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Labeling and Eligibility for Special Education (page 3)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Alternatives to Labeling

A number of alternative approaches to classifying exceptional children that focus on educationally relevant variables have been proposed over the years (e.g., Adelman, 1996; Hardman, McDonnell, & Welch, 1997; Iscoe & Payne, 1972; Sontag, Sailor, & Smith, 1977). For example, Reynolds, Zetlin, and Heistad (1996) proposed a system they call “20/20 analysis” as an alternative, nonlabeling approach to the traditional, categorically driven model of special education. The lowest-achieving 20% and the highest-achieving 20% of students would be identified and eligible for broad (noncategorical) approaches to improvement of learning opportunities.

In 20/20 Analysis, we begin with measuring progress of students in important areas of learning and identifying those at the margins—those who are not learning well and those showing top rates of learning. . . . At all times the focus is on outcome variables. . . . The idea is to look to the margins in learning progress and to identify those who most urgently require adapted instruction. (Reynolds & Heistad, 1997, p. 441)

Some noted special educators have suggested that exceptional children be classified according to the curriculum and skill areas they need to learn.

But if we shouldn’t refer to these special children by using those old labels, then how should we refer to them? For openers, call them Rob, Amy, and Jose. Beyond that, refer to them on the basis of what you’re trying to teach them. For example, if a teacher wants to teach Brandon to compute, read, and comprehend, he might call him a student of computation, reading, and comprehension. We do this all the time with older students. Sam, who attends Juilliard, is referred to as “the trumpet student”; Jane, who attends Harvard, is called “the law student.” (T. C. Lovitt, personal communication, January 14, 2002)

In a system similar to this, called curriculum-based measurement, students are assessed and classified relative to the degree to which they are learning specific curriculum content (Deno, 1997; Howell & Nolet, 2000; Jones, 2001). Educators who employ curriculum-based measurement believe that it is more important to assess (and thereby classify) students in terms of acquisition of the knowledge and skills that make up the school’s curriculum than to determine the degree to which they differ from the normative score of all children in some general physical attribute or learning characteristic.

Even though curriculum-based assessment is being used more frequently, use of the traditional labels and categories of exceptional children is likely to continue. The continued development and use of educationally relevant classification systems, however, make it more likely that identification and assessment will lead to effective instructional programs for children, promote more educationally meaningful communication and research among professionals, and perhaps decrease some of the negative aspects of current practices.

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