Archive for Sunday, November 9, 2003

Parents fear bias toward students with disabilities

November 9, 2003


As pressure mounts for Lawrence schools to meet rising expectations posed by the federal No Child Left Behind law, parents of children with disabilities fear they'll see the loathsome side of human nature.

They're worried children with disabilities will be scorned if they don't perform well enough on reading and math tests, thereby jeopardizing a school's ability to meet the yearly progress standards set by the law.

Jennifer Schwartz, who has a daughter with cerebral palsy in a Lawrence elementary school, said she welcomed higher academic standards for all students. But one result of an inability to live up to those lofty goals could be that people pressure parents of students with disabilities to leave the district, she said.

"I haven't seen that happening, Schwartz said. "There is a huge assumption that is going to happen."

Barbara Bishop, director of ARC of Douglas County, a support organization for people with developmental disabilities, said another result of low test scores among special-education students could be districts scaling back the number of children assigned to special-education programs.

"We want accountability," Bishop said. "We don't want our kids held in contempt because, it's true, a failed subgroup can fail a school. I'd like to think the education system as a whole is grown up enough we don't have to fight that battle."

No Child Left Behind requires that states, districts and schools make "adequate yearly progress" on math and reading tests.

Yearly progress is calculated for all students in a school, district and state. It also is tracked for 10 subgroups of students, including children with disabilities, children living in poverty and children in racial or ethnic minority groups.

The goal of the law is to make all students, and subgroups of students, "proficient" or better in both math and reading by 2014.

Test results made public in August showed that four Lawrence schools didn't do well enough to demonstrate adequate progress. The schools were Lawrence High School, Free State High School, South Junior High School and Central Junior High School.

Students with disabilities didn't make adequate progress in reading or math at LHS, reading at Free State or math at South.

Bruce Passman, the Lawrence district's executive director of student services, said he wasn't surprised some of the district's secondary schools were struggling to meet the standards for students with disabilities.

Achievement gaps often widen when students with disabilities leave grade school, he said.

"What we have to do is figure out some way of turning the system around so that we intervene earlier with kids, especially now with No Child Left Behind," he said.

He said divining short-term outcomes of No Child Left Behind was tricky. Figuring out long-term implications is extremely difficult, he said.

"There are so many unknowns," Passman said. "The regulations for implementing the act are not even out, and yet we're two years into it."

For example, Passman said he could imagine an outcome opposite that described by Bishop.

It could be, he said, that growth in the number of schools failing to make yearly progress among students with disabilities prompts districts to place additional students -- not fewer -- in line for special-education services.

"There may be more of an inclination to refer people to special ed because they want to get help for kids to make sure the gaps don't occur," Passman said.

Twenty-two percent of Lawrence's school children receive special education services. The state average is 14 percent.

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