Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.
Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.
OCR for page 357
Minority Students in Special and Gifted Education 10 Recommendations Minority children, particularly black and American Indian/Alaskan Native children, are represented in disproportionately large numbers in some high-incidence special education categories. All minority children except Asian/Pacific Islanders are represented in disproportionately small numbers in gifted and talented programs. As we noted at the outset, however, disproportionate representation itself tells us very little. A judgment as to whether disproportionate placement is inappropriate or problematic depends both on the reasons for the disproportion and on the consequences of placement. The committee considered three potential explanations for minority disproportion. First, we asked whether there are biological and social/ contextual contributors to early development that differ by race and that leave students differentially prepared to meet the cognitive and behavioral demands of schooling. Our answer to that question is a definitive “yes.” We know that minority children are disproportionately poor, and poverty is associated with higher rates of exposure to harmful toxins, including lead, alcohol, and tobacco, in early stages of development. Poor children are also more likely to be born with low birthweight, to have poorer nutrition, and to have home and child care environments that are less supportive of early cognitive and emotional development than their majority counterparts. When poverty is deep and persistent the number of risk factors rise, seriously jeopardizing development. Some risk factors have a
OCR for page 358
Minority Students in Special and Gifted Education disproportionate impact on particular race groups that goes beyond the poverty effect. Across all income groups, black children are more likely to be born with low birthweight and are more likely to be exposed to harmful levels of lead, while American Indian/Alaskan Native children are more likely to be exposed prenatally to high levels of alcohol and tobacco. While the separate effect of each of these factors on school achievement and performance is difficult to determine, substantial differences by race/ ethnicity on a variety of dimensions of school preparedness are documented at kindergarten entry. Second, we asked whether the school experience itself contributes to racial disproportion in academic outcomes and behavioral problems that lead to placement in special and gifted education. Again, our answer is “yes.” Schools with higher concentrations of low-income, minority children are less likely to have experienced, well-trained teachers. Per-pupil expenditures in those schools are somewhat lower, while the needs of low-income student populations and the difficulty of attracting teachers to inner-city, urban schools suggest that supporting comparable levels of education would require higher levels of per-pupil expenditures. These schools are less likely to offer advanced courses for their students, providing less support for high academic achievement. When children come to school from disadvantaged backgrounds, as a disproportionate number of minority students do, high-quality instruction that carefully puts the prerequisites for learning in place, combined with effective classroom management that minimizes chaos in the classroom, can put students on a path to academic success. While some reform efforts suggest that such an outcome is possible, there are currently no assurances that children will be exposed to effective instruction or classroom management before they are placed in special education programs. Third, we asked whether existing referral and assessment practices are racially biased and, furthermore, whether they are likely to successfully identify those at either end of the achievement distribution who need specialized supports or services. The answer here is not as straightforward. The majority of children in special and gifted education are referred by teachers. If a teacher is biased in evaluating student performance and behavior, those biases may well be reflected in referrals. Some experimental research suggests that teachers do hold such biases. But whether bias is maintained when teachers have direct contact with children in the classroom is not clear. For example, research that has compared groups of students who are referred by teachers find that minority students actually have greater academic and behavior problems than their majority counterparts. The interpretation of such a finding is not obvious, however. It may be that teachers are more reluctant to refer minority students than white students with
OCR for page 359
Minority Students in Special and Gifted Education similar problems. Or it may be that teacher referral practices compensate for inadequate measurement tools. Once students are referred for special education, they must be assessed as eligible or ineligible. Whether the assessment process is biased is as controversial as the referral process. A long-standing debate on IQ scores has no definitive resolution. Tests of “item bias” that examine whether the same questions differentiate high and low scorers across races generally find that they do. And the tests do have predictive validity with regard to school success. However, research on the effect of context, including familiarity with test taking and the norms and expectations of school, may depress the scores of students whose experiences prepare them least well for the demands of classrooms and standardized tests. To the extent that this is the case, test scores may be depressed overall, even if no item bias exists. Whether the referral and assessment of students for special and gifted education are racially biased or not, we asked whether the right students are identified—students who need and can benefit from those programs. Here the committee’s answer is a more confident “no.” The subjectivity of the referral process, as well as the conceptual and procedural shortcomings of the assessment process for learning disabilities and emotional disturbance give little confidence that student needs have been appropriately identified. Moreover, current referral and assessment processes result in placements later in the education process than is most effective, providing a weak link between assessment and intervention. Beyond understanding why there is disproportion, the committee was concerned with why disproportion is a problem. To address this issue, we asked a fourth question: Does special education and gifted education provide a benefit to students, and is that benefit different for different racial/ ethnic groups? However, the data that would allow us to answer the question adequately do not exist. We do know that some specific special education and gifted and talented interventions have been demonstrated to have positive outcomes for students. But how widely those interventions are employed is not known. Nor do we know whether minority students are less likely than majority students to be exposed to those high-quality interventions. What evidence there is suggests that parent advocacy and teacher instruction and experience, both of which would be expected to correlate with higher-quality interventions, are less likely to happen in higher-poverty school districts where minority children are concentrated. A VISION FOR CHANGE Twenty years ago, the National Research Council (NRC) report, Placing Children in Special Education: A Strategy for Equity based its recommendations on six principles that are as efficacious and insightful today as
OCR for page 360
Minority Students in Special and Gifted Education they were then. We quote from several that are closely aligned with our own (NRC, 1982:94-95): “It is the responsibility of teachers in the regular classroom to engage in multiple educational interventions and to note the effects of such interventions on a child experiencing academic failure before referring the child for special education assessment.” “It is the responsibility of assessment specialists to demonstrate that the measures employed validly assess the functional needs of the individual child for which there are potentially effective interventions.” “It is the responsibility of the placement team that labels and places a child in a special program to demonstrate that any differential label used is related to a distinctive prescription for educational practices and that these practices are likely to lead to improved outcomes not achievable in the regular classroom.” “It is the responsibility of the special education and evaluation staff to demonstrate systematically that high-quality, effective special instruction is being provided and that the goals of the special education program could not be achieved as effectively within the regular classroom.” Twenty years later, we can say that those principles continue to express the vision of a well-functioning, equitable special education system. They can readily be adapted to assessment for gifted and talented education as well. Our concerns today do not differ substantially from those of 20 years ago. In many respects the school system is in a better position to make the required changes today than in 1982 because it has the benefit of two additional decades of research on effective interventions in general and special education, and to a lesser extent on gifted and talented education. But realizing that vision requires far more than a conceptual understanding of what should be done and more than the practical knowledge of how to teach children to read or to moderate behavior. It will take an investment in building the capacity of teachers and other education professionals to effectively assess and intervene with children across the spectrum of achievement and behavior before they are ever considered for special or gifted education, and to use the best of the current knowledge base as standard practice in instruction for children once they are identified for special or gifted education. It will take changing incentives and standard practices in the assessment process so that children are identified early, when they can be helped most effectively, and so that the link between the student’s functional needs, the assessment, and the potential intervention is more closely tied. And it will take compliance monitoring that focuses on treatments and
OCR for page 361
Minority Students in Special and Gifted Education response to treatment in both general and special education rather than on procedural compliance that is unrelated to the services provided. Some of the required changes, like new regulatory guidelines, can be made quickly. Others, like changing the knowledge base of teachers with respect to classroom management and behavior assessment, will take years. Our hope is that decisions made today will take us down a different path, so that 20 years from now we will look back and see that we have moved substantially closer to the desired outcome. The conclusions and recommendations that appear throughout the report are organized here in the following major categories: referral and eligibility determination in special education (SE) and gifted and talented education (GT); teacher quality (TQ); biological and early childhood risk factors (EC); improving data collection (DC); and expanding the research and development base (RD). REFERRAL AND ELIGIBILITY DETERMINATION Special Education Eligibility From our review of the current knowledge base, several important findings have led the committee to rethink the current approach to identification and assignment to special education: Among the most frequent reasons for referral to special education are reading difficulties and behavior problems. In recent years, interventions appropriate for the general education classroom to improve reading mastery and to improve classroom management have been demonstrated to reduce the number of children who fail at reading or are later identified with behavior disorders. There are currently no mechanisms in place to guarantee that students will be exposed to state-of-the-art reading instruction or classroom management before they are identified as having a “within-child” problem. Referral for the high-incidence categories of special education with which we are concerned currently requires student failure. However, screening mechanisms exist for early identification of children at risk for later reading and behavior problems. And the effectiveness of early intervention in both areas has been demonstrated to be considerably greater than the effectiveness of later, postfailure intervention. These findings lead the committee to conclude that schools should be doing more and doing it earlier to ensure that students receive quality general education services to obviate the need for special education, particularly in the areas of reading and behavior management. The committee’s
OCR for page 362
Minority Students in Special and Gifted Education concerns, however, extend beyond missed opportunities to several questionable features of existing referral and evaluation regulations and practices: Teacher referral requires that a student be called to the teacher’s attention. This initial screening device is subjective, and the perception of a student’s performance and behavior may interact with the teacher’s instructional and classroom management approach. Once referred for special education, the assessment process often involves features that are problematic, including questionable exclusionary clauses and definitions that are neither supported by the research literature nor sensitive to gender, ethnicity, developmental level, or contextual factors. Most state regulations for determining a learning disability currently require a discrepancy between a student’s ability and achievement (varying in the magnitude of the requisite discrepancy and the manner in which it is computed) as measured by an IQ test, although this criterion neither identifies a group with a unique problem, nor provides information useful to intervention. The missed opportunities to identify children who need help early on and to provide help in the general education context that might obviate the need for referral, combined with the flaws in the current referral and assessment system, lead the committee to recommend an alternative model to the one now in effect. The proposed change would focus attention away from efforts to uncover unobservable child traits, the identification of which gives little insight into instructional response, and toward the problems encountered in the classroom and appropriate responses. The role of instruction and classroom management in student performance is explicitly acknowledged, and effort is devoted first to ensuring the opportunity to succeed in general education. The alternative would require policy and regulatory changes at both the federal and the state levels of government. Federal-Level Changes Recommendation SE.1: The committee recommends that federal guidelines for special education eligibility be changed in order to encourage better integrated general and special education services. We propose that eligibility ensue when a student exhibits large differences from typical levels of performance in one or more domain(s) and with evidence of insufficient response to high-quality interventions in the relevant domain(s) of functioning in school settings. These domains in-
OCR for page 363
Minority Students in Special and Gifted Education clude achievement (e.g., reading, writing, mathematics), social behavior, and emotional regulation. As is currently the case, eligibility determination would also require a judgment by a multidisciplinary team, including parents, that special education is needed. We provide more detail regarding our intended meaning below: Eligibility The proposed approach would not negate the eligibility of any student who arrives at school with a disability determination, or who has a severe disability, from being served as they are currently. Our concern here is only with the categories of disability that are defined in the school context in response to student achievement and behavior problems. While eligibility for special education would by law continue to depend on establishment of a disability, in the committee’s view, noncategorical conceptions and classification criteria that focus on matching a student’s specific needs to an intervention strategy would obviate the need for the traditional high-incidence disability labels such as learning disability (LD) and emotional disturbance (ED). If traditional disability definitions are used, they would need to be revised to focus on behaviors directly related to classroom and school learning and behavior (e.g., reading failure, math failure, persistent inattention, and disorganization). Assessment By high-quality interventions we mean evidence-based treatments that are implemented properly over a sufficient period to allow for significant gains, with frequent progress monitoring and intervention revisions based on data. Research-based features of intervention quality are known and must be implemented rigorously, including: an explicit definition of the target behavior in observable, behavioral language; collection of data on current performance; establishment of goals that define an acceptable level of performance; development and implementation of an instructional or behavioral intervention that is generally effective according to research results; assessment and monitoring of the implementation of the intervention to ensure that it is being delivered as designed, frequent data collection to monitor the effects of the intervention, revisions of the intervention depending on progress toward goals, and evaluation of intervention out-
OCR for page 364
Minority Students in Special and Gifted Education comes through comparison of post-intervention competencies with baseline data. Assessment for special education eligibility would be focused on the information gathered that documents educationally relevant differences from typical levels of performance and is relevant to the design, monitoring, and evaluation of treatments. Competencies would be assessed in natural classroom settings, preferably on multiple occasions. While an IQ test may provide supplemental information, no IQ test would be required, and results of an IQ test would not be a primary criterion on which eligibility rests. Because of the irreducible importance of context in the recognition and nurturance of achievement, the committee regards the effort to assess students’ decontextualized potential or ability as inappropriate and scientifically invalid. Reporting and Monitoring Current federal requirements regarding reporting by states of the overall numbers of students served as disabled and the program placements used to provide an appropriate education would not change with these recommendations. Moreover, the reporting of the nine low-incidence disabilities would continue to be done by category. Reporting of the numbers of students currently diagnosed with high-incidence disabilities would become noncategorical, with the loss of very little useful information due to the enormous variations in the operational definition of the high-incidence categories used currently. The reporting by states concerning students now classified in high-incidence categories could be made more meaningful if the reporting also included the nature of the learning or behavioral problem as reflected in the top 2-4 individualized education program (IEP) goals for each student, that is, the number of students with IEP goals in basic reading, reading comprehension, math calculation, self-help skills, social skills, math reasoning, etc. The latter information would provide more accurate information on the actual needs of students with disabilities than the current information indicating unreliable categorical diagnoses. Consistent with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (1997 and 1999), federal compliance monitoring should move in the direction of examining the quality of special education interventions and the outcomes for students with disabilities. Current compliance monitoring focuses on important, but limited, characteristics of the delivery of special education programs, particularly implementation of the due process procedural safeguards and the mandated components of the IEP. Compliance monitoring by the Federal Office of Special Education Programs and the state departments of education must assume an outcomes focus in addition to the traditional process considerations.
OCR for page 365
Minority Students in Special and Gifted Education State-Level Changes State regulatory changes would be required for implementation of a reformed special education program that uses functional assessment measures to promote positive outcomes for students with disabilities. Some states have already instituted changes that move in this direction. Special education rules for the State of Iowa serve as an example; in Iowa, non-categorical special education for students with high-incidence disabilities has been implemented since the early 1990s. Several other states have approved “rule replacement” programs that allow school districts to implement special education systems that do not require categorical designation of students with high-incidence disabilities (e.g., Illinois, Kansas, South Carolina). These state rules require a systematic problem-solving process that is centered around quality indicators associated with successful interventions. The rules are explicit about each of these quality indicators, and compliance monitoring is focused on their implementation. Several features of rules in the majority of states can be omitted in a noncategorical system, including the requirements regarding IQ testing. The changes in federal regulations and state rules toward greater emphasis on producing positive outcomes and away from an eligibility determination process that is largely unrelated to interventions are consistent with the greater emphasis in IDEA (1997, 1999) on positive outcomes for students with disabilities. Positive outcomes are enhanced by the implementation of high-quality interventions; no such claim can be made for conducting the assessments required to assign students with significant learning and behavior problems to the high-incidence categories of LD, ED, and MMR. Early Intervention. Universal screening of young children for prerequisites to and the early development of academic and behavioral skills is increasingly recognized as crucial to achieving better outcomes in schools and preventing achievement and behavior problems. While this is true for all children, a disproportionate number of disadvantaged children are on a developmental trajectory that is flatter than their more advantaged counterparts. Evidence suggests that effective and reliable screening of young children by age 4 to 6 can identify those most at risk for later achievement and behavior problems, including those most likely to be referred to special education programs. In two arenas—reading and behavior—the knowledge base exists to screen and intervene in general education both systematically and early. Less attention has been devoted to early identification and intervention for mathematics problems. However, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development has launched a research program in this area.
OCR for page 366
Minority Students in Special and Gifted Education Other efforts to develop early screening mechanisms in mathematics have been developed, but their psychometric properties have not yet been widely tested (Ginsburg and Baroody, 2002; Griffin and Case, 1997). While early reading is only one of the areas in which students struggle, it is an important one because failure in early reading makes learning in the many subject areas that require reading more difficult. Moreover, there is a great deal of comorbidity between reading problems and other difficulties (attentional, behavioral) that results in special education referral. As indicated above, early screening and intervention would help to identify children who may be missed in a wait-to-fail model. It may obviate the need for placement in special education for some children, and it would provide the evidence of response or lack of response to high-quality instruction that we proposed be written into federal regulations. Recommendation SE.2: The committee recommends that states adopt a universal screening and multitiered intervention strategy in general education to enable early identification and intervention with children at risk for reading problems. The committee’s model for prereferral reading intervention is as follows: All children should be screened early (late kindergarten or early 1st grade) and then monitored through 2nd grade on indicators that predict later reading failure. Those students identified through screening as at risk for reading problems should be provided with supplemental small-group reading instruction provided by the classroom teacher for about 20-30 minutes per day, and progress should be closely monitored. For those students who continue to display reading difficulties and for whom supplemental small-group instruction is not associated with improved outcomes, more intensive instruction should be provided by other support personnel, such as the special education teacher and/or reading support teacher in school. For students who continue to have difficulty, referral to special education and the development of an IEP would follow. The data regarding student response to intervention would be used for eligibility determination. State guidelines should direct that the screening process be undertaken early, and the instructional response follow in a very timely fashion. The requirement for general education interventions should not be used to delay attention to a student in need of specialized services. The committee’s recommendation to adopt a universal screening and
OCR for page 367
Minority Students in Special and Gifted Education multitiered intervention strategy is meant to acknowledge that there is some distance to travel between the knowledge base that has been accumulated and the capacity to use that knowledge on a widespread basis. There are examples in Texas and Virginia of taking screening to scale. But making the tools available to teachers, preparing teachers both to assess students and to respond productively to the assessment results, and supporting teachers to work with the instructional demands of intervening differently for subgroups of students at different skill levels require the careful development of capacity and infrastructure. At the same time that the committee acknowledges the investment required to adopt this recommendation, we call attention to the potential return on the investment and the consequences of not making such an investment. When early screening and intervention is not undertaken, more students suffer failure. The demands on the school to invest in a support structure for those students is simply postponed to a later age when the response to intervention is less promising and when the capacity of teachers to intervene effectively is made even more difficult by a weaker knowledge base and limited teacher skill. The consequences of school failure for the student and for society go well beyond the cost to the school, of course. Behavior Management. Current understanding of early reading problems is the outcome of a sustained research and development effort that has not been undertaken on a similar scale with respect to other learning and behavior problems. In the committee’s view, however, there is enough evidence regarding universal behavior management interventions, behavior screening, and techniques to work with children at risk for behavior problems to better prevent later serious behavior problems. Research results suggest that these interventions can work. However, a large-scale pilot project would provide a firmer foundation of knowledge regarding scaling-up the practices involved. Recommendation SE.3: The committee recommends that states launch large-scale pilot programs in conjunction with universities or research centers to test the plausibility and productivity of universal behavior management interventions, early behavior screening, and techniques to work with children at risk for behavior problems. We propose a model for experimentation similar to that proposed for reading: Assessment of the classroom and of noninstructional school settings (hallways, playgrounds) should be made yearly. Behavioral adjustment of all children in grades K-3 should be screened yearly to provide teachers with information regarding individual
OCR for page 375
Minority Students in Special and Gifted Education have begun to rely on alternate routes to educator certification in an effort to both bypass traditional college and university teacher preparation programs and address a shortage of people interested in education jobs. These three significant challenges—unresponsive educator preparation programs, a failure to infuse scientific advances into local practice, and the impending shortage of qualified individuals willing to work in education settings—present the potential for significant barriers to the effective implementation of the committee’s recommendations. Federal-Level Recommendation Recommendation TQ.4: The committee recommends that a national advisory panel be convened in an institutional environment that is protected from political influence to study the quality and currency of programs that now exist to train teachers for general, special, and gifted education. The panel should address: the mechanisms for keeping instructional programs current and of high quality; the standards and requirements of those programs; the applicability of instructional programs to the demands of classroom practice; the long-term impact of the programs in successfully promoting educational achievement for pre-K, elementary, and secondary students. Direct comparison to other professional fields (e.g., medicine, nursing, law, engineering, accounting) may provide insight applicable to education. BIOLOGICAL AND EARLY CHILDHOOD RISK FACTORS Our review of biological and social/contextual contributors to early development brings us to the compelling conclusion that there are several factors that have a known detrimental impact on early cognitive and behavioral development that affect some groups of minority children disproportionately. For example, Low birthweight, which has been demonstrated to affect IQ, emotional maturity, social competence, and attentional processes, is more prevalent among black children than among children of any other racial/ethnic group, reaching double the rate for white children. Fetal exposure to alcohol and tobacco has been associated with growth, cognitive, and self-regulatory deficits. The incidence of exposure to high doses of alcohol or nicotine is considerably higher among American
OCR for page 376
Minority Students in Special and Gifted Education Indian/Alaskan Natives. While alcohol consumption among black pregnant women is higher than that for whites or Hispanics, cigarette smoking prevalence is lower. Micronutrient deficiencies, particularly iron deficiency, affect cognitive and behavioral self-regulatory development. About 5 percent of black and Mexican-American children suffer from iron deficiency anemia—about twice the rate for whites. Exposure to lead has been demonstrated to have detrimental effects on attentional processes, impulsivity, and hyperactivity, difficulty in changing response strategy, problems in social adjustment, and poor school performance generally. While lead levels have declined precipitously for the population as a whole, 11.2 percent of black children and 4 percent of Mexican American children have blood lead levels above 10 mg/µ, compared with 1 percent of white children. While each of these factors has an independent effect on cognition and behavior, in combination the effect is magnified. Lead absorption is higher among children with iron deficiency. And the consequences of low birthweight are exacerbated by poor nutrition. For this reason, poverty has a particularly pernicious effect. While the influence of each factor is detrimental regardless of income, the incidence of each rises as income level drops, increasing the risk that a child living in poverty will experience multiple biological insults. Existing intervention programs to address early biological harms have demonstrated the potential to substantially improve developmental outcomes. These include, for example, prenatal health and nutrition programs that reduce the incidence of low-birthweight babies, and intervention strategies to stimulate development in low-birthweight babies have had measured positive effects. Addressing these early biological risks has the potential to reduce the number of children, particularly minority children, with achievement and behavior problems. The strategies are neither unknown nor recently discovered. It is a matter of political priority whether resources are devoted to do so. In particular, the committee calls attention to the recommendation of the President’s Task Force on Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks to Children to eliminate lead from the housing stock by 2010. The committee also looked at social and environmental influences on development with no clear biological basis that might differ by race or ethnicity. Once again, low socioeconomic status—both income and education level—is centrally implicated and is highly correlated with race/ ethnicity. Poverty, especially persistent poverty, is associated with maternal depression, and with less optimal home environments on such dimensions
OCR for page 377
Minority Students in Special and Gifted Education as responsiveness and sensitivity of the mother to her child, the amount and level of language stimulation, direct teaching, and parenting styles. Income is also positively correlated with educational resources both inside and outside the home (child care and preschool). As with the biological risk factors, the effect of any single social or environmental risk factor is compounded by the presence of other risk factors. Given the likelihood that multiple biological and social risk factors will attend poverty, children who live in poor families in their early years are more likely to arrive at school poorly prepared for its cognitive and behavioral demands. Because there is evidence that early intervention on multiple fronts, if it is of high quality, can improve the school prospects for these children and reduce the likelihood that they will end up in special education, the committee recommends a substantial expansion and improvement of current early intervention efforts: Recommendation EC.1: The committee recommends that all high-risk children have access to high-quality early childhood interventions. For children at highest risk, these interventions should include family support, health services, and sustained, high-quality care and cognitive stimulation right from birth. Preschool children (ages 4 and 5) who are eligible for Head Start should have access to a Head Start or other publicly funded preschool program. These programs should provide exposure to learning opportunities that will prepare them for success in school. The committee urges attention to the well-documented early learning practices recommended in two recent NRC reports that focus on early childhood pedagogy: Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children (1998), and Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers (2001b). We also call attention to the finding that a critical requirement of the proposed change is raising the education requirements for preschool teachers. Intervention should target services to the level of individual need, including high cognitive challenge for the child who exceeds normative performance. The proposed expansion should better coordinate existing federal programs, such as Head Start and Early Head Start, and IDEA parts C and B, as well as state-initiated programs that meet equal or higher standards. By high-quality early intervention services, we mean that early care and education provided to children through these programs should consistently reflect the current knowledge base regarding child development. It is important for all children to have quality child care and preschool services. However, to narrow the gap in school readiness among children at high risk for
OCR for page 378
Minority Students in Special and Gifted Education poor developmental outcomes and their lower-risk peers, carefully designed programs that support the development of self-regulation, social skills, and language and reasoning skills are critical. While we know much about the types of experiences young children need for healthy development, improving the quality of early childhood programs requires that we refine our knowledge base in ways that are directly useful to practice and bridge the chasm between what we know from research and best practice and what we do in common practice. This will require a sustained vision and a rigorous research and development effort that transforms knowledge about what works and what does not work into field-tested program content, supporting materials, and professional development. This is not likely to happen with current funding levels. Recommendation EC.2: The committee recommends that the federal government launch a largescale, rigorous, sustained research and development program in an institutional environment that has the capacity to bring together excellent professionals in research, program development, professional development, and child care/preschool practice. Among its efforts, the research and development program should: fund projects to incorporate usable knowledge about early childhood development into field-tested curricula, educational tools, and professional development materials for early childhood teachers and classrooms; focus on areas with high potential for providing knowledge that can lead to prevention of disabilities and special education identification and the enhancement of gifted behaviors; systematically examine the comparative benefits associated with different early intervention models and the developmental pathways through which those results were produced; conduct comprehensive reanalyses of longitudinal data sets to obtain clues about why some programs have succeeded and others have failed. While the results of longitudinal studies are now well known, the data have not been fully probed for an understanding of the components of both success and failure; and explore whether some subgroups of participants in early intervention programs have benefited/are benefiting differentially. IMPROVING AND EXPANDING THE RESEARCH BASE Data Collection The data documenting disproportionate representation, as we discussed in Chapter 2, provide a weak foundation on which to build public policy.
OCR for page 379
Minority Students in Special and Gifted Education Because of the unreliability of the data resulting from the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) surveys and the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) child counts, the committee urges that policy decisions utilizing these datasets explicitly recognize the tenuous nature of the data. Our recommendations are directed at two goals: one is to improve the existing data collection process designed for monitoring program participation and civil rights compliance, and the other is to expand the collection of data to allow for research that would improve understanding of non-normative achievement and behavior, as well as responses to intervention. Currently there is considerable redundancy in the reporting requirements placed on schools by the OCR and the OSEP. The option of combining reports offered recently by the Department, though commendable, does not in the committee’s view go far enough to improve the process and quality of data collection. Recommendation DC.1: The committee recommends that the Department of Education conduct a single, well-designed data collection effort to monitor both the number of children receiving services through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or through programs for the gifted and talented and the characteristics of those children of concern to civil rights enforcement efforts. Whether data collection responsibility is given to either of these offices, the National Center for Education Statistics, or some other entity, the shift in responsibility would require supporting changes: Data collected should meet all requirements for effective OCR monitoring, including disaggregated data by district and state, and they should be accessed easily by OCR and OSEP. This would require data collection to accommodate OCR’s monitoring of data on assignment to gifted and talented programs and on limited English proficiency not currently collected by OSEP. The definitions in this category should allow for the distinction between “gifted” and “talented” to the extent that students are being served in different types of programs. In the reauthorization of IDEA, statutory authority should be given to those responsible for data collection to collect child count data for disability category by racial/ethnic group by gender for both special education and gifted and talented placements as well as by state and local district levels. The committee urges the federal agency reporting on special education enrollments by racial/ethnic group do so by reporting risk indices—the proportion of a given racial/ethnic group’s enrollment in the general school
OCR for page 380
Minority Students in Special and Gifted Education population that is enrolled in a given disability category. In order to accomplish this goal, steps must be taken to coordinate reporting child counts by age, currently done in the OSEP reporting by disability category, for ages 3 to 21, with the National Center for Education Statistics Common Core of Data, which reports by grade level. This would remedy the current situation in which it is impossible to align the ages 3 to 5 and the 18 to 21 child count by OSEP with any meaningful count of the total population. The committee also urges that the OCR monitor the impact of education reform initiatives, such as high-stakes testing programs, to ensure that implementation of these initiatives does not exacerbate minority representation problems in special or gifted education. While a more careful data collection effort of the sort outlined here would improve the understanding of who is being assigned to special education and gifted and talented programs, it would do little to further understanding of the reasons for placement, the appropriateness of placement (or nonplacement), the services provided, or the consequences that ensue. Moreover, the variation observed from one state to the next serves as a reminder that in discussing special education or gifted and talented programs, we refer to practices that differ dramatically from one location to the next. While special education may be a set of well-targeted specialized classroom supports for children in need in one school, it may be a dead-end program in others—a last resort for teachers who can no longer work with a student. The data are not available to tell which it is, in which schools, and for which students. And while the data are poor with respect to special education, the data on gifted and talented students are even worse. Currently the U.S. Department of Education has several longitudinal studies under way or completed that look at children in special education during certain ages or grades. These data are considerably more informative than the incidence numbers collected for monitoring purposes. However, these data do not allow for an understanding of how children got into the special education system in the first place. Recommendation DC.2: The committee recommends that a national advisory panel be convened to design the collection of nationally representative longitudinal data that would allow for more informed study of minority disproportion in special education and gifted and talented programs. The panel should include scholars in special education research as well as researchers experienced in national longitudinal data collection and analysts in a variety of allied fields, including anthropology, psychology, and sociology. The panel should assess the cost of collecting data that could answer the following questions:
OCR for page 381
Minority Students in Special and Gifted Education What antecedents to special education placement are associated with students’ assignment to special education services? Antecedents studied should include, but not be limited to: race (self-identified and school-identified), sex, and other socioeconomic and social background factors, and school factors, such as class size, teacher experience and preparation, instructional strategies, and school and classroom resources. How do schools differ in their categorization of students, and are these differences associated with differences in students’ access to special education services? Are students who present with the same researcher-identified condition treated differently in different schools and, if so, what policy, resource, and individual-level factors are associated with these differences in treatment? What is the incidence of students who have the same research-identified conditions but are never referred for special education assessment? And is referral to special education assessment associated with severity of the researcher-identified condition or some other factors? If students who present with the same researcher-identified condition are treated differently, how is access or lack of access to a variety of special education services associated with later levels of cognitive achievement and behavioral adjustment? The data would have improved value if the following additional information were included: how long the family has lived in the United States; birth country of students, their parents, and their grandparents; language proficiency (in both English and native language); education level of parents; level of acculturation; and experiences with literacy artificats and practices. The committee acknowledges that the more detailed the data collection, and the greater the number of subgroups that are represented, the more expensive the undertaking. However, the questions posed to this committee, and to the NRC panel in 1979, cannot be answered adequately without these data. If we hope to have a better understanding 20 years in the future, increasing the current investment and improving the rigor of the data collection now is required. Even with more limited existing data, analysis for this report of the effect of race/ethnicity on special education placement or outcomes was made more difficult because many research studies did not specify the racial/ethnic composition of the sample or had too few minority children to measure effects by race/ethnicity. The committee urges that research funded
OCR for page 382
Minority Students in Special and Gifted Education by the U.S. Department of Education using these or other data require the careful description of samples as well as differential effects, to the extent feasible, by race, ethnicity, limited English proficiency, socioeconomic status, and gender. Expanding the Research Base In our study of the issues related to the representation of minority children in special education and gifted and talented programs, the existing knowledge base revealed the potential for substantial progress. We know many of the early biological and environmental factors that threaten healthy development, and we know something about effective intervention. We know the kinds of experiences that promote children’s early cognitive and behavioral development and set them on a more positive trajectory for school success. We know intervention strategies that have demonstrated success with some of the key problems that end in referral to special education. And we know some features of programs that are correlated with successful outcomes for students in special education. Between the articulation of what we know from research and best practice and a change in everyday practice lies a wide chasm. It is the distance between demonstrating that vocabulary development is key to later success in reading, and having every Head Start teacher trained and equipped with materials that will promote vocabulary development among Head Start children. It is the distance between knowing that classroom management affects a child’s behavior, and the school psychologist knowing how to help a specific teacher work with a specific child in the classroom context. It is the distance between those who are most knowledgeable and experienced agreeing on what teachers need to know, and every school of education changing its curriculum. Bridging the chasm will require that we become better at accumulating knowledge, extending it in promising areas, incorporating the best of what is known in teacher instruction efforts and education curricula and materials, and rigorously testing effectiveness. It will require public policies that are aligned with the knowledge base and that provide the support for its widespread application. Recommendation RD.1: We recommend that education research and development, including that related to special and gifted education, be systematically expanded to carry promising findings and validated practices through to classroom applicability. This includes research on scaling up promising practices from research sites to widespread use. In particular, the committee recommends:
OCR for page 383
Minority Students in Special and Gifted Education Strengthening research on educational improvement, particularly in schools with large numbers of children from low-income families. There are some promising models, but efforts are needed to accumulate knowledge, testing the dimensions of effectiveness (for whom and under what circumstances), and to make the best of what is known systematically available to school districts and teachers. Research on early interventions in general education settings. Research on what works in special education offers some important principles, but too few well-tested interventions with a solid evaluation of the conditions under which they work and for whom. In particular, the research base with respect to English language learners needs to be strengthened. While there has been substantial progress on educational interventions for students who are having difficulty learning to read, little is currently known that can guide educational interventions for the non-responders to reading interventions. Research needs to attend now to this group of students. We have given relatively little attention either in research or in program development to the education of gifted and talented students. This research base needs to be strengthened substantially. Features of cultural sensitivity that have an impact on learning outcomes for minority students have not been rigorously researched and evaluated in classroom settings. While a significant amount has been written about culturally appropriate accommodations, many of the recommendations have no empirical basis (such as matching learning styles) and should be avoided. Shoring up the empirical foundation for culturally sensitive teaching practice should be a research priority. Development is needed of effective mechanisms for communication of research findings to practitioner, policy, and teacher educator communities. THE COST OF REFORM The committee’s recommendations are broad. An obvious and fair question is: At what price? While we have neither the resources nor the expertise to carry out a cost-benefit analysis, a few considerations are worth noting with regard to our major recommendations. First, some of our proposals have no obvious price tag. We recommend that teachers and school psychologists be trained differently so that they are better prepared to address the diversity among the children they will teach. Teacher training is already required, as is licensing of teacher training programs. The change in content that we recommend need not impose long-run costs. The proposal is not to do more, but to do what is now done differently.
OCR for page 384
Minority Students in Special and Gifted Education A similar argument can be made for special education referral and assessment, though in this case some new costs are implied. Early universal screening and intervention for reading problems would impose additional costs. While the tests themselves are short and easy to administer during a regular class period, the training required for teachers to properly administer and interpret the test results, and to learn to work effectively in a classroom with multiple reading groups, represents a considerable up-front cost. Texas currently provides two days of training to every teacher administering the TPRI.2 We would point out, however, that this training could become a standard requirement of pre-service teacher education in the future. School districts currently spend resources on professional development. Were the proposed program adopted, some portion of existing inservice training resources could be devoted to this training. The same is true of training in classroom management and universal behavior interventions. And offsetting the costs of new assessment techniques are the savings from replacing a time-intensive assessment process centered around IQ testing. The largest sustained cost of our recommendations is likely to be quality early intervention services for the highest risk children that begins before birth and is maintained throughout childhood. Experience with these interventions suggests that doing them well is expensive—on the order of $7,000 to $12,000 per child per year. Provision of quality preschool services to children from poor families would also require substantial resources, since only about one-third of those children now receive Head Start services. As Chapter 4 indicates, the average cost per child of Head Start services is approaching $6,000 per year. But the upfront cost of the program would be offset by reduced special education and grade repetition, and long-term benefits to society from higher reading and mathematics achievement, increased employment and earnings, and reduction in teen pregnancy and crime. Similarly, changing the data collection done by the U.S. Department of Education need not cost more in the long run. If the data collected are expanded as we recommend, one would expect higher costs of additional reporting. However, duplication of reporting that currently exists would be eliminated, potentially offsetting any increase in cost. Lastly, the research we propose both with regard to early childhood programs and general, special, and gifted education is not an incremental increase in existing efforts. Rather, it is a substantial investment in carrying through important research findings to classroom applicability; an effort that is likely to require substantial new resources. In virtually every other sector of the economy, research plays a substantially larger role in improv- 2 Personal communication with Barbara Forman, September, 2001.
OCR for page 385
Minority Students in Special and Gifted Education ing and informing practice than in education (NRC, l999c). While the size of the increase needed to substantially change the relationship between research and practice is significant, as a fraction of education spending, it is very small. For medical problems like cancer, we have created federal research programs that create a vision, focus research efforts on areas with promise for improving treatments, conduct extensive field tests to determine “what works,” and facilitate the movement of research findings into practice (National Cancer Institute, 2000). And those programs have been funded at impressive levels: The National Cancer Institute budget in fiscal year 2000 exceeded $3.3 billion. If we are serious about a research program that would support efforts to reduce the number of children who are on a trajectory that leads to school failure and disability identification and to increase the number of minority students who are achieving at high levels, then we will need to devote the minds and resources to that effort commensurate with the size and the importance of the enterprise.
Representative terms from entire chapter: