The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001(NCLB) made reading achievement a priority, stressed scientifically based reading research (SBRR), established performance-based accountability and required 100% student reading proficiency by 2011. NCLB did not prescribe specific core reading curriculum, supplemental curriculum materials, or instructional strategies and gave latitude to school districts. Poor student performance became the catalyst for congressional change. McCardle & Chhabra V. (2004) reported in their study that one-third of fourth grade students lacked the ability to read simple books with clarity and fluency. With low student pass rates on the End-of-the-Year testing how has this impacted children receiving special education services?
What is happening to our children in special education classrooms? Accommodations used to be given to our children to help level the playing field but now the accommodations are almost non-existent. Our children who are in special education classrooms are there because they are unable to make the necessary gains, thus the development of the Individualized Education Program (IEP). What is the point of an IEP with accommodations if it does not apply in all educational settings? An emphasis has been placed on our children with special needs to pass these exams or face being retained. For children who have worked diligently all year to pass these exams and don’t, knowing that this will mean summer school, additional tutoring, and retention which are all punitive in nature. There is a saying: “Where there is no hope people perish!” We need to focus on the gains they have made unto themselves instead of comparing them to their grade level peers. This is just one issue that faces our children today. A scientifically based instruction model was used for years: the” pull-out” delivery system.
Dole (2004) addressed the pull-out system used with children not on an IEP. For children who were on an IEP, pull-out was referred to as a resource room. In the resource room, the students with special needs went to a separate room and worked on subject matter in compliance with their IEP objectives for appropriately 30 minutes in a small, quiet setting maybe once or twice a day. In this setting, the special education teacher worked from a lesson plan with differentiated instruction to meet the needs of his/her students. Many parents and children with special needs did not like the pull-out model because children were often ridiculed and the “Push-In” Model emerged to take its place.
Push-in services may be delivered in two ways. One involves the reading teacher guiding identified struggling students to help them gain from the general classroom instruction delivered by the classroom teacher who is being coached in differentiated instruction. In the second format, the reading teacher works separately with one or more deficient students providing reteaching in their areas of need (Shanahan, 2008). In this model the special education teacher or the reading instructor must work within the classroom. They are informed by the classroom teacher of the subject matter and then must develop a lesson on spot in a 10-20 minutes time frame within the usual commotion of a classroom setting.
Children with special needs often have auditory processing issues or attention deficit disorders and when put into this type of learning environment, how can it be effective? Many of these students have indicated that they cannot concentrate and are distracted by all the activity around them. With grade retention a possibility if my child cannot pass these exams, then I would want a classroom setting that would allow the special education teacher to do what he/she has been trained to do and given the necessary time in which to it. How can a 10 to 15 minute band-aide approach be worthwhile?
If State Departments of Education want test scores to improve, perhaps we ought to stop expecting miracles out of the children when the hands of our special education teachers are tied. Perhaps the best approach is to allow the teachers to work with our most precious children as much as they deem necessary and in the environment they determine is appropriate for optimal learning. Why do we box our teachers into a particular delivery system and then tell them they can differentiate instruction, but they cannot differentiate classroom settings? It appears that students with special needs have less efficient learning instruction and now even less time in which to learn. Perhaps we should leave that choice up to the teachers to do what is best for our children. Parents, beware of the “shirk-wrap” on your child’s instruction time. Our children are in the middle of this tug-of-war. Unfortunately, they have the most to lose if their needs are not met!
Dole, J. (2004). The changing role of the reading specialist in school reform. The Reading Teacher, 57(5), 462-471
McCardle, P. & Chhabra, V. (Eds.). (2004). The voice of evidence in reading research. Baltimore, MD: Brookes.
No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001, P.L. 107-110. (2002).
Shanahan, T. & Shanahan, C. (2008). Teaching Disciplinary Literacy to Adolescents: Rethinking Content Area Literacy. Harvard Educational Review, 78(1), 40-59
In addition to being a Co-Chair of the LDA Education Committee, Evie Lindberg, Ed.D., is a member of the LDA of America Board of Directors, and is an Associate Professor at Oral Roberts University, Tulsa, Oklahoma.