Further reflections on special education

Thanks for the thoughtful responses to my blog posting on the Obama administration’s new special education rules (or rather, relaxation of some of the old rules.) I found both the plea for maintaining special ed resources AND the plea for greater flexibility in meeting these needs persuasive.

Let me just add a personal perspective. While I am not trained as a special education teacher and did not teach special education classes, I taught many students who have individual education plans designed to accommodate their learning disabilities. These plans sometimes discouraged and frustrated me, not because I objected to accommodations in theory or practice, but rather because neither parents nor students pushed for a very important element in most of these plans: helping students make a transition away from accommodations whenever possible.

During my first years as a high school teacher I taught mostly seniors (government and economics). Almost all of the students with accommodations planned to enter college the following year. Once embarked on higher education, few of these students would be permitted to take their tests with unlimited time, or an open textbook, or questions provided orally. How were we — indeed, were we – preparing these students to cope with a harsh new world?

The trouble is, these “special” provisions make life easier for everybody. They raise student grades and reduce test anxiety. Parents like the higher grades; students like the lowered test pressure. Not surprisingly, we seldom see either group pushing to remove these accommodations, however gradually. . . and we face considerable pressure to maintain the status quo.

I’d love to read comments from students and parents as well as fellow teachers. Again, I find this a genuinely tough issue. Any insights would be welcome!

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