Home > Uncategorized > Jay Matthews Analysis of Special Education Based on Flawed Premise: NAEP Tests Are “Gold Standard”

Jay Matthews Analysis of Special Education Based on Flawed Premise: NAEP Tests Are “Gold Standard”

May 31, 2018

Yesterday’s local newspaper, the Valley News, reprinted a Washington Post article by Jay Matthews that asserted that special education as it is currently conceived in failing. In the article Mr. Matthews draws on the opinions and findings of Kalman R. “Buzzy” Hettleman who has served two terms on the Baltimore City school board and been deputy mayor of Baltimore and Maryland state secretary of human resources. Assuming that Mr. Hettleman’s political experience gives his perspective credence, Mr. Matthews writes:

Hettleman does not believe that most students in special education are truly disabled. Fewer than 20 percent, he says, have clearly defined conditions, such as Down syndrome, severe autism, or visual and hearing impairments. The rest, he says, are struggling learners, especially in reading. Their difficulties were sadly not identified and addressed in the crucial early grades.

So as a last resort, he says, they “are dumped into special education. Reading experts estimate that, in the absence of timely interventions, between 50 and 75 percent of struggling readers wind up unnecessarily in special education.”

The notion that schools over-identify Learning Disabled students is not completely off base, nor is the idea that their difficulties were not identified and addressed in early grades. But the underlying cause of all of this pressure to “dump students” into special education is our continued belief that the rate of learning is constant and linked to age… a belief that is reinforced by our reliance on standardized tests that “measure” performance based on that premise.

(Mr. Hettleman) says school officials are reluctant to be candid about how far behind special-education students are. The gold standard of education statistics, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, reported in 2017 that only 11 percent of fourth-graders and 7 percent of eighth-graders in special education were proficient in reading. The parents he has worked with and the ones I know often aren’t told those scores.

“Rather, school systems conceal actual performance through grade inflation; social promotion from grade to grade, though the student is not close to meeting grade-level standards; bogus graduation diplomas; and other means,” he says.

The so called “gold standard” Mr. Matthews and most education writers and policy makers revere is based on the premise that age-based grade cohorts are the only way to group children and their “progress” is best measured by standardized multiple choice tests.

The best way to address the “struggling learners” who are allegedly not identified in the early grade levels it to recognize that not all children who are five years old have the same skill sets and give children the time they need to develop those skill sets. Let time be the variable and learning be constant….

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