Grade v. age
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.