Sunday, September 19, 2010

Trends on students with disabilities (national version)

EdWeek reported recently that:
After decades of what seemed to be an inexorable upward path, the number of students classified as learning-disabled declined from year to year over much of the past decade—a change in direction that is spurring debates among experts about the reasons why.
It's worth being clear that the number in question is the "specific learning disability" category.

To look at a fuller range of numbers, from 2000-01 to 2007-08, the relevant Digest of Education Statistics table of national numbers shows four declines:
  • 10 percent decline in students identified with specific learning disabilities (from 2,868 to 2,573 thousand students)
  • 20 percent in mental retardation (from 624 to 500 thousand students)
  • 19 percent in orthopedic impairment (from 83 to 67 thousand students)
  • 8 percent in emotional disturbance (from 483 to 442 thousand students)
The same years saw increases of:
  • 216 percent in autism from 94 to 296 thousand students)
  • 112 percent in other health impairments* (from 303 to 641 thousand students)
  • 101 percent in developmental delay (from 178 to 358 thousand students)
  • 57 percent in traumatic brain injury (from 16 to 25 thousand students)
  • 4 percent in multiple disabilities (from 133 to 138 thousand students)
  • 3 precent in speech or language impairments (from 1,409 to 1,456 thousand students)
  • 1 percent in hearing impairments, visual impairments and deaf-blind (from 108 to 110 thousand students)
That adds up to a net increase of:
  • 5 percent in all disabilities (from 6,296 to 6,606 thousand students)

* The table adds this definition: "Other health impairments include having limited strength, vitality, or alertness due to chronic or acute health problems such as a heart condition, tuberculosis, rheumatic fever, nephritis, asthma, sickle cell anemia, hemophilia, epilepsy, lead poisoning, leukemia, or diabetes."

1 comment:

  1. From quickly glancing at the KDE Special Education Child Count data, it appears that KY has even larger variances than the national trends. In KY, Specific Learning Disability (SLD) has decreased by about 34% from 2000-2008 (compared to 10% nationally), but OHI has increased by about 228% (compared to 112% nationally).

    The largest Other Health Impairment (OHI) included in this category is ADHD, which was added in 1995.

    Given that SLD and ADHD are often co-morbid (occurring at the same time), it is not surprising that school personnel are inclined to identify a student as OHI vs. SLD, which in my opinion is the reason for the drastic shift in eligibility identification.

    Students who are identified as being in one of these categories receive an Individual Education Plan (IEP) as defined by federal law - Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IEDA). While by definition IEPs are supposed to be individualized, what is often found on IEPs for children who are eligible due to ADHD (other health impairment) are goals related to behavior only. Those goals do not require much money or change to curriculum or instruction. However, if a child is identified as SLD, those goals should involve specifically designed instruction, which is more expensive, and as these children are to be provided this instruction in the Least Restrictive Environment it means that typical classroom curriculum and instruction is affected. IEPs for both categories should include use of Assistive Technology, but rarely do because that costs money and requires inclusive use in the regular classroom and changes to instructional methods.

    The net result? Students with learning disabilities are not getting what they need to be college or career ready because adults are gaming the system. Parents are not receiving training or information on IDEA and their child’s educational rights and are clueless until it is too late, when they see their child either drop out of high school or not make it past their first year of college due to inadequate transition planning and academic preparation.

    One thing I know for sure is that these students can be held to the same high accountability standards as students who don’t have specific learning disabilities and/or ADHD. These students have average to above average intelligences. They often are gifted. But year after year I read in the paper where my superintendent, in particular, blames stagnant district performance on unrealistic expectations of students with disabilities. If we are willing to allow these students to get thrown under the accountability bus, then how willing are we to do the right thing by them in the classroom?


Updates and data on Kentucky education!