Who Receives Special Education? (page 2)
In the United States, school-aged children with disabilities are entitled to a free, appropriate public education. It is illegal to discriminate against individuals with disabilities. An individual cannot be denied an education or a job because of a disability. Special education is mandated to provide services to students who have been identified as unable to progress effectively in the general classroom as a result of that disability. It is important to note that the presence of a disability alone is not sufficient reason to initiate special education services. Special education is warranted only after all attempts to help a youngster within the confines of the general classroom have proved ineffective.
In the first textbook dealing with the "education of exceptional children," Horn (1924) observed that mental, temperamental, and physical differences were the bases for some students needing special education. Today, many states organize their special education departments along similar categorical lines. A category is a descriptor or label assigned to a group of students. Although the names of the categories vary slightly from state to state, special education is generally provided for children within each of the following categories:
- Students with visual impairments or blindness
- Students with hearing impairments or deafness
- Students with deafness and blindness
- Students with orthopedic impairments
- Students with multiple disabilities
- Students with language or speech impairments
- Students with learning disabilities
- Students with emotional disturbances
- Students with mental retardation
- Students with autism
- Students with traumatic brain injury
- Students with developmental delay
- Students with health impairments
Special learning needs in areas of physical abilities (e.g., seeing, hearing, moving) are the basis for several categories of students with special needs. Most of us take normal vision and hearing for granted. The expression "20/20 vision" is used to describe normal visual functioning. Vision is measured by having people read letters or discriminate objects at a distance of 20 feet. The task is not difficult for most people. There are people, however, who must stand closer to see what others see easily from 20 feet away. These differences in visual functioning are the basis of deciding whether a student is blind or visually impaired. There are also people who even at a louder volume cannot hear what can easily be heard by the majority. Between normal hearing and deafness are various degrees of hearing loss, and it is these differences in degrees of hearing that are the basis for another category of exceptional students (i.e., deaf or hearing impaired).
How different does vision or hearing have to be before a person is considered blind or deaf? A person who, even with correction (e.g., glasses), must be 20 feet from a target that a person with normal vision can see at 200 feet or more is considered blind. People with corrected vision better than 20/200 but not better than 20/70 are considered visually impaired. Ability to hear is measured along two scales: intensity and frequency. Intensity or loudness is measured in decibels (dB), and frequency or pitch is measured in hertz (cycles per second). Moores (1982) defines deaf and hard of hearing in terms of the effects on hearing loss:
A deaf person is one whose hearing is disabled to an extent (usually 70 dB or greater) that precludes the understanding of speech through the ear alone. without or with the use of a hearing aid. A hard of hearing person is one whose hearing is disabled to an extent (usually 35-69 dB) that makes difficult, but does not preclude, the understanding of speech through the ear alone, without or with a hearing aid. (p. 17)
For practical purposes, deafness means the absence of hearing in both ears; people with deafness have great difficulty hearing conversational speech without the assistance of a hearing aid. People with hearing impairments experience significant difficulty in hearing.
There are other disabling conditions that are of a physical nature. For example, arthritis is a measurable inflammation of a joint that limits movement. Cerebral palsy is impaired motor function due to brain damage; it produces difficulties in motor control that are observable in movement of large and small muscle groups. Seizure disorder (i.e., epilepsy) is also a brain disorder that results in convulsive episodes and periods of unconsciousness. Other health impairments include severe orthopedic problems that adversely affect educational performance and limit strength, vitality, or alertness. Special education may be provided to people with physical differences caused by congenital anomalies (e.g., spina bifida) as well as other general health and physical problems (e.g., heart disease, asthma, diabetes, traumatic brain injury, autism).
Differences in intellectual performance or mental abilities are the bases for identifying a special need. To be considered intellectually disabled, an individual must demonstrate subaverage intellectual functioning and delayed social development. Intelligence tests frequently are used to determine if an individual's intellectual performance is below that of peers. Students with scores from 50 to 75 on an intelligence test fall within the mild range of intellectual disability. Students with more complex forms of intellectual disability are categorized as mildly, moderately, severely, or profoundly disabled. Besides the differences in severity linked to IQ scores, students with moderate to profound intellectual disability usually have communication and health problems. We refer to these students as having a developmental disability because they have serious physical and medical complications that are identified by a physician at birth or soon afterwards.
Students with intellectual disabilities demonstrate deficits in adaptive behavior (i.e., social development). Adaptive behavior generally refers to the way in which an individual functions in his or her community. As with intelligence tests, adaptive behavior evaluations are based on age-group comparisons. Formalized inventories of functional abilities (such as dressing oneself, using the telephone, or independently moving about the neighborhood) help educational evaluators determine adaptive behavior. Any determination of intellectual disability must include a measure of intelligence and a measure of adaptive behavior skills.
Just as there are students with low intelligence test scores, there also are students whose intellectual performance is above that of their classmates. Historically, giftedness was determined by high IQ test scores. This approach is no longer favored by many educators because intelligence tests sample too narrow a range of abilities. Creativity, musical talent, leadership skills, and problem-solving abilities are a sample of talents not measurable through intelligence testing. More recently, experts in the field of giftedness recommend a multidimensional approach to establishing criteria for identification of students with special gifts or talents. According to Renzulli, Reis, and Smith (1981), in order to be identified as gifted, students should demonstrate:
- High ability including measured intelligence evaluation
- Creativity in the development and implementation of innovative ideas
- High task commitment—perseverance or diligence
Students with special talents are not viewed as needing special education services; consequently, they do not receive federally mandated special education.
Gifted programs exist in some school systems because of state or local leadership and funding. Four groups of students are underrepresented in gifted education programs: culturally different, female, disabled, and underachieving (Patton, Kauffman, Blackbourn, & Brown, 1991).
How different do measures of intelligence have to be before an individual is considered intellectually disabled or gifted? Differences in scores on intelligence tests and measures of adaptive behavior are evaluated in the same way as differences in scores on hearing, vision, or physical performance tests. Standards for normal intelligence and adaptive behavior are set by testing large groups of individuals. Professionals then set criteria for intellectual disability or giftedness that are based on mean intelligence scores and adaptive behavior ratings. For example, the common standard for normal performance is a score of 90-110 on an intelligence test; scores below 75 or above 130 are generally considered indicative of intellectual disability and giftedness. It is important to remember that special education services for students identified as gifted are not mandated by federal legislation. Figure 1.3 traces the normal curve distribution of IQ scores.
With the categories of intellectual disability and gifted, it is assumed that the individual's performance on achievement tests will be consistent with the performance on intelligence tests. This means that if a student obtains a high score on an intelligence test, high performance on an achievement test also is expected. If students perform poorly on intelligence tests, it is expected that their achievement test scores also will be low. There are students whose performance on achievement tests is not consistent with their performance on intelligence tests. When the difference between ability (e.g., intelligence test performance) and achievement (e.g., reading, math) is significant, the student may be identified as learning disabled. Students with learning disabilities comprise one-half of the entire special education population.
How different do scores on ability tests and scores on achievement tests have to be before a student is classified as learning disabled? Although officials of the federal government have provided guidelines for use in identifying students with learning disabilities, no specific criteria have been provided for judging when discrepancies between ability and achievement are severe enough to call a student learning disabled.
Students are considered eligible for special education if they meet guidelines spelled out in state regulations. Due to a lack of consistent criteria between and within states, it is likely that many students in special education programs for students with learning disabilities are misidentified.
© ______ 2009, Merrill, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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