Archive for Sunday, August 15, 2010

Approach to teaching students with disabilities assessed

August 15, 2010


The Lawrence school district has some catching up to do when it comes to reaching proficiency standards on assessment tests for students with disabilities.

For two consecutive years, the district as whole has fallen short of rising standards for the number of students expected to score proficient or above on the standardized tests, which are used to gauge compliance with the federal No Child Left Behind program.

Students approaching proficiency

Percentage of the Lawrence school district’s students with disabilities who met or surpassed proficiency standards on state assessment tests, as part of the federal No Child Left Behind program:

Reading: 68.1 percent for all students with disabilities. Among students grouped by specific disabilities: learning disability, 66.4 percent; mental retardation, 80 percent; behavioral disorder, 70.6 percent; other health impairment, 59 percent; autism, 80 percent; speech/language, 79.6 percent.

Math: 65.2 percent of all students with disabilities. Among students grouped by specific disabilities: learning disability, 57.3 percent; mental retardation, 60 percent; behavioral disorder, 54.4 percent; other health impairment, 54.2 percent; autism, 73.2 percent; speech/language, 81.5 percent.

Note: Dozens of students with disabilities take modified versions of assessment tests because educators consider such versions to be more appropriate. But because the number of students taking such modified tests exceeded the state’s reporting limits, some students who had rated as proficient or above on the modified assessments were counted as “not proficient” in the overall totals. This past year, for example, 55 students who had achieved proficiency on the modified reading assessment were instead counted as having been “not proficient.” For math, the total was 14 students.

But just because the district is now considered “on improvement” — a label assigned to districts and schools that fall short of standards for two years in a row — that doesn’t mean educators are giving up, even as proficiency targets are set to rise even higher for the coming year.

Within four years, all of the district’s students are to be proficient or better in reading and math — a level reached so far by only about two-thirds of students with disabilities, compared with more than 83 percent for the overall student population.

“We are not making excuses,” Superintendent Rick Doll told members of the Lawrence school board last week. “I will not allow my staff to make excuses. We do understand, with No Child left Behind, there’s some, just, idiocy in the whole thing, when you get out to the year 2014. That doesn’t stop us from emphasizing improvements for individual kids, and we will continue to do that.”

As required as part of the “on improvement” designation, the district will need to spend about $175,000 of federal funds this year to provide professional development to educators. Such instruction will be tailored to help the district improve students’ proficiency scores in both reading and math, with a focus on students with disabilities.

Looking ahead

Should the district fall short again this coming year, it likely would need to augment its current services for students with disabilities by hiring tutors. Such personnel would be hired with federal funds that otherwise would be used on other programs elsewhere in schools.

Mary Loveland, a longtime board member, expressed concern about the assessment results while offering support for the administrators and educators who remain charged with bringing the scores up.

“There’s a wide spectrum of disabilities,” she said. “Sometimes it just means the members of these groups are challenged to learn but are quite capable of learning. I know that.”

While the district as a whole has fallen short on Adequate Yearly Progress scores for students with disabilities, the majority of district schools scored high enough to make AYP in that category. Some of the district’s schools that have succeeded have been systematic in intervening with individual students who need help, an approach to be explored for other schools as well.

Data-driven approach

Kim Bodensteiner, the district’s chief academic officer, said administrators already had been meeting with personnel at Lawrence High School and South and Southwest junior high schools to review data about which students need particular help. The next step will be devising plans to see that such individual students get all the help they need.

“It’s not easy,” Bodensteiner said. “It’s no different than when a doctor is trying to diagnose an illness, and you have to try different medicines and treatments to find what works for that individual situation with that patient.

“It’s also true with students. We have to continue to try different kinds of instruction, different programs.”

It’s an approach all people involved in the district — administrators, teachers, counselors, specialists, parents and others — will need to embrace as the district moves forward, said Tammy Becker, principal at Hillcrest School.

“It isn’t easy,” said Becker, whose students met proficiency standards in all categories, including students with disabilities. “But I’m convinced — because we’ve done it here for the past couple years — that if teams of teachers work together, and are committed — all of them — to do whatever it takes for any and all students, we’ll get there.”


KSManimal 7 years, 8 months ago

How about mandating that all physically-disabled students will meet "proficiency" in the pole vault, 100 yard dash, mile swim, and free throw (no excuses for the blind kid not making it)?

NCLB is designed to create the illusion of failure.

I'm tickled that our superintended used the word "idiocy" to describe it. If only public schools nationwide would embrace that kind of common sense; and then act accordingly by telling the feds to place NCLB up their AYP.......

waswade 7 years, 8 months ago

Maybe the tests and the law should be reviewed not the teachers and the students. The SYSTEM is disfunctional and not serving student needs.

Cathy Tarr 7 years, 8 months ago

People need to look at no child left behind in total and not just the testing portion. The fact that our Superintendent Rick Doll used the word "idiocy" speaks volumes that he is only looking out for what makes him look good or bad and not at the whole program. As Mary Loveland states there are plenty of children with disbilities that are able to learn and achieve, just in a different way or with additional help. If you had a child in the disability system in Lawrence and witnessed first hand some of the idiocy that takes place by members of the school district, you would see that NCLB is not the problem. A program and legal accountability had to be set up because there are some people who claim to be educators that could care less about what is best for the students and more about their own agendas.

mom_of_three 7 years, 8 months ago

I agree that the teachers have to be committed. it is the system that is flawed. Teachers tell you they do not have time to do the special things needed by the student as set up in the IEP. I used to get so frustrated at those meetings in grade school and junior high. But in the high school, things have improved.

sandersen 7 years, 8 months ago

NCLB is an unfunded mandate that has created massive budget shortfalls in districts throughout the country and has a very short shelf life, hence the numerous states and districts throughout the country that have chosen to actually teach their students for success, not just to score well on a test, by refusing to participate in the program. This was a policy designed to give feeble lip-service to supporting public education for our youth, while in actuality creating an environment where educators and students time are consumed with obsessing about teaching to succeed for the short term goal--- a score on a test.

There is much more to educating a human mind than a single score on a test. Too many factors can create variables on a test score that have little to nothing to do with the knowledge/understanding a student has of the material covered, as well as their ability to process the concept outside of a classroom. Testing is a very narrow indicator of success in teaching, and unfortunately, under this weak and relatively useless program, we are merely turning out well-practiced test-takers in lieu of well-educated humans.

lawrencechick 7 years, 8 months ago

How about having a more centralized school for children with significant disabilites instead of spreading them out all over the district with people unqualified to teach them. It may not seem politically correct, but children would get the education they deserve and it would save thousands in salaries. In addition, children without disabilites would get the undistracted education they deserve, which is definitely not happening now.

sandersen 7 years, 8 months ago

That is the equivalent of putting children in a mental ward. Children with special needs are required , by law, to receive their education in the least restrictive environment possible, which allows for the modeling of positive behaviors and skill sets, while teaching their counterparts tolerance, compassion and appreciation for the unique gifts and qualities every human being possesses.

IEP's , Sit Plans, etc. guide the educators, counselors and faculty how to best balance the unique needs of the child and achieve educational guideposts.

The long history of abuses and discrimination of those with special needs is the very reason children are allowed an equal opportunity for an education in this and most developed countries in the world.

Paul R Getto 7 years, 8 months ago

"The long history of abuses and discrimination of those with special needs is the very reason children are allowed an equal opportunity for an education in this and most developed countries in the world." Sandersen: Excellent point. Most children with an IEP can master much, if not all of the curriculum. The stereotype of the 'extremely' disabled child is a distinct minority. NCLB is a joke in a sense, but state and federal 'accountability' laws in many areas get passed because the locals cannot rise to the task. We can work through all of this, but it will take a long conversation and some honest appraisals of our situation. So far, I am not impressed with the current Secretary of Education. He seems mainly interested in promoting the bogus charter school movement. For a newspaper blog, not a bad conversation overall. Can we talk? Why, yes we can? [sometimes]

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