Orwell Award Announcement SusanOhanian.Org Home

NCLB Outrages

Special education teachers know progress

The subhead tells the story: Special-needs students' success often missed due to federal formula.

Monty Neill of FairTest sends this important information:

I have been informed that at a recent meeting between education groups and House education committee staff, committee staff said they have been hearing from special education/ students with disabilities organizations that NCLB is helping them. The reasons given, essentially, are that these students now 'count,' that they cannot be ignored, and that expectations are rising and the academic content their children get is increasing.

These are good things (assuming the academic content is not just test prep, and assuming the context of high-stakes punishment is removed).

But it sounded as though committee staff may be using this input to help forestall significant needed changes in the law. I of course do not know the conversation, but it seems to me that all the positive aspects ascribed to the law can be achieved by a reauthorized ESEA that is not based on unreasonable expectations, standardized tests and punishments. The FEA legislative proposals (among others) will accomplish that.

I am not asking for a rant or reasons why the disability groups taking the positions they have are right or wrong. I am hoping that you, your groups and other groups you could contact will weigh in to tell House committee staff that the FEA recommendations provide a way past this apparent conflict. The FEA recommendations are at
. The House is now writing legislation that could progress this year, and if it does, will powerfully affect schools for the next 5-7 years.

Specifically, people who contact members of congress should say that FEA proposals retain the positive aspects of inclusion and a focus on academics, while overcoming the negative aspects of undermining schools, too much test prep, unfair punishments, etc.

For your convenience here is some contact information:

Alice Cain is the key Miller staffer on NCLB - alice.cain@mail.house.gov. 202-225-7507; fax 202-225-3909

Lloyd Horwich is the lead subcommittee staffer lloyd.horwich@mail.house.gov; tel 202- 225-3725;fax 202-225-3277

and it is worth informing Jill Morningstar jill.morningstar@mail.house.gov.

And if you write, cc Miller himself:

Rep. George Miller
205 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515
(202) 225-2095


I'd encourage faxes, but do not have a fax for committee or Miller's own office (not on websites).

Lastly, these same messages are likely going to the Senate side as well.

Roberto Rodriguez is Senior Legislative Assistant and working for the committee. Roberto_Rodriguez@HELP.senate.gov and fax 202-2228-0924, tel 202-224-5501.

And Senator Edward Kennedy,
317 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
(202) 224-4543

Thanks, and please email or call if you have further questions.

Monty Neill, Ed.D.
Co-Executive Director
342 Broadway
Cambridge, MA 02139
617-864-4810 fax 617-497-2224

by Jason Kosena

Tracey Gefroh lives by a different standard of success.

A special education teacher at Blevins Junior High, Gefroh knows her students have a passion to learn but face immense challenges.

"Sometimes success for our students is measured by other standards like if a kid used to run away from school but now stays. That would be considered a success," Gefroh said.

But with federal law holding her students - regardless of disability - to the same academic standards as mainstream peers, Gefroh's measure of success is often overshadowed by federal mandates.

The No Child Left Behind act requires all public school students to test at grade level. In order to accurately track achievement, it requires every student, including those in special education, to take the same CSAP tests.

Under the all-or-nothing requirements of NCLB, if just a few special education students in one school fail to test at grade level then the entire Poudre School District misses mandated academic benchmarks and risks losing valuable federal dollars.

To some, asking a developmentally delayed 10th-grader to perform at grade level in reading and math may seem unreasonable, but for school districts across America that is the standard of success they must use.

"A huge challenge for us is the CSAP testing," Gefroh said. "In the classroom I can read a math problem to a student and then she will solve it. But on CSAPs I can’t read the math problem so despite being proficient or maybe advanced in math that student will still test poorly in the content area because she doesn’t read well.”
Mounting pressure

No Child Left Behind allows states to give alternative academic assessments to the most severely disabled children, a test in Colorado called the CSAP-A, but the number of qualifying students is low.

In PSD, less than 1 percent of the district’s 2,600 special education students are assessed on the CSAP-A while the rest are tested on the same material as mainstream peers.

CSAP-A assesses more basic understanding like shapes and colors instead of formulas and words when determining proficiency.

But, because NCLB limits the test to only the most severely disabled, many teachers say the accountability process for special education students and the impact on districts is unfair.

“There really needs to be a middle-of-the-road test that accommodates a more accurate depiction of understanding,” Gefroh said. “It’s so frustrating when you know a student understands a subject but can’t demonstrate it on traditional CSAPs. If there were a middle-of-the-road test you could better measure the actual progress of students.”

Last year at the elementary level, PSD special education students made every federal benchmark for academic progress, meeting 54 out of 54 academic targets.

But students with special needs in the district’s secondary schools met 49 of 54 targets at the junior high level and 31 of 39 at the high school level causing PSD to miss NCLB benchmarks.

Every year, NCLB requires the number of students testing at grade level to incrementally increase so that by 2014 every child in America, regardless of disability, is at grade level in every subject.

“I think one of the biggest areas we struggle with is meeting (progress) targets,” said Chris Schott, PSD’s director of special education. “We’re working on better ways to address the problem and are putting many resources toward seeing some progress in the next couple of years. We’re certainly not where I would have hoped we would be today though.”

Schott said the federal government is examining the possibility of alternative assessments but because NCLB requires states to develop their own assessments at their own cost, such testing would come at great expense for Colorado.
Finding the right people

Part of any successful academic model is the presence of good teachers working with all students.

But attracting good teachers to work in the district’s special education classrooms, positions that require additional certification and training, is a distinctive challenge.

A unique breed among educators, special education teachers work to provide individualized instruction for students by modifying curriculum to fit the educational ability or disability of each child.

“Poudre is in Fort Collins and so teachers want to come here and that gives us a larger pool of people to pull from,” Schott said. “We have very high standards for who we put in the classroom.”

High standards maybe, but the district still struggles to find an adequate number of teachers to staff its special education classrooms, according to Colorado Department of Education data.

This year, PSD has six special education teachers working on interim licenses and another two operating on emergency authorizations — a state exemption allowing districts with hardship situations to use noncertified teachers in special-needs classrooms.

Although the numbers are seemingly small, across the 178 school districts and thousands of special education classrooms statewide, 32 teachers are working on an emergency authorization and 86 on interim licenses this year.

“Because teachers working on the emergency authorization have not yet completed the (required) preparation program for training, Colorado does not issue very many of the emergency authorizations if we can help it,” said CDE official Dorothy Gotlieb, adding that each emergency authorization requires State Board of Education approval.

Districtwide, PSD employs 278 certified special education teachers and another 220 aides.

“Recruitment and retention in all states is a huge issue,” Schott said. “Like other districts, we’re always fighting to find and retain good people.”

The challenge may become more difficult as Colorado’s certification process catches up with the highly-qualified teaching requirements under NCLB.

To date, Colorado only requires special-needs teachers to obtain training as either a “specialist” or “generalist” before gaining certification. But the federal government’s new specs require “highly-qualified” instructors to gain certification in the disability area they teach such as speech therapy or hearing impairment.

As the state moves toward NCLB guidelines, the challenges facing PSD administrators looking for adequate teaching staff will only become harder.

— Jason Kosena with note by Monty Neill
The Coloradoan


This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of education issues vital to a democracy. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information click here. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.