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Grade v. age norms

At least in my state (NC), the question as to whether discrepancies are to be calculated using age or grade norms is settled by regulation.  The federal regulations themselves say in part:

(a) A team may determine that a child has a specific learning disability if—

(1) The child does not achieve commensurate with his or her age and ability levels in one or more of the areas listed in paragraph (a)(2) of this section, if provided with learning experiences appropriate for the child's age and ability levels

That's "age."  Not "grade."

Of course no child should ever be included or excluded  based upon a single procedure, formula, or test score.  The IEP team is burdened with interpreting the test data within the context of all the evaluative data available to it.

If it is your argument that services should be denied because Johnny  had not been provided with learning experiences appropriate for his age and ability levels, the team certainly has the power to deny the student eligibility for that reason.

However, denying services based upon dyspedagogia is descending down a slippery slope.  Clearly, of course, it would be inappropriate (and unlawful)  to label a child disabled due to lack of instruction (apedagogia).  But current research suggests that between fifty to eighty percent of the children we are currently classifying would not have needed special education had we taught them properly.

In my county, we adopted D.C.Heath about ten years or so ago.  D.C. Heath is based upon a whole language approach.  We did not (during that first year) have backup programs in place for children who needed systematic phonics instruction.  The number of children below the fiftieth percentile remained constant.  However, the number of children scoring below he 25th percentile doubled.  That year, I do not know of a single IEP team that denied services to any child because the teachers had failed to teach him properly.  If we're going to deny children access to services because of inappropriate instruction (retention), clearly we should be doing it because of any inappropriate instructional intervention.  Johnny has had a lateral entry teacher the past three years who had had not a single course in reading before taking over his class.  Do we claim his lack of progress was due to our hiring incompetent teachers and deny him services?   Clearly, we do not.

The LD model is a deficit model.  We have all tested kids in first grade, second grade, and then again in the third or fourth grade when they finally make it into special education.  The same kid.  But in first grade he was "okay."  When we test him in fourth grade, he's a failure.  He knows it, the school knows it, and our test scores confirm it.  Most of these kids are so far behind, there's not a chance they will ever recover.  If they ever had high expectations for themselves, they have vanished like shadows at sunset in the black light of our institutional judgment--YOU HAVE FAILED  (Ironic, because in most cases, it is we who have failed the child).   Retention simply nails the lid on that educational coffin shut. 

By using grade norms, we would, as a result of our institutional incompetence, further delay any possibility of the child receiving specially designed instruction to meet his needs.    "Gee, Mrs. White, a learning disability is only diagnosed when a child makes significantly less than expected progress.  But since we held Johnny back, we didn't expect him to be reading at grade level.  In fact, we're surprised he made any progress at all.  So even though his age appropriate peers are heads, shoulders and waists above him in their reading achievement,  he's not eligible for any help."

It actually makes perfect sense. Just like waiting four to six years for a kid to REALLY  fail before offering appropriate services makes perfect sense.

Which is why after more than thirty years in the business I still have trouble sleeping some nights.