College Planning for Students with Learning Disabilities
High school personnel, as well as students with learning disabilities and their parents, are often frustrated in searching out a suitable postsecondary setting that will afford opportunity for success. While there are many directories of postsecondary college programs (Hartman & Krulwich, 1984), they often result in more confusion than clarity. Since there is no consistent pattern of programming for students with learning disabilities at the college level, selecting an appropriate college is often an overwhelming task.
Since there are many more colleges seeking, or at least admitting, students with learning disabilities than actually have well-developed programs, it is imperative that professionals help these students act cautiously during the selection and application process. Simply finding a "good" program or the one with the most services is not the solution. A match must be made between the unique needs of the student and the characteristics of the college and its learning disabilities program (McGuire & Shaw, 1987).
Developing an Appropriate Individualized Educational Program (IEP)
A critical element of an effective high school program is determination of which curricula and courses will be taken by students with learning disabilities. Too often, these students are counseled into a general studies curriculum that will disqualify them from admission to most 4-year colleges. In addition, many students with learning disabilities receive course waivers--often for foreign language or mathematics--which can significantly limit college options. Course waivers may be necessary and appropriate, but they should be provided only when based on valid diagnostic data. Furthermore, all parties should be made aware of the implications of waivers for postsecondary education.
Although the college experience is often difficult for students with learning disabilities, pacing of a course of study has proved to be an effective programming variable (Norlander, Shaw, McGuire, Bloomer, & Czajkowski, 1986). A student who might experience frustration and failure with a full college course load might be successful when taking only two or three courses. Likewise, if high school personnel, parents, and students were open to planning a 4 1/2- or 5-year program, the students would be more likely to leave high school with the skills, content, knowledge, and positive self-concept necessary for postsecondary success.
The individualized educational program or transition plan for a student with learning disabilities should provide for an early determination of postsecondary goals agreeable to all concerned and specification of the curriculum, courses, time sequence, and support program appropriate for realization of those long-term goals. The goals will require continual monitoring and adjustment throughout the high school program as the student's postsecondary and career choices become refined.
Special Skills for College-Bound Students
The postsecondary environment is much less structured than most high school settings, requiring a great deal of responsibility on the part of students to determine what to learn as well as how and when to learn. Students with specific learning disabilities are often left confused unless they are specifically instructed in skills such as evaluating courses, planning long-range study time, and interacting with faculty. The high school setting does not typically provide the opportunity to practice such skills. Special educators, in collaboration with content teachers and counselors, must provide their students with simulated college experiences that incorporate these skills.
Reprinted with the permission of the Education Resources Information Center.
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