Current Issues and Trends in Special Education: Identification, Assessment and Instruction: Volume 19

Cover of Current Issues and Trends in Special Education: Identification, Assessment and Instruction

Table of contents

(19 chapters)

Current Issues and Trends in Special Education is divided into two volumes; Volume 19, Identification, Assessment and Instruction; and Volume 20, Research, Technology, and Teacher Preparation. The field of special education constantly changes as a result of legislation, new instructional formats, and current research investigations. It can be difficult for general and special educators, school counselors and psychologists, administrators, and practicing clinicians to keep up with these changes and be current in all areas relating to special education. The special education literature knowledge base should reflect these changes; however, there is no current resource that effectively and comprehensively does this. The purpose of Current Issues and Trends in Special Education is to fulfill this void.

In an attempt to minimize the need for subsequent special education and related services, the federal government provides financial assistance to states to develop and implement quality ECI services to infants and toddlers with disabilities or developmental delays (IDEIA, 2004). Under Part C of IDEIA (2004), states, which receive federal assistance, are mandated to create a statewide, comprehensive, coordinated interagency council (also known as the state interagency coordinating council or SICC) that ensures qualified infants and toddlers, and their families are identified and provided with early intervention services. The SICC is composed of parents, ECI service providers, and other agencies that work with children with disabilities (e.g., Head Start, preschool, and child care providers; Blasco, 2001).

Misidentification of students with disabilities is a widely publicized aspect of the shortcomings of our special education programs. Many factors can contribute to misidentification. In the Congressional Research Service (CRS) Report for Congress (Apling, 2001), three issues were specifically identified as reasons for possible misidentification. “Misidentification can result from failing to identify those with disabilities, from identifying children with disabilities they do not have, and from delaying identifying children with disabilities” (p. 2). In addition to the aforementioned concerns, an overrepresentation of minorities in special education programs has been a focal point for critics of special education programs and eligibility criteria for decades (see Harry & Klinger, 2006). Biases in assessment often lay the foundation for overrepresentation of minorities. Others express serious concerns regarding misidentification due to a direct result of the referral (or lack of effective prereferral) and evaluation practices used in many states (Ysseldyke, Algozzine, Richey, & Graden, 1982). Last, misidentification due to the changing eligibility criteria and differences in eligibility criteria across states has been added to the concerns in the field of special education.

In reviewing the special education professional literature using “disproportionality” as a descriptor, most of the articles addressed overrepresentation (Salend, Duhaney, & Montgomery, 2002). An Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC) Digest was titled Reducing the Disproportionate Representation of Minority Students in Special Education (Burnette, 1998) yet it focused on “what can be done to reduce over-representation.” Apparently, underrepresentation/underserving students is not an issue of great importance. A recent article in one of special education's premiere journals, Exceptional Children, used the term disproportionality as synonymous with overrepresentation (Skiba et al., 2008). The article did not mention underrepresentation as part of the disproportionality puzzle. In the view of these authors, overrepresentation of minority students in special education is the only part of the disproportionality equation that merits consideration.

Misidentification has two meanings. First, it refers to the identification of a student with a disability when in fact he or she does not have a disability. This is also referred to as a false positive. Misidentification can also mean a student has been identified with the wrong disability (e.g., specific learning disability (SLD) instead of mental retardation (MR)). Disproportionality includes both overrepresentation and underrepresentation. Overrepresentation is identifying more students with disabilities than would be expected based on proportions within a defined population. Conversely, underrepresentation refers to identifying fewer students with disabilities than their prevalence in a population.

Although NCLB and IDEA 2004 require that all students participate in state and district assessments, special arrangements can and should be provided for students who have special needs or circumstances. NCLB requires that school districts provide students with disabilities access to appropriate accommodations if necessary to take the statewide assessment. Students with disabilities are to be held to the standards for the grade in which the student is enrolled, although in some situations, accommodations or modifications may be needed to get a true picture of a student's achievement.

There has been a grass roots movement among parents and educators requiring answers to precise questions about students’ academic learning behaviors in relation to actual classroom instruction – a movement that is requiring the very character of educational assessment to assume a more direct role in determining the instructional needs of students. Both parents and teachers want their children to receive a good education and to be successful in school relative to their developmental skills. To achieve this, there is no better or more immediate way than through assessing how well children function in relation to the daily instruction they are receiving within their classroom assignments. Clearly, the curriculum establishes itself as the relevant medium for assessing both students’ needs and the directions to be taken by teachers in meeting those needs (McLaughlin & Lewis, 2001). Progress monitoring has of late been on the agenda of educational policy decision makers and administrators. With standard-based reform and school accountability at the forefront of educational policy (e.g., No Child Left Behind Act of 2001), it has become clear that if all students are to meet rigorous academic standards, assessment tools are needed to track student progress toward those standards and to quickly and accurately identify students at risk for failing to read them. Moreover, some have suggested the use of progress monitoring as part of a nondiscriminatory, response-to-intervention approach for special education referral and identification (Fuchs & Fuchs, 2006; Speece, Case, & Molloy, 2003). For students receiving special education services, progress monitoring is viewed as a way to uphold major tenets of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA, 2004) by aligning goals and objectives on Individualized Education Programs with performance and progress in the general curriculum (Nolet & McLaughlin, 2000).

Centuries ago labeling and classification of people was insignificant; survival was the major concern. Individuals with disabilities were prevented from full participation in activities necessary for survival, were left out on their own to perish, and, in some instances, were even killed (Berkson, 2004). In later years, derogatory labels such as imbecile, stupid, and retarded were used to describe individuals who did not conform to the societal norms. Clearly, regardless of the terms used, their function was geared to exclude people with disabilities from facilities, and activities enjoyed by people without disabilities. Unfortunately, this resulted in alienation, isolation, and institutionalization of individuals with disabilities (Hallahan, Kauffman, & Pullen, 2009).

To identify a student with LD, many school districts use a discrepancy model of achievement and cognition model (Mercer, Jordan, Allsop, & Mercer, 1996). Using this model, a school psychologist administers intelligence and achievement tests to see whether a large score discrepancy exists between the two. When a large score discrepancy occurs, the student is diagnosed as having an LD (this is true only when other possibilities have been ruled out). Although well intended, this model has had several flaws and has lead to a 200% increase in the incidence of LD (Vaughn, Linan-Thompson, & Hickman, 2003). Also, this model does not consider whether remedial instructional strategies appropriate for children at-risk for LD were employed. Furthermore, even if a child at-risk for LD was receiving remedial instruction, there is no mechanism to determine whether that instruction was appropriate. Last, rather than preventing learning problems, the discrepancy approach leads to a “wait-to-fail” school culture that encourages an ill-guided attempt to insure students receive services (Berkely, Bender, Peaster, & Saunders, 2009).

Before discussing educational placement issues related to learners with special needs, definitions related to inclusion need to be presented. It is important to note there is no universally accepted definition of inclusion; thus, this term holds different meanings to different individuals (Fuchs & Fuchs, 1994). Furthermore, the terminology has also changed over the decades (McLeskey, 2007). During the 1960s through the early 1980s, the term mainstreaming was used. The terms of integration and regular education initiative were used throughout the 1980s. From the late 1980s through the present, the preferable term has been inclusion. Schwartz (2005) optimistically stated that an inclusive program is “one that provides educational intervention to students with and without disabilities in a common setting and provides appropriate levels of instruction and support to meet the needs of all students” (p. 240). Others have defined inclusion “as the practice of educating students with disabilities in the general education classroom setting” (Zinkil & Gilbert, 2000, p. 225). The meaning of inclusion has been defined differently from the term mainstreaming, which has been defined as “when students…earn their way into the general educational classroom…with minimal, if any, special education assistance” (Zinkil & Gilbert, 2000, p. 225). For the purposes of this chapter, the definition of inclusion provided by Zinkil and Gilbert (2000) will be used.

The process of placing students into special education programming often begins with the teacher being able to identify appropriate educational placements (Rizza & Morrison, 2003). It is important that educators know how decisions regarding placement will impact the daily lives of students including their social interactions with peers and the curriculum used to service students. The least restrictive environment (LRE) mandate of the Education of All Handicapped Children's Act of 1975, later reauthorized as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1990 stated that students with disabilities must be educated with non disabled peers to the “maximum extent appropriate,” “and that they may be removed from the general education environment only if they cannot be satisfactorily educated with the use of supplementary aides and services” (Hosp & Reschly, 2003, p. 68). Furthermore, the LRE ensures that students with disabilities must have access to the general curriculum and be taught with their nondisabled peers (Turnbull, 2003). As a result, fully integrated applications of learning strategies designed originally for students with disabilities are implemented, and scores on No Child Left Behind (NCLB) have increased, and sanctioned accountability measures for all students have increased (Sailor & Roger, 2005).

ABA has been described as a precise psychological approach to the study of behavior (Bailey & Burch, 2002), involving well-defined principles that can be used in the analysis and modification of individual behavior (Miltenberger, 1997). Special education, on the contrary, has been characterized as “a customized instructional program designed to meet the unique needs of the individual learner” (Gargiulo, 2009, p. 9). Certainly the two disciplines have much in common; indeed, ABA specifically addresses issues at the focal point of IDEA. For instance, ABA's stance on the right to effective behavioral treatment (Van Houten et al., 1988) is similar to special education regulations regarding the right to an appropriate public education and the right to be educated in the least restrictive environment.

The 1997 Reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) ushered in a new paradigm for addressing challenging behavior in students with disabilities with the advent of PBS. However, the groundwork for the PBS movement initiated with a paper published by Horner and colleagues (1990) that described the need for nonaversive behavioral interventions in working with persons with severe disabilities. Although some have seen PBS as an outgrowth of applied behavior analysis (ABA) (Anderson & Freeman, 2000), others within the field of behavior analysis have been critical of PBS as being spawned more out of an ideological bent rather than as a research-based model (Johnston, Foxx, Jacobson, Green, & Mulick, 2006).

Federal education laws increasingly seem to expect educational research to follow the same processes, approaches, and designs as all scientific research. Scientific inquiries typically are based on empiricism, seen as methodical and producing results that are reliable and generalizable, all of which are appealing when examining educational approaches (National Research Council, 2002). The implementation of scientific inquiry uses experimental conditions, comparison of control groups to groups who received the educational intervention, and clearly measurable outcomes. Experimental conditions require random assignment, which means that participants are just as likely to be selected for the control condition as they are for the experimental/intervention condition. In most educational settings, research rarely achieves random assignment of participants to control and experimental conditions because students are grouped into classrooms with teachers who have different teaching styles, communication styles, and relationships with individual students (Odom et al., 2005).

Students with special needs include children with impaired attention, disruptive behavior, learning disabilities, and developmental disorders, among many other conditions. When a child has been diagnosed with such a disorder, his or her parents may seek treatment that could assist the child to be more academically and socially successful. Numerous interventions exist for the treatment of childhood disorders; however, these treatment methods differ in the types and amounts of evidence supporting their usefulness and effectiveness (Lilienfeld, 2005).

Cover of Current Issues and Trends in Special Education: Identification, Assessment and Instruction
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Advances in Special Education
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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