Texas Defends Low Sped Numbers, and Parents Vent

Parents, teachers discuss Texas’ declining special education numbers

Can improved instruction explain the data, or are the rights of special needs children being ignored?

by Jennifer Radcliffe

I recently wrote on the sharply declining number of special education students in Texas. Despite overall population growth, the state’s special education population dropped by more than 103,000 children in seven years. Texas now diagnoses just 8.8 percent of students as special education, 4 percentage points below the national average.

Some top education officials attribute the gains to improved beginning reading instruction. They say that teachers are doing a better job teaching elementary school children to read, preventing many learning disabilities from developing. Others are more skeptical about the decline, speculating that school systems are refusing to identify students to save money or avoid accountability measures or that parents are opting out of a system they feel is ineffective. An interesting report on the topic was released last year.

I received dozens of interesting emails on the issue. Here is a sampling of edited responses with identifying information excluded:

” … We did have to be careful of our recommendations for special ed. I know that we were close to having a special needs population that qualified for a subgroup for the then TAKS. I believe then it was 10% of the school’s population that qualified for special ed. We all were aware of that as an influence for recommendations. Every child was broken down by data to figure where he/she would fall for a “ding,” or an influence on our overall school score. Low SES “ding”, minority “ding”, special ed “ding. Some students could be “dinged” three times in our overall school score. Overall low school performance … meant extra workshops, Saturday classes, extra data meetings, extra extrapolation of objectives and extra meetings with the math and reading specialists. No one – administration or teaching staff – want the label of low-performing school.”
– A former teacher in a Houston-area district

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