The Long View on Special Education

September 12, 2011 at 10:09 AM 3 comments

A post-high school longitudinal study of children with disabilities has confirmed the results of leaving these children behind in school. Their success rates on a number of academic and career measures lag those of their peers without disabilities. So, how can we close that achievement gap instead of allowing it to widen for life?

We must stop leaving children behind. The National Center for Special Education Research has completed a longitudinal study of students with special needs after high school. The results are not promising. Now can we begin our longitudinal study of the achievement gap for children with disabilities during their K-12 years? How did we get here? What happened along the way? Are we finding children in need soon enough? Which of our interventions are working? How can we become more focused in our interventions?

This study validates important policy initiatives from Seven Keys to Education Reform. Point 1.2 calls for longitudinal student data. Point 6 calls for opening the dialogue with students with Special Needs before they enter high school.

On the data issue, regulatory policy requires periodic snapshots of a student’s abilities and progress toward goals. What is missing from this series of pictures is tracking of comparative data over time. A child with a disability who is not making suitable progress in school qualifies for services; however, the effectiveness of those services in bringing the child closer to grade level proficiency also should be evaluated and met with corrective measures as needed. Too many children continue to lose ground academically even as they receive a high level of service that should be enabling them to overcome obstacles and compensate for their disability.

Beyond service delivery, the students themselves need more empowerment in understanding their growth potential and managing their progress toward goals. Children with disabilities are brought into the formal education planning process as part of their transition from high school to adult life. These children would benefit from involvement in the process in grades 4-8. These are crucial years for actively engaging students as they begin to establish their identities as capable, lifelong learners as well as managers of their special needs.  Absent this involvement, many students with disabilities enter high school with a mixture of dependency on adults and avoidance of academic challenge.   

Armed with data and partnership with the students, special educators will be better equipped to facilitate mastery of math and literacy basics within their students by the end of middle school.  This is an absolute necessity for closing the achievement gap for students with disabilities. High school must be a time of growth in academic sophistication and analytical capability. A loose patchwork of supports exists after graduation for students with serious residual issues. However, for the vast majority of students with moderate disabilities, services end with high school.

Extending remedial support beyond high school is looking backward with regret. Today’s twenty-something young adults with disabilities may deserve support in light of our failures, but this is not the stuff of progressive policy. These young adults would have been far better served through intensive development of compensatory abilities at an earlier age.


Entry filed under: Special Education.

Thank you Martha’s Vineyard… Bait & Switch?

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Gerald namweene  |  March 29, 2012 at 10:39 AM

    Children that need special education only get help from parents hence it does not meet all their requirements. Based on research.

  • 2. schoolsretooled  |  March 29, 2012 at 10:56 AM

    Parents are so important to their children, especially as advocates for them when they have special needs. However, special educators do a great deal of wonderful work as well. Unfortunately, by high school it can seem like too little too late to get young adults ready for college. Also, when the services do not benefit a child enough, there is no longitudinal data to show when there is a need for a change in plan. Children who fall behind more and more over time need a new kind of intervention – not just regulatory approval for more of the same.

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