Teaching Skill

How do regular classsroom teachers swell the numbers of children placed in special education?

One view is that teachers are “bothered” by difficult-to-teach children and refer them for special education evaluations. “To the extent that eligibility for special education follows from teacher referral that may be based on preconceived notions, “bothersome” deportment, or prejudice rather than on objective assessments of students’ abilities and behavior, one can imagine how misidentification could occur. If a student “bothers” a teacher and classification as mentally retarded or emotionally disturbed means the student will be placed outside the regular classroom, one can imagine that referral for eligibility assessment could be seen as an easy remedy for removing a “trouble maker” (Congress Report).

A related view is that teachers lack knowledge of specific methods matching the needs of DTT pupils. They are used to traditional large-group methods whereas DTT pupils require more individualized instruction, somewhat akin to special education techniques. For special needs children, teachers should select optimal levels of instruction; provide individual instructional modifications using scaffolding strategies and technological aids; model and demonstrate strategies; provide practice with feedback; provide many opportunities for drill, practice and review (Jim Wright). But lacking important skills, a referral to special education makes sense.

Third, teachers have easy access to special education. If they make a direct referral, the school district must respond legally in timely fashion. The referral rockets into the special education arena and a kind of inertia to place is established. Anxious parents can be allies in this “rush to judgment.” It is too late for thoughtful reflection about the use of child study committees and pre-intervention activities.

A current trend, called “Response To Intervention,” seeks to slow down the runaway train. Too many children are being placed in special education based on subjective opinion and faulty eligibility evaluations. They are placed with only feeble attempts by teachers to modify instruction to support remedial improvements. Response To Intervention is an organized collaborative remedial system conducted before a child is considered for special education. It is primary to general education. The school district helps teachers organize pre-intervention lessons and evaluations. The value is that the pupils can no longer be referred out of the classroom to special education without a RTI learning assessment for which classroom teachers are partly responsible (Texas Report).

Finally, efforts of schools to maintain pupil performance under the No Child Left Behind Act makes it tempting to nudge at-risk children into remedial and special education circles where they will be exempt from state accountability testing.

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