Middle School SLP Exits

Elementary school is where basic skills characterize special education — reading, language, speech, computation, writing. Special education programs are akin to Response To Intervention. If the programs are effective, non-disabled children in time should be dismissed. Children with functional articulation problems should be coming out of speech. Moderate-to-severe language cases should be exited if they can “access the general curriculum.” Many learning disabled children should be overcoming literacy deficits.

However, the national trend is for middle school personnel to forego dismissal. Learning disability enrollments remain static until high school, where dropping out is the major exit procedure. Children with moderate-to-severe language disorders, often minority children, move toward high school enrolled in special education. Speech and language cases are pulled along with other disability categories. Parents are afraid exits will deny their children needed interventions.

For middle school children, it is often unclear who should recommend exits. School psychologist? Special education teachers? Speech-language pathologists? Reading specialists? Directors of special education? Regular education teachers? Parents?

Special education pupils in middle schools are at risk in two ways. First, there is stigmatization, and we know about that. Second, basic skills instruction doesn’t fit high school.

Middle school children should move beyond basic skills even if the skills are imperfect. In high school, they must participate in rotating classes and subjects. They should be able to self advocate so teachers know their special needs (i.e., modifications). Their esteem should be high. They should be able to communicate socially with peers regardless of their linguistic intelligibility. They should have sociolinguistic skills for using genres of speech across contexts. Where appropriate, they should be anticipating vocational placements that they are heading toward with high school graduation. Prolonged basic skills instruction can impede progress toward high school graduation. It reflects classic pre-1975 special education where children sat across the road in the old brick building doing meaningless tasks.

Not only do students get stuck in special education, they get stuck doing the same things over and over without anyone’s anticipation of where they should be going. There should be a 12-year philosophy of special education that points students from the beginning toward realistic and dignified lives. And they should leave special education if at all possible.

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