Special Education Programs Examined
Before the Handicapped Act in 1970, students with disabilities could not attend schools because the necessary means to provide special education accommodations did not exist.
The development of special educational programs began in 1970 with the Handicapped Act. Before 1997, in the United States, special education programs only allowed specific students with disabilities to learn in school. Many students were excluded such as those whom were deaf, blind, emotionally disturbed or mentally retarded. Now special education includes any and all students with disabilities. The number of children/students under 21 years of age that receive special education programs changed from 3.
7 million in 1977 to 6.5 million in 1999 statistics show from the American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF) and Center on Education Policy (CEP). Special Education is a program that assists students in school by providing 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 attend special classes.
Students may be in inclusive classes with co-teachers, or receive one-on-one time in lab sessions. Some even attend separate schools, depending on the severity of their disabilities. Students who receive special classes receive an Individual Education Plan (IEP). An IEP is given to students with a disability to help the student receive the assistance they need to succeed in their goals. Learning disabilities used to be identified through testing.
Students whose scores were statistical outliers were diagnosed with learning disabilities. “Special Education is regulated by federal law. The programs and services that should be offered to a student are monitored to assure that they are offered [to the student] ,” said Betty Ashbaker, an associate professor of education and psychology at Brigham Young University. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was implemented in 1990, which was created to protect those with a disability from discrimination. In addition to the ADA, the Individuals with Education Act (IDEA) was implemented in 1997.
Before IDEA was put into effect, many children with disabilities did not receive education or opportunities to learn “what works for one special education student to achieve as much as they can doesn’t necessarily work for another special education student, though, even if they have similar labels or diagnoses,” said Devekanand Singh, a learning specialist at the NYC iSchool. Statistics from AYPF show that the number of special education teachers and related personnel skyrocketed from 331 million to 800 million between 1996-1996 according to AYPF. As a past learning specialist at the NYC iSchool, Erica Levy explained it “requires me to think very strategically about very specific students and how I can best help them both inside and outside of the classroom.” Special education programs vary between elementary, middle and high school. One elementary school has access to a speech improvement teacher, Leslie Zimmer. Zimmer works at an NYC Department of Education (DOE) public elementary school.
At the school, Zimmer works with students with IEP’s (individually and in groups) for mandatory 30 minute sessions. A NYC DOE public high school, The NYC iSchool, has a special education program which is a combination of Integrated -Co Teaching (ICT) and Special Education Teacher Support System (SETSS), said Isora Bailey, the principal of the NYC iSchool. The NYC iSchool made the decision to organize learning specialists by subject instead of grade. “I understand the argument for [organizing by] grades, but my counterargument is: by high school, classes are more specialized, complex, and special education teachers can’t do it all,” said Bailey. “The special education program has been arranged to better meet the needs of the students at the school”, said Cari Wallace, a learning specialist at the NYC iSchool. This organization allows the special education teachers to focus on specific content areas instead of trying to master all of the content from the various subject areas (i.
e. Mathematics, English, History and Science). The more focused the teacher is, they can become more familiar with the NYS regent requirements which creates wider access of the information for the students. Special education programs in elementary and middle school levels create alternative promotional criteria for students who have an IEP. This 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. However, in high school, special education students are held to the same standards as general education students. This creates a hard transition for students between middle school to high school. Students have a harder course load and can not just get by or have alternate promotional criteria in order to graduate. Because of that, Bailey wishes “we had more time. More time and flexibility so they can have a better specialized support for students who need it.
” “Special education students sometimes suffer because they missed key foundational skills that secondary school teachers expect them to possess,” said Singh. There is a national shift toward the integration of students in special education and students in general education classes (mainstreaming). Mainstreaming students became a mandate for special education programs in 1997. This allowed students with disabilities to be included in assessments and raising the level of expectation. .
When evaluating a student for an IEP, the psychologist looks at three areas: intellectual function, educational level and emotional or social function. “Mainstream is important. If you don’t they [the students with disabilities] will feel more isolated and generally separated,” said Jonathan Carroll, a specialist in IEP’s. As long as the teacher uses the skills and techniques needed to assist special education students in a classroom, and the students would benefit from learning with their peers, there are no objections said Ashbaker. For example, general education students may serve as role models for special education students and the special educations may respond positively by becoming more motivated in their classes, said Dr. Saleh, a child psychologist for New York City public schools.
Special Education used to be a team of a few people who would work with the student and help to better assess the student. Before, when a student was to be tested for an IEP, there was a team evaluating the student. The team consisted of a psychologist, a person to do the educational evaluation and a social worker. There were also special education supervisors and vocational assessments. Now however, there is only the psychologist who must balance all of the roles.
The multi-team for special education would allow for “better practice and quality evaluations,” said Saleh. “I am impressed by special education programs that teach self advocacy and developing their own skills to rely less on assistance,” said Carroll. Special education programs have to be careful not to offer too much enabling, Carroll continued to say. Enabling them is like helping them cheat on a test, 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.
Special education has allowed many students to achieve their goals and become successful. “I know special education is beneficial because I see students with IEP’s who go on to college and become successful,” said Dr. Saleh. Before special education was implemented, there were a very limited number of special education students in schools. The schools would not allow students with disabilities in the classrooms due to the accommodations the class would have to go through and possible disruptions.
Now, special education has made major leaps and changes to better assist students. Special education students now have better access, though that is still a problem that can still be improved, to equal education.