Monday, November 23, 2015

Algebra II anyone?

The United States Department of Education just released its latest “significant guidance document.”  Translation- you had better darn well do what we are telling you to do on this.  This latest and greatest destruction of the “I” in Individual Education Program  (IEP) is now almost black letter rule.  From now on the IEP must be aligned with the grade level in which the child is enrolled.  Oh and the grade level equates to the number of years the child has been in school, not to achievement.  According to this latest guidance “research has demonstrated that children with disabilities who struggle in reading and mathematics can successfully learn grade-level content and make significant academic progress when appropriate instruction, services and supports are provided.”  To do otherwise is to allow for low expectations.  REALLY!   If these children could achieve at grade level with great instruction why weren’t they getting that great instruction all along.  In fact, why aren’t all students at grade level?   Oh right, I remember now they were supposed to be according to No Child Left Behind by 2014.  But we have abandoned that foolish goal for all kids but we still think it will work for kids with disabilities.   If wishes were horses then beggars would ride. 
The epistle reminds us that the Department of Education has decreed that the general education curriculum is the same curriculum that should be used for nondisabled children and children with disabilities alike.  This must be a little like sharing the Kool Aid since the general ed curriculum isn’t all that relevant for plain kids and it is even less so for children with disabilities.  But we have never let that stop us before.  There is a bone thrown to the needs of children with disabilities, “this alignment, however, must guide not replace the individual decision-making required in the IEP process.”  Exactly how does the IEP team serve two masters, the learning needs of the child and the demands of grade-level curriculum?  One of the considerations of the team is whether or not the child with disabilities is on track to achieve grade-level proficiency within a year.   If a child with a disability could achieve grade level proficiency within a year the child must be receiving extraordinary instruction or maybe doesn’t have much of a disability.

Then there is the issue of grade levels.  We act as though grade levels were handed down on Mt. Sinai either immediately after or before the Ten Commandments.  In fact the requirements of the various grade levels have changed dramatically over time, both in complexity and in difficulty.  The whole point of the Common Core was to create similar grade level standards throughout the country, never mind from year to year. 

After making its unrealistic demands early on, the guidance document begins to equivocate by advising the IEP goals should be “ambitious but achievable”. No kidding!   It goes on to say, “in other words the annual goals need not necessarily result in the child’s reaching grade-level within the year covered by the IEP”. 

Obviously these kinds of guidance statements bother me a great deal.  Instead of wasting time trying to teach squirrels to fly and birds to climb trees, why can’t we just invest in the talents the kids have and make them better at what they already are.  Oh and here’s a wild idea.  How about preparing them to earn a living and/or go to post-secondary education?  Whoops forgot, they need algebra II.

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