A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Friday, November 17, 2006

I'm an abacus girl in a Excel world

Why does this happen?
Special education students who earn the lowest grade on the state's math test in third grade have a 71 percent chance of still scoring in the bottom bracket in eighth grade.

That is among the findings of a new Delaware Student Testing Program score analysis by University of Delaware researchers who studied the progress of all low-performing students since 1998. Mainstream students scoring a 1 out of 5 in third grade have a 48 percent chance of again earning that score in eighth grade, the study found. Students must receive a 3 or higher to meet state standards.

Reading results were slightly better, with 46 percent of special education students and 20 percent of other third-graders still scoring a 1 in eighth grade.

Special-education students accounted for about 40 percent of the total number of third-graders scoring a 1 in reading or math.

And there's plenty more to read.

But why do special ed students score so low on math tests, besides the obvious fact that they have a learning disability?

Well, I teach high school kids, and I've sat through about five hundred IEP meetings. I have sat through meetings for kids in middle school and then meetings for the same kids in high school. And there's one thing I can tell you.

In five years, their goals had not changed one bit. In middle school, they were only expected to do 70% of their homework at 70% accuracy, and in high school, they were still only expected to do 70% of their homework with 70% accuracy. And for those of you who are reaching for your calculators because of the New New Math, that means that they only had to get 49% of their math work correct. Ever. Now if one were to bring this up before an IEP meeting, one will get looked at in much the same way that people avert their eyes at the sight of road kill.

This does not equate to proficiency in a one-size-fits-all world.

Math fluency, like any other foreign language, requires repetition and practice. Excuse someone from practice and accuracy, and how can you possibly be puzzled by the results?

And in less than the time that it takes to make a bottle of cheap wine, they will be out on the streets, where no one is going to accept them doing 70% of their work at 70% proficiency.

That will just get them 100% fired.


At 11/18/06, 5:22 AM, Blogger CaliforniaTeacherGuy said...

I'm a special ed teacher, Ms. Cornelius. Thank you for the math lesson! I don't write goals for 70% accuracy. I make the kids aim for 85% or 90%. You get what you expect from kids, whether they have IEPs or not. Low expectations yield low results--and I didn't even need an abacus to tell me that!

At 11/18/06, 6:59 AM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Well, we seem to be drowning in low expectations from the special ed bureaucracy where I am. They don't seem to really care about what's best for the kids-- only what's "comfortable." And that does not include any expectation of growth.

I constantly hear them say, "But s/he can't do that..."

I HATE it when people say that about kids. Kids can do more than anyone thinks. And the've got to learn to live with their disability-- not be "victimized" and therefore permanently excused by it.

And they're dooming them to think "I can't do that" about themselves for the rest of their lives.

At 11/18/06, 10:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I take issue with the whole special ed classification. Not the truly special ed mind you, but the kids who get by. A kid smart enough to work the system will truly take advantage of any classification at the high school level. I've seen it happen. Those are the kids that ruin it for the rest and end up applying that mentality to real life. After all, once you're out of school most special ed classifications don't go with you. Sooner or later you have to learn to stand on your own two feet.

At 11/18/06, 12:10 PM, Blogger CaliforniaTeacherGuy said...


In his book The Discipline of Hope, Herbert Kohl writes: "I find the proliferation of learning handicapped programs a distressing development. We have designated more and more youngsters academically deficient and are on the way to creating a permanent educational underclass. Instead of examining our own work, our own lack of creativity, and changing the organization of learning in the classroom, we have put the blame on children."

I agree--and I'm a special educator!

At 11/18/06, 12:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I used to do payroll and if I did my work at 70% of my work at 70% profciciency, I would have been strung up by my employess (it was bad enough dealing with their mistakes, lol). And I always disliked math, even though I do numbers well.

At 11/18/06, 3:00 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Oh we could talk about this all day-- do you have any idea about the number of kids I have had over the years who needed absolutely NO adaptations (and their parents refused services), but their parents deliberately made sure they had a diagnosis of LD so that they could have more time on the ACT or SAT or the AP exam?????

It chafes my very soul.

Then there's the special ed teachers who give the kids the answers...... GRRRRR.

Herbert Kohl is right. There is NO WAY that 25% of kids are disabled. Poorly disciplined, probably.

At 11/18/06, 4:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would agree on poorly disciplined, but then the onus has to be on the parents to some extent. That kind of behavior is pretty foul, but alas, we live in a not so nice world.

At 11/19/06, 3:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Liz here from I Speak of Dreams. Hey, CaliforniaTeacherGuy! -- I read your blog, but can't comment, as I blog at Typepad, not Blogger--so I can't comment on your blog. I can't even send you an email. How can I communicate with you?

But that's an aside.

I am so glad my darling daughter escaped the "low expectations" trap so common in IEPs/SpEd. We were fortunate enough to have her diagnosed early (2nd grade). We were fortunate enough to be in an area rich in effective remediation resources. We were fortunate enough to be able to afford both private remediation and private schools (non LD schools, I might add). We were fortunate to have private schools that recognized that bright children can have LDs, and had leadership and teachers who expected the most from her -- and recognized her limitations, and had the skill to "work around" the limitations.

If she'd stayed in the public school system, I wonder if she'd be the curious, hardworking, independent reader she is today. I wonder if she would be college bound (as she is today), or just hoping to graduate from high school.

This isn't a general indictment of public education, just of our home school district. They didn't really have a remediation plan for her in 2nd grade, just "resource room". In other words, more of the same that wasn't working.

Yes, some kids (and parents) use LDs or attention issues to excuse poor performance. But it's important for students like my daughter to know how their brain works, and be able to explain it to the instructor. For example, my daughter's handwritten work usually is a much weaker academic product than first-draft typed work. She knows to go to her instructor, explain that her handwritten work will have spelling errors she doesn't make when typing, and will be weaker than typewritten work, and ask how she can work with the instructor to really show what she can do. She also has the self-confidence to explain to her instructors that she has difficulty with rapid recall, so that if she is called on unexpectedly in class, (without raising her hand), it is sometimes difficult for her to recall the exact word--her response might be garbled or sound foolish. It doesn't mean she's not following the discussion--it's just an idiosyncratic output problem, a sort of mental stutter.

From reading other parents' comments on boards such as SchwabLearning or LDOnline, many districts focus on accomodations rather than remediation, or as Ms. Cornelius says, low expectations.

Look, it is hard to write IEPs well.

Wrightslaw has some great resources:

IEP Index Page

Gameplan for Writing Smart IEP Goals

IEPs for Success

Oh, and Ms. Cornelius said, o you have any idea about the number of kids I have had over the years who needed absolutely NO adaptations (and their parents refused services), but their parents deliberately made sure they had a diagnosis of LD so that they could have more time on the ACT or SAT or the AP exam?????

You've hit one of my hot buttons here. You know, if you had my daughter (or a batch of kids I've been coaching) in your classroom, you'd probably put them in that category. But you would be incorrect.

The urban legend that there are hordes of pushy parents getting their kids a false diagnosis of LD, just for "an edge" on the SATs or ACT, really chaps my hide. I am sure there are a few out there--if there's a system, somebody's going to game it.

It is a terrible burden to kids like my daughter to be accused of faking her LD to get "an edge" on the SATs/ACT. Yes, she can perform at a very high level--using supports such as Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, using a word-processor, and using comprehension tools such as concept mapping. In some classroom settings, she doesn't need modifications such as extra time. But for the standardized tests, she does.

There's precious litte evidence that extra time increases the performance of non-LD kids on standardized testing. There's precious little evidence that there are hordes of parents getting their kids false diagnoses of LDs. But the myth lives on.

At 11/19/06, 4:24 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Sorry, Liz, but it's hardly a myth when I've had eleven honest souls admit it to my face. I know this becouse I write it down in my file I'm saving just so I don't think I'm dreaming some of the stuff that has happened in my career.

What can I say? Apparently I have a face that invites confidences. These people think this is just as justified as holding their kid back an extra year so they'll be the biggest and oldest in the room. Not because they needed to be held back, mind you, but because they wanted their kid to be the biggest and oldest in the room based on some wacky theory they ran across on "20/20" or something.

They explained how they "shopped for a doctor" who gave them the diagnosis they wanted, and then it's IEP city. And if that doesn't work, there's alway the good ol' fallback position of a 504. All it takes is plenty of resources-- um, is that a pun? They even told me the name of the doctor-- and in a few cases, it was the same one.

We have also had parents who've had their kids repeat a grade (which they passed just fine) so that they would better have a chance at becoming a college (and later, hopefully, a pro) athlete. Honest.

You can't make stuff like this up.

No myth.

At 11/20/06, 7:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Liz again. I Speak of Dreams. Well, if you have had eleven parents tell you so, I suppose it is so.

And of course I knew about the athletic repeaters (also makes me ill).

It's not terribly uncommon for kids attending private college-prep boarding schools to repeat ("re fresh") to wipe out the disastrous or even just weak freshman year. To me that's not so ethically questionable as the fake LD diagnosis.

And I have to say, my experience is primarily with private, college preparatory schools, which typically don't have "IEPs" as such. For example, at my daughter's school (grades 6-12), one administrator has the LD, well coordinator I suppose you would say. He has the responsibility for applying to ACT/College Board for accomodations, meets with the LD kids to coach them in how to advocte for themselves with requesting accomodations from instructors, meets with the instructors to inform them about accomodations. There's also a drop-in "learning center" providing academic support, including peer tutoring. No resource room per se. There's also a parents' group that meets monthly, and we exchange a lot of information (finding good tutors and/or academic coaching, therapists and so on.)

The gossip vine said one family did try to get unneeded diagnosis for a kid, but that child subsequently withdrew from the school, so who knows?

Whenever there's a system, somebody will try to game it.

I suppose I just get hot under the collar over the supposition that my darling daughter, who works her heinie bony, doesn't deserve accomodations because she's academically high-achieving. Seriously, that's been the tone in some of the newspaper articles around here -- that all kids doing well in honors classes and having accomodations from ACT/CB must have "fake diagnoses", because everybody knows that high-achieving kids must not have LDs.

At 11/21/06, 12:10 AM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

It disgusts me too. Because these kids are taking a space which could be filled by a kid who really needs the help.

To me it betrays a lack of communitarianism to say "I'm gonna get mine for my kid and everyone else can go fly a kite."

That kind of thinking truly distresses me.


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