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NCLB Outrages

Troubled kids back in class

Ohanian Comment: After PL 94-142 (Education of All Handicapped Children Act), now codified as IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) was passed, my middle school declassified all students, sending them off to the mainstream. The results were not pretty. I wrote a book about it: Caught in the Middle: Nonstandard Kids and a Killing Curriculum.

by Karen Gutierrez

ALEXANDRIA - Some Northern Kentucky teachers got a surprise addition to their classrooms this school year: students with severe emotional or behavioral problems.

Unable to control their tempers, these youngsters sometimes throw objects, refuse to do their work or openly sleep in class.

In the past, such students often had been taught in separate rooms managed by special-education teachers. But under the No Child Left Behind Act, that's not necessarily legal anymore.

At the same time, principals are increasingly concerned about the lagging test scores of such children, who are now expected to perform as well as the rest of their classmates. So some are dissolving self-contained classrooms and placing the youngsters alongside non-disabled peers.

In some cases, it's been a difficult transition.

"Eighty percent of our time is damage control. It's hurting a lot of kids," said Stephanie Rottman, a teacher who works with learning-disabled children at Campbell County Middle School.

She runs a "resource room" for youngsters who need extra help with reading. This year, a handful of emotionally disturbed students also have visited the room. Unless a specially trained assistant is present, Rottman feels ill-equipped to deal with some of the behavior that crops up, she said.

She's now leading a task force of regular and special-education teachers who are working on a system for closer collaboration. One idea is to change the schedule so that 30 minutes a day is set aside for tutoring students who are behind.

Two Rivers Middle School in Covington also experienced some glitches this fall, when 10 emotionally disturbed students were moved to regular classrooms. Teachers said they didn't have enough information about the youngsters - what motivates them, what sets them off - to effectively manage their classes.

The new approach was put on hold while teachers held a series of meetings to discuss solutions. Since the integrated classes resumed this month, the situation has improved, Principal Eric Neff said.

"With any change that takes place, there's going to be bumps in the road," he said.

The shuffling of students at Two Rivers was prompted by No Child Left Behind, Neff said. It requires social studies, math, science and English to be taught only by "highly qualified" teachers, meaning they have passed an exam or been certified in one of those academic areas.

At the middle and high school level, special classrooms for disabled youngsters usually don't meet this standard, because the teachers are certified in special education, not in specific subjects.

That's one factor pushing youngsters into regular classrooms. Another is simply a growing sense that collaboration among teachers - rather than segregation of difficult children - is the key to improving performance.

The state department of education last March unveiled a new program to train both regular and special-education teachers in such techniques, said Marinell Kephart, special-education director for the Northern Kentucky Cooperative for Educational Services.

At Campbell County Middle School, Principal David Sandlin said special "resource rooms" for emotionally disturbed children still exist, but the students are spending less time in them.

The school had to take action to close the gap in test scores, Sandlin said.

Overall, 68 percent of students at Campbell County Middle School are proficient in reading, but only 22 percent of disabled students meet that standard, according to state records.

That's unacceptable, especially considering that Oldham County Middle School - which Sandlin uses as a role model - has a gap of only 20 points, he said.

Some teachers on the school's task force are excited about the possibilities.

Currently, special education teachers and aides pop in and out of regular classrooms to assist with troubled students. One of the task force's ideas is to have those teachers assigned to a particular subject, such as math or English, so they aren't pulled in so many directions. Other task-force members will be researching the best techniques in place elsewhere in the country.

Ultimately, the new collaboration should be good for the disabled kids, said Kathy Gutzwiller, an eighth-grade math teacher.

"It doesn't leave anyone out, and for a really long time, I think they got left out," she said.

E-mail kgutierrez@enquirer.com

— Karen Gutierrez<
Cincinnati Enquirer


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