Tag Archives: special education

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.

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.

Disabled Students

In Spring of 1998 PBS did a segment on a family that had a non-verbal autistic son. He was school age at the time and these parents wanted this child integrated into a normal classroom. It started out this way and then the school made a fuss about things saying that he needed to be moved full time to the “special education” department of the school. The parents would not stand for it. They even sued the school and tried to get the Supreme Court to hear their case. This did not happen. However, this family took their son to another school that willingly gave him a full time aid and helps him be integrated into the classroom with his peers.

His aid made comments about the fact that this boy communicates in his own way but he does communicate. He also can do more than what the other school was asking of him. At the old school this autistic boy was given tasks that just whittled the time away but never really could have been called “education”. He was simply stacking blocks and other tasks of similar nature. At his new school he goes along with his peers, follows along with reading assignments and more.
Prior to 1978 students with disabilities were completely segregated and put into special education programs without a thought. No one dreamed of integrating these children into a normal classroom. However, what has now been realized is that the students who are not disabled learn a lot in ways that are not so academic about acceptance, tolerance, and understanding. It doesn’t hurt that we also see progress in the disabled student when they are integrated with their peer group.

Special Education Overview

The United States Department of Education has an Office of Special Education Programs to help those individuals from birth to 21 years of age with disabilities. These programs help fund, support and lead the special education efforts in our communities across the country. The need for these programs is on the rise. With increasing awareness of special needs and disabilities as well as learning disabilities we now have more resources than ever to fit the needs of individual students.

The National Center for Learning Disabilities states that:
  • 2.9 million students are currently receiving services in special education for their learning disabilities.
  • Most people with learning disabilities have the disability affect their reading ability.
  • 44 percent of parents that saw warning signs of learning disabilities in their children waited at least a year or more to take the signs seriously.
  • 38 percent of kids with learning disabilities drop out of school.
  • Students with learning disabilities are more at risk for substance abuse due to their lack of self esteem and trouble with their schoolwork.
There are thirteen different reasons (general) that qualify a student for special education services. These are: learning disabilities, autism, brain injury, deaf/blind, speech and language problems, visual impairments, hearing issues, multiple and cross over disabilities, orthopedic problems, mental retardation, serious health issues, behavior disorders (or emotional), and multi-sensory impairment.

Learning Disabilities

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines a learning disability as: “any of various conditions (as dyslexia) that interfere with an individuals ability to learn and so result in impaired functioning in language, reasoning, or academic skills and that are thought to be caused by difficulties in processing and integrating information.”

We find in our society that there are many differing levels of learning disabilities. One person may be severely dyslexic and another may just be mildly dyslexic. This can be said about most learning disabilities. We also know that many people may struggle in learning things but may never be diagnosed with an actual learning disorder.

The key with learning disabilities is to identify them as early in life as possible and then to seek out the right kind of help. The National Institute of Health showed that 67 percent of children who were at risk for reading problems became avid readers when given the right help in the early grades of their education. This is proof of the progress that can be made if parents, teachers, and other caretakers just watch children carefully and try to identify where the child may need extra help.

Here are some signs to look for at different ages so that you may get a child the help that they need:


  • trouble relating to friends of the same age
  • has problems pronunciating words clearly
  • vocabulary isn’t growing quickly
  • has fine motor skill difficulties
  • has trouble following directions
  • has trouble with routine
  • is easily distracted or seems “busy” all of the time
  • speaks later than most children his/her age
  • has trouble rhyming words
  • difficulty in learning preschool subjects like shapes, colors, letters, and numbers

Kindergarten to 4th Grade:

  • can’t seem to grasp learning to tell time
  • seems clumsy or accident prone/uncoordinated
  • mixes up number sequences and math symbols
  • depends on memorization and has a hard time with new concepts
  • has difficulty with spelling words (root words, prefixes, suffixes)
  • regularly transposes the same letters (b/d)
  • seems very impulsive, does things haphazardly
  • does not grip pencil or other writing utensils well

5th Grade to 8th Grade:

  • Avoids reading aloud
  • Reverses letters in words
  • Strange pencil grip
  • Does not like and/or has difficulty with handwriting
  • Trouble recalling facts
  • Does not make friends easily
  • Trouble with word problems
  • Has difficulty picking up on other’s body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions

Grade 9 to Adulthood

  • Difficulty spelling, does not seem to show improvement
  • Slow worker
  • Difficulty summarizing stories, concepts or facts
  • Has trouble filling in the blanks
  • Does not grasp abstract concepts
  • Hard time remembering in general
  • Seems not to focus on information details or misreads information

If a parent/teacher or someone close to an individual picks up on these warning signs they can get them the help they need. Teachers are valuable resources as are school counselors and tutors. There are people who specialize in learning disabilities that you can find within your community. Just remember, most of these learning disabilities can be worked with if the individual gets the help that they need. Schools can help you put together an IEP (Individualized Education Program) that will be of great help.

Vocational Rehabilitation

With unemployment rates reaching near record numbers it is becoming more difficult for people with an education, training, and skills to find employment. Now imagine how difficult it would be if these people did not have these advantages. What about those who also have physical disabilities or learning disabilities? Even when our country is not suffering financial difficulties it can be very difficult for people with disabilities to find a way to support their families.

Vocational Rehabilitation services are available all across our country to help assist people with disabilities in getting the education, skills, and training they need to be able to support themselves and their families. There are many great vocational schools available. If you are disabled or unemployed I would encourage you to find out if you are eligible to get assistance from your local vocational rehabilitation offices.

Read our most recent article to learn more about vocational rehabilitation.

First Lady Visits Dept. of Education

First Lady Michelle Obama visited the Department of Education today. She gave about a 10 minute speech to about 350 of the staff members there, in which she told them “I am a product of your work.”
She spoke of the Presidents new stimulus plan which would pay to renovate thousands of schools, add funding for preschool for disadvantaged children and increase federal dollars for Pell Grants for college students. She also said this financial help would prevent teacher layoffs and help children in poverty and children with disabilities.
She also said, “The Department of Education is going to be at the forefront of many of the things that we have to do in this administration and we’re going to need that energy in these times of economic challenge.”
Hopefully our new President will be able to follow through and provide our education system with the help it needs.