There is a special place in heaven for parents of students who have difficulty learning. But a change in state schools could make things little better for those parents on Connecticut's part of the Earth.
The change is in how schools approach youngsters who have fallen behind, and it tackles the question of whether they indeed have learning disabilities and are in fact in need of special education services.
In the past, many schools have used what is called the "discrepancy model" to determine which students were underachieving and in need of special services. If a student had a severe discrepancy between educational performance and measured intellectual ability, he or she might be considered a candidate for special education.
There were a number of problems with this model, not the least of which is that a discrepancy between IQ and achievement often doesn't reveal itself until the third or fourth grade. By that point, the problem is usually harder to correct, which is why some educators call this method "wait to fail."
Judging discrepancy can be subjective, and has too often led to youngsters being placed in special ed classes because of bad teaching or limited help, not because of an actual learning disability. It has also led in many districts to a disproportionate number of minority children being placed in special ed classes.
In the past decade or so, programs such as the Early Reading Success Initiative have brought change. This year, state educators introduced a new model called "scientific research-based interventions."
What it means is that teachers will try more things earlier before referring a child to special education classes. Teachers will use universal assessments to monitor the academic and social progress of all students and identify those who are experiencing difficulty. They will then try a number of interventions in the classroom - it is a three-tier process - that have been proved to work. Only if these fail will a youngster be considered for special education.
For example, if a youngster is having difficulty with reading, testing might reveal that the problem is with, say, phonics. Then the teacher can try some other methods of sounding out words. If it works as educators hope, the approach will help all students.
Success of the program depends on teaching skill, program design and parental involvement. But as several leading educators have said, it is clearly a step in the right direction.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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