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Opinion

Making positive changes to special education programs

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October 25, 2012

Disabilities and academics might not go together in the minds of educators. Seeing someone who has a disability, such as difficulty walking, might lead educators to think that the student is not academically strong.

The field of special education can be tricky because what classifies as a disability might not be easy to determine. Unlike a condition, such as cerebral palsy, a disability might not be easily seen. This type of disability is called an invisible disability. An example of an invisible disability is a learning disability.

There is more to education than just learning disabilities. A student might be academically strong in areas such as writing and language, but have a learning disability in math – known as dyscalculia.

It is unfortunate that while general education students are encouraged to excel in their strengths, students who are in special education courses have to spend more time on their academic weaknesses than on their strengths.

The Individualized Education Program (IEP): a layout of academic goals and educational services students who have disabilities. Students who have IEP’s are given tests before their IEP meetings. The tests examine students’ aptitude in areas such as reading, writing and math.

The IEP meetings summarize students’ academic progress and goals they need to reach in order to be on the same level as their general education peers. IEP meetings are held shortly after pre-IEP tests are given. The goals are based on students’ pre-IEP test results. Depending on students’ academic progress, reaching IEP goals can be difficult because strengths and weaknesses likely stay the same.

The meetings also include discussion of what special education services students need, such as occupational therapy, to help with dexterity issues.

Educational services can be helpful, but it is important that the services do not take up a significant amount of students’ class time. Students could fall behind on their general education studies if they have to leave general education classes to receive special education services.

In order for students to keep up on their general education, educators could plan for special education services to be given off the clock, such as before school in pre-school and elementary school or, in the case of secondary school, during study hall time.
Students can request the amount of time spent on special education services to be decreased. That can give them a chance to work on general education studies.

It is a good idea for IEP meetings to have a light and positive feeling. This can include a casual atmosphere and discussion of students’ academic strong suits. It can help students relax, since the meetings are about them. Talking to students during their IEP meetings will help them as well.

This will help them feel included in the discussion. If they are sitting at the table, it is not nice to talk about students as if they are not in the room.

It is also important for special education professionals to emphasize students’ strengths and not focus on weaknesses too much. An IEP meeting setup of a casual atmosphere in which educators talk to students, there is discussion of strong suits and not too much focus on weaknesses.

This does not make academic difficulties sound unique, which can help students feel good about their academic situation.

Bottom line: special education services can be beneficial to students who need them, but they should not take up too much of students’ time. Students need to work on their strong suits as part of their general education.

It is important for educators to look at and emphasize students’ academic strong suits. This will help students feel they will succeed in their education even if they have disabilities.

Emma Wagner is a UW-River Falls student.