Monthly Archives: July 2010

Education Standards/Special Needs Survey Results

Our July survey posed the question:

How do you think the idea of education standards applies to students with special needs?

Three response choices were offered:
• The fact of having special needs—whether disabilities or special gifts or talents—should not affect expectations for meeting the standards.

• It should be expected that some students with special needs will exceed the standards and some will fail to meet them.

Other (please specify) Either a lot of people were on vacation this month, or not as interested in the topic as in May and June, because there were far fewer replies.

Of the 83 responses we received:
• 18.1% voted for the first response—that all students should be held to the standards.

• 74.7% voted for the second response—that some gifted and special needs students would be expected to exceed or not meet the standards.

• 7.2% voted for Other

The reasons given for choosing “Other” were as follows:

1. Instruction should be tailored to fit the specific needs of individual students. Standards should be specific to individual needs.

2. It truly depends on what is defined as ‘special needs’. Students should be expected to meet the standards set out, however, this does not mean that accommodations should not be made.

3. First, understanding that in order to qualify for special education, a student must fall a minimum of 2 years behind their classroom peers, requiring them to be tested using the same test as the classroom peers that they are already behind is simply a means of ostracizing and humiliating them even more – meaning the probability is higher that they will drop out of school.

4. The standards must be tailored to measure strengths that might be missed by the regular standards.

5. The answer is probably the second option. The reality is that our education system generally does a lousy job of meeting the needs of children with special needs and, from the view of a parent of child with special needs, the current education standards are pretty useless when it comes to helping these children learn. My child is almost 14 and reads at about a 3rd grade level. Her elementary school used 9 different reading curriculums in 4 years – all in the interest of meeting “standards”. She has her challenges but chasing standards have hindered her education and development at a huge personal cost to her and an enormous financial cost to me.

6. The fact of having special needs should not affect expectations for meeting the standards IF accommodations have been made for the student to be able to physically and mentally complete the work. The standards don’t change, but the methods of delivery change.

Comments and suggestions for future survey topics welcome!

Common Core Standards: Round 2 Results and Critique

The finalists from round two of the Race to the Top Program, an initiative sponsored by the federal government to reward states for educational reform under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, were announced yesterday.

Of the 35 states and D.C. that applied for the second round, 18 and D.C. were chosen:

• Arizona
• California
• District of Columbia
• Florida
• Georgia
• Hawaii
• Illinois
• Kentucky
• Louisiana
• Maryland
• Massachusetts
• New Jersey
• New York
• North Carolina
• Ohio
• Pennsylvania
• Rhode Island
• South Carolina

Finalists will present their plans to reviewers in Washington in early August, with winners announced in September. Not all finalists will receive grants.

Meanwhile the NYTimes in its Room for Debate feature, had panelists consider the question “Will National Standard Improve Education?” Here’s a summary of comments by invited contributors:

• Sandra Stotsky, professor at University of Arkansas in the field of education reform suggests that, contrary to the hopes of those who created them, the Common Core standards are likely to result in uniform mediocrity. Stotsky claims that the way the Common Core is structured may reverse the trend of increased numbers of students completing Algebra I by 8th grade, an accomplishment that enables greater achievement in both math and science in high school. She also critiques the Common Core “college readiness” standards as not being adequate for college-level work.

• Richard D. Kahlenberg, a Century Foundation senior fellow, points out that in the past, conservative desire for local control and liberal opposition to the testing programs linked with strong standards has prevented a move such as the current Common Core. He notes (without criticism), that it is the state’s impoverished budgets that has lead to the consensus.

Neal P. McCluskey, Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom associate director, remarks that having national standards does not change the underlying situation that public schooling is a monopoly and that those within the system have a strong motivation to have as little accountability as possible. He suggests that parents, rather than the government, should control educational spending and autonomous educational options, rather than the government, provide the choices, and states that research shows that free-market education performs better than monopolies, while there is no “meaningful” evidence that having national standards improves educational outcomes.

Michael Goldstein, MATCH Charter Public School’s founder, says that while he doesn’t think the curriculum will help his school in Boston, Massachusetts (Massachusetts has been touted for its high-quality standards), the Common Core standards are potentially beneficial for “millions of at-risk children” because it will allow successful schools and teachers to share seamlessly with other schools without different state curriculums getting in the way.

Alfie Kohn, an author in the field of education and human behavior claims that the most dedicated proponents of national education initiatives such as Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind “tend to be those who know the least about how kids learn.” He points out that uniform instruction offers only an illusion of fairness. What he seems to be arguing, although he does not say so explicitly, is that an excellent education for Child A, who may have the capacity to do college level calculus while still in high school may not be the same excellent education that would suit Child B, who has the capacity to become an internationally acclaimed oboist, or Child C, who has the capacity to repair the family car at age 14. What the Common Core standards say, according to Kohn, is that these children should be offered the same instructional demands. What Kohn seems to be advocating is an equally excellent education for each student.

Bruce Fuller, and University of California, Berkeley professor of education and public policy points out that when standards-based accountability was first introduced, gains were seen, especially in students who had weak literacy skills, but worries that the approach to education called “liberal” (not to be confused with the political persuasion)—which he characterizes as nurturing curiosity and the ability to question the status quo—will be lost in the attempt of the standards to make learning fit into uniform modules.


National Standards Acceptance Update

Let’s take Massachusetts as a for-instance…

Last Wednesday, the state of Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted unanimously to adopt federal Common Core State Standards in place of their own state standards. Note that the word state is in the standards and national is not. You can draw your own conclusions about why this might be…

According to the Massachusetts Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education, Mitchell Chester, the state plans to take advantage of a Common Core State Standards option that allows states to change up to 15 percent of the (let’s call them what they are) national standards to suit regional academic needs.

It seems important to add that Massachusetts standards have an excellent reputation and their implementation has resulted in very high student rankings, both nationally and internationally. But to qualify for Race to the Top funding from the Obama administration, compliance with the Common Core Standards was made a requirement, and Massachusetts is submitting an application in Round 2.

So, two questions arise:

• Is this coercion?

• Are these really national standards?

What seem to be genuinely “higher standards” in Massachusetts than a) in some other states and b) in the national standards, can remain higher—at least, up to the 15% point. So, Massachusetts is planning to invoke that option and make changes.

If Massachusetts changes 15% and California or Virginia, say—also known for their high academic standards—changes a different 15%, then extending from that model, any two states could be following 30% different standards.

Or, every state could change the same 15%, each in its own way, so that only 85% of the standards overall would be standard.

Another point:

Concerns have been raised that this is a step from which there is no going back. Once a state has opted in—even one like Massachusetts, whose state content experts had a great deal of input into the initial Common Core documents—it appears that they’re in for the long-haul, even if their experts are not among those consulted, or heeded, in the next revision.


For-Profit Schools: New Proposal

On May 19, we discussed the new rule proposals for “For-Profit Schools” arising from concerns that the vocational or technical training they offer does not, in many cases, equip students to earn enough to pay off their school debt.

In our June 21 blog “Federal Student Aid Rules Rollout,” we explained that on June 16, the US Department of Education had issued a proposed rule on the first 13 of 14 issues concerning federal student aid, and that the 14th was being held for reconsideration.

Today, the results of that consideration have been announced.

The U.S. Department of Education today released a proposal that ties the eligibility for federal aid for students at for-profit schools such as University of Phoenix, ITT, and Corinthian Colleges, Inc., for example, to the rates of former students’ salaries and debt repayment.

In an article titled “Obama Cracks Down on For-Profit Colleges, Links Loans to Income,” Bloomberg reports that US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stated in an interview yesterday that the new ruling would mean that 5 percent of all for-profit education programs would not qualify for any federal student aid whatsoever.

The proposed criteria are two-pronged. Either a for-profit has to demonstrate that a minimum of 45 percent of its former students are successfully paying off their student loans or it must show that graduates are paying less that 20% of their discretionary income or 8% of their total income on repayment of student loans.

A Signal Hill Capital Group analyst, Trace Urdan, suggested that high-priced programs that are intrinsically linked to low-paying jobs—such as criminal justice degrees—may be terminated to new students and eventually phased out, if the proposed rules go through.

Reaction from one of the for-profits cautioned about cutting off education access, while the associate executive direction of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars & Admissions Officers, Barmak Nassiarian, cautioned that standard that allows federal student aid may prove to be too low.

The Wall Street Journal in “U.S. to Scrutinize For-Profit Career Colleges” reports that for “many” for-profits 90 percent of their revenue is through federal aid. There is a 45-day period for comments on the proposal, which would not go into effect until the school year 2012–2013.

Standards/Special Needs Interim Survey Report

With 11 days left in July for our survey only 32 people have responded to our July survey which asks:

How do you think the idea of education standards applies to students with special needs?

and refers to both students with disabilities and gifted students. For our May and June surveys, we had nearly 300 responses, so there are still a lot of folks who have voted before who haven’t yet voted this month.

As of this morning, this is how the voting stands:

• 78.1% (25 people) voted for: “It should be expected that some students with special needs will exceed the standards and some will fail to meet them.”

• 18.8% (6 people) voted for: “The fact of having special needs—whether disabilities or special gifts or talents—should not affect expectations for meeting the standards.”

So, overall, the voting is more or less 3 to 1 in favor of considering the standards as not actually being a universal standard. Interestingly, I checked on the day after
the survey was posted and with only 4 votes, the ratio was the same: 3 to 1.

• 3.1% (1 person) commented and said: “The fact of having special needs should not affect expectations for meeting the standards IF accommodations have been made for the student to be able to physically and mentally complete the work. The standards don’t change, but the methods of delivery change.” (typo correction)

So this is a contingent vote for the position of standards being universal.

The question raised by this comment of how accommodations are applied to testing whether the standards have been met is an important one. Because the national standards assessment situation is different from the classroom instructional situation and (likely) the classroom assessment situation, educators have remarked over the years that the accommodations that are allowed to be used during national standards assessments (those that are characteristically used with the student) may not apply or be sufficient.

We welcome other thoughts on this issue.

And if you haven’t yet voted, please do so here.

Unintended Consequences

Two education stories that came out over the weekend revealed unintended consequences to education of US law and a United Nations Security Council resolution.

The first story—”A Popular Principal, Wounded by Government’s Good Intentions” (NYTimes, July 18)—tells of the removal of a Burlington, Vermont school principal Joyce Irvine from her leadership position at a school with 97 percent low income children, and 50% foreign-born children, a large number of whom are refugees who have had traumatic experiences of one kind or another.

Although all comers are impressed by the accomplishments of the children from year to year, the testing system under the No Child Left Behind Act—which has meant that some new-comers from Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and Sudan, for example, have had to take an English language state math test after a month or less in the United States, for example—is not adapted to this type of situation.

As a result of standardized tests offered under these conditions, the school scored poorly, and the school district was faced with a choice of fulfilling heart-breaking requirements—closing the school; removing half the staff and the principal; or removing only the principal and transforming the school—to receive as much as $3 million in federal stimulus funds, or forgoing the stimulus funds. The decision was that removing the principal was the least damaging choice.

The principal is so highly regarded that she has been given another job by the school district that removed her and both the Burlington school superintendent and US Senator Bernie Sanders have spoken very highly of her.

The second story—”Standardized English Tests Are Halted in Iran” (NYTimes, July 17)—explains that the UN Security Council resolution of sanctions against Iran as well as US sanctions make it impossible for Educational Testing Service (ETS), which administers the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), to accept payment of registration fees from Iran.

As a result, registration for the TOEFL testing program has been suspended, making things more difficult for people whom the sanctions were not intended to affect in this way. The situation may, however, be short-lived because a State Department spokesman has reported that explorations of alternative means to allow the program to resume are under consideration.

National Standards

Did you know that there are already some national education standards in the United States? They are those proposed, for the most part, by the subject area teachers’ organizations. As we consider the concept of national standards in the light of students with special needs, they are worth considering. We have referred to them extensively in our articles on Homeschool Subjects, but here is a linked list of the major players. Some standards are available for free viewing and/or download, while others are available for purchase (indicated by $)

Social Studies (summary free; $ for whole)


English/Language Arts (includes Reading)



Physical Education

Health and Nutrition (summary free; $ for whole)

The Arts—Dance, Music, Theater, Visual Arts

• Foreign Language (exec. summary free; $ for whole)

Other Subjects

Definition of a Gifted Child

Federal Definition

Were you aware that there is a Federal definition of a gifted child, albeit, one that can be over-ruled by local preference. It is in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and it reads:

The term ‘gifted and talented,’ when used with respect to students, children, or youth, means students, children, or youth who give evidence of high achievement capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who need services or activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop those capabilities. [minor changes made to correct punctuation errors]

The Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Program, acting to ” build and enhance the ability of elementary and secondary schools to meet the special education needs of gifted and talented students,” carries out scientifically-based research and provides grants.

It should be noted that the program has a particular emphasis on “serving students traditionally underrepresented in gifted and talented programs, particularly economically disadvantaged, limited English proficient (LEP), and disabled students, to help reduce the serious gap in achievement among certain groups of students at the highest levels of achievement.”

This emphasis is reflected in the grant priorities, which are first are foremost to develop models for underrepresented students and second to improve services for all gifted and talented students.

Local Definitions

Let’s take a look at how this plays out locally.

In the Sulphur Springs School District in California, the 2005–2006 “G.A.T.E. Handbook,” has this to say:

“The program serves exceptional students qualifying in one or more of the
following areas:

• Intellectual Ability
• Specific Academic Ability
• Reading or Math

To determine eligibility, students must undergo a screening and identification process. STAR test data are first reviewed. Students are then administered the OLSAT (Otis-Lennon Scholastic Aptitude Test) or the RAVEN, a non-verbal assessment. Once identified, students may be placed in the GATE program. English Learners may be identified through the use of non-verbal assessments, and rapid growth on the CELDT may be used as one of the standardized test criteria.”

In the Coweta County School System in Georgia, the state definition of giftedness is used, and it defines gifted students like this:

“A gifted student is one who demonstrates a high degree of intellectual and/or creative ability(ies), exhibits an exceptionally high degree of motivation and/or excels in specific academic field(s) and needs special instruction and/or ancillary services to achieve at levels commensurate with his or her abilities.”

In the “Gifted Education Parent’s Handbook” provided by the Austin Independent School District in Texas, the following is offered as a definition of being gifted:

“Giftedness is asynchronous development in which advanced cognitive
abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and
awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm. This asynchrony
increases with higher intellectual capacity. The uniqueness of the gifted
renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parent-
ing, teaching and counseling in order for them to develop optimally. (The
Columbus Group, 1991, in Morelock, 1992) Asynchrony means being out
of sync, both internally and externally. Asynchronous development means
that gifted children develop cognitively at a much faster rate than they
develop physically and emotionally, posing some interesting problems.
For example, ideas forged by 8-year-old minds may be difficult to produce
with 5-year-old hands. Further, advanced cognition often makes gifted
children aware of information that they are not yet emotionally ready to
handle. They tend to experience all of life with greater intensity, render-
ing them emotionally complex. These children usually do not fit the
developmental norms for their age; they have more advanced play
interests and often are academically far ahead of their age peers. The
brighter the child, the greater the asynchrony and potential vulnerability.
Therefore, parents who are aware of the inherent developmental differ-
ences of their children can prepare themselves to act as their advocates.”

As you can see, these three definitions offer rather different ways of conceptualizing giftedness. Is it conceivable that a child identified as gifted by one set of criteria would not meet the criteria in another location? It seems so. Certainly the highly motivated child in Georgia might not fit the criteria in the other locations. Certainly, based on this comparison, some interesting questions are raised about gifted and talented children and how their instruction should be differentiated.

For more background, we invite you to read our article, “Gifted Education.”

And please vote in our survey on students with special needs (included gifted students) and national standards.

Identifying Children With Disabilities

While identification of gifted and talented children is done in various ways in various communities using various criteria, “Identification, Location and Evaluation” to ensure that children with disabilities are found, assessed, and receive appropriate services is mandated by law and has its roots in the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (PL 94-142) of 1975. This point was continued in the revision of the law, now called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The definitions that determine whether a child is eligible for service are as follows:

• An infant or toddler through age 2 is eligible for early intervention under IDEA if he or she experiences developmental delays in one or more of these categories:

• cognitive development
• physical development, including vision and hearing
• development of communication
• social or emotional development
• adaptive development

or if he or she has been diagnosed with a physical/mental condition likely to result in a developmental delay.

• A child age 3 to 9 is eligible for services under IDEA using the five bulleted categories in the definition for Infants and Toddlers, but with the requirement that he or she is experiencing a developmental delay in one of the areas. OR he or she may be assessed using the following definition.

• A child or youth aged 3 to 21 can be eligible under IDEA in thirteen disability categories:

• autism
• deaf-blindness,
• emotional disturbance
• hearing impairment (including deafness)
• mental retardation
• multiple disabilities
• orthopedic impairment
• other health impairment
• specific learning disability*
• speech or language impairment
• traumatic brain injury
• visual impairment (including blindness)

Specific learning disability refers to conditions such as brain injury, developmental aphasia, dyslexia, minimal brain dysfunction, and perceptual disabilities.

For more background on special education, see our articles on “Special Education History ” and “Special Education Statistics.”

And don’t forget to take our survey on students with special needs and standards-based education.

Identifying Gifted Children

Having mulled over some of the issues about standards, we’re now going to look at a group of students that characteristically add spice to the standards discussion: students with special needs, and our survey this month will be on this topic. We’ll start with gifted children.

Over the Fourth of July weekend, the New York Times published a “Room for Debate” topic titled “The Pitfalls in Identifying a Gifted Child.” Participants include university-level education academicians/researchers, a journalist, and a tutoring program founder and CEO. They specific prompt for the comments is the information that New York City school officials are looking for a gifted and talented test that can identify children as young as 3 in an attempt to respond to complaints that minorities are under-represented and parents are “gaming” the system.

• Professor Susan K. Johnsen, Educational Psychology, Baylor University, points out that two types of children should be identified: those who already demonstrate advanced development and those who may—through intervention—become advanced. She acknowledges that gifts may develop and be discernible over time, thus calling into question a one-point testing program for identification. In addition, students are not well-represented across all races, ethnicities, and income levels at the current time.

• Clara Hemphill, senior editor at Center for NYC Affairs at the New School objects to the labeling and segregation of gifted children when their is a good neighborhood school that might serve them well. She points out the being with and understanding the talents of others not (yet) so labeled is an important part of the gifted child’s education. She claims that the fundamentals of kindergarten are pretty similar for all children, regardless of giftedness, and that differentiated instruction is easy to achieve at this level. She adds that testing children prior to kindergarten is “ridiculous.”

• Joseph S. Renzulli, director of the National Research Center of the Gifted and Talented (NRC/GT) at University of Connecticut acknowledges that early childhood testing is unreliable and that parents have “gamed” the system. He suggests the use of a program by Dr. C. June Maker that identifies giftedness by watching children’s responses to specially designed activities that are performed in small groups (rather than individual, paper and pencil tests).

• Tonya R. Moon, associate professor at the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia (also with NRC/GT ties) suggests multiple measures and multiple opportunities for identification. She says that nonverbal tests in particular, on which the most academically-gifted minority children are apt to score poorly, should not be used as a sole measure.

• Bige Doruk, founder and CEO of Bright Kids NYC (a tutoring service), states that no single test can guarantee better identification of gifted students than the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test (OLSAT), which is currently used in NYC. She says that the fact that children identified by this test are thought by their teachers to be properly assigned to gifted programs indicates their reliability. She does not address the possibility that there are other children, who the test fails to identify, who may also belong. She does, however, point out that the younger the age of the child tested, the more influence home factors, such as home environment and parents’ educational attainment come into play, which would tend—she suggests—to skew results away from minorities. She also suggests that the top students from each district—regardless of exact score—should be placed in gifted and talented programs, including students to the point at which the program is full, and that NYC attend to a better calculation of matching supply to demand and transportation to facilitate the practical aspects of these programs.

For background on gifted children, please see our article “The Gifted Student.”

We also recommend you take a look at the comments readers have posted in response to the New York Times article.