman

This letter is in reference to "Record number in special ed Schools - Targeted programs get credit for shrinking the biggest group -- those with learning disabilities"

Time magazine corroborates Oregon’s trends. Nationally, the numbers of learning disabled or retarded kids has declined, while the incidence of autism has exploded in the past 20 years. The article questions whether policy changes, attributed to shifting definitions and increased awareness of autism, might be responsible for these trends.

Although more Oregon kids are receiving early intervention for developmental delays prior to starting K-12 education, special education for learning disabilities in our schools peaks (with a staggering 35-fold increase), 5 years after kids enter school. Educators confuse parents when they drop an Individual Education Plan after pre-school—especially when private practitioners, often using different tests, diagnose “learning disabilities.”

Where is research that supports computerized testing every two weeks can substitute for Special Education? Success is not defined by anecdotes or the circular logic of a school district boasting fewer kids in special education as a successful intervention. The policy to delay special education in Oregon’s elementary schools is specious.