The Cloak of Competence!
By Mark Alter, Ph.D.
The history of special education is grounded in labels, stigmas, isolation, segregation and institutionalization. We labeled a student, placed a student in a specific class or school for the specific disability, designed curriculum for the disability, developed assessment instruments for the disability & certified teachers by disability category. This process was to change in 1975 with PL 94 142, Education for all Handicapped Children. Seven major principles guided the spirit and mandate of the law: (1) Zero reject-No child shall be refused an appropriate education by public schools; (2)Nondiscriminatory evaluation-Evaluations must be conducted in the child’s native language; (3) Least restrictive environment-Each child must be educated as much as possible with students without disabilities; (4) Due process-Fourteenth Amendment rights of the Constitution. which guarantee privacy, confidentiality of information, and protection of personal rights. are extended to those identified as having a disability ;(5)Individualized education program (IEP)-Educators must plan individually tailored educational programs for each student with a disability;(6) Preschool programs-Early intervention programs for children from birth through age 3 must be developed and operational; and (7)Individualized transition program (ITP)-Educators must plan individually tailored transition programs from school to employment and adult life.
Has legislation, litigation, school reform, standardized testing, teacher quality and politics become our cloak of competence?
Here we are almost 45 years later and what are our findings reported by NYC DOE in 2014 : (1) Of the approximately 185,000 students with IEP’s in NYC 4 out of 5 are either Hispanic or black (79.9%) and 2 out of 3 are male (66.6%) and slightly more than 1 out of 6 is an English Language Learner. (2) Approximately 1 out 5 students in NYC Schools has an IEP; and of all students with IEP’s approximately 1 out of 8 attend District 75;(3) For students attending Districts 1-32, approximately 4 out of 5 are classified as having a speech impairment or a learning disability ( 79.8%) and, for students attending District 75 almost 2 out of 5 are classified as being on the Autism Spectrum (37.3%).. Perhaps the most troublesome findings reported have to do with the performance of students with IEPs at or above proficiency (Levels 3 and 4) on NYS Grade 3-8 ELA Assessments.. in 2013, 5.7% and in 2014 6.7 % of the students scored at Levels 3 or 4 and in Math, 2013 8.4 % and 2014 11.4% scored at Level 3 or 4. Finally, in 2013 the a 4 year graduation rate was 37.5% year and with a 17.6 % drop out rate . With regard to students graduating with diplomas in 2013; 1.1 % received an Advanced Regents Diploma; 16.8% received a Regents Diploma and 19.6 received a Local Diploma.
Maisie Mcadoo reported in 2015 that the “Performance gaps in New York City remained large, in some cases even larger than in the past. More than half of white and Asian students met standards in ELA while less than 20 percent of black and Hispanic students did. The gaps were even wider in math. However, black and Hispanic students made progress in math over 2014, exceeding the gains of white and Asian students.English language learners scored very low on both tests — just 4.4 percent passed the ELA and 14.6 percent passed the math — but they showed the greatest improvement of any subgroup. Students with disabilities improved only slightly in ELA, edging up to a 6.9 percent passing rate, and declined fractionally in math, with 11.3 percent of students passing the test.”
Is this what we intended to find almost 40 yrs after 94 -142? After three reauthorizations of IDEA? More than 15 years after Campaign for Fiscal Equity? Almost 15 years after No Child Left Behind? And, more than three decades of Jose P. litigation that forced the NYC Department of Education to obey federal laws that require appropriate evaluation, placement and services be provided to all students with disabilities?#
Mark Alter is a professor at the NYU School of Education.