Revamping Special Education

While children in special education programs from kindergarten are given alternative criteria for promotion to the next grade, these alternative criteria end when students move onto high school.

Giving students alternative criteria earlier in their education fails to prepare them for the challenges they will face later in their academic careers. Students who take special classes receive Individual Education Plans (IEPs). IEPs are given to students with disabilities to help them receive the assistance they need to succeed in their goals. Special education programs assist students in school by providing them additional help to overcome their individual challenges. Some of these challenges include literacy comprehension and processing issues. Special needs among specific students can vary: some can function in a general education classroom, while others who need much more assistance to receive the help they need.

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Students may be in classes with co-teachers, or receive one-on-one time in lab sessions, or paraprofessionals who follow the student to give them one-on-one attention. Some may even attend separate schools, depending on the severity of their disabilities. The “alternative promotional criteria for students means that students do not need to learn all of the information general education students need to learn to be promoted to the next level. In addition, in the elementary and middle school levels, general education students must pass standardized tests in order to move onto the next grade [that special ed students need not pass],” said Cari Wallace, a learning specialist at the NYC iSchool. “However, in high school, special education students are held to the same standards as general education students,” she continued to explain. Some claim that the young students are just learning to cope with their IEP and cannot handle the full course load.

However, once in high school the students lose their alternative routes which “creates a hard transition for students between middle school to high school. Students have a harder course load and cannot just get by or have alternate promotional criteria in order to graduate,” said Wallace. Special education programs have to be careful not to enable students too much. Enabling them is like helping them cheat on a test: they’ll pass, however, once in the real world, there will be no one there to help and they will have learned nothing. Self advocacy and developing their own skills is of the utmost importance. This will allow them to excel on their own and not feel so separated and disabled.

“One major struggle in special education is trying to overcome or compensate for deficits that students may have developed in the earlier grades as a consequence of limited academic and social instruction, in and/or out of school. But special education students in particular sometimes suffer disproportionately when they have missed key foundational skills that secondary school teachers expect them to possess,” said Devekanand Singh, an additional learning specialist at the NYC iSchool. Due to the alternative routes in elementary and middle schools, students do not need to learn all of the information general education students need to learn to be promoted to the next level. As special education students enter high school, they enter without the same knowledge as general education students. This creates greater struggle for students with their new more challenging course load. In addition, in facing the transition from middle school to high school, the student can become displaced and feel discouraged from doing their work.

However, students with IEP’s will not always have alternative routes to continue to succeed through their life such as in college and in the work place. Learning to work with their disability earlier in life will allow them to rely less on alternative criteria, and to succeed in the real world.