Discrimination – Food for Thought

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October 20, 2016 by Good Teachers Work Hard

Creating tests became an interesting process while I was teaching. In my school, I taught learning support students (commonly referred to as special education students), itinerant students (those with mild learning disabilities), three levels of English language learners (beginner, intermediate, and advanced), and gifted students. Because of various legal educational contracts (such as IEPs [Individualized Education Programs] and GIEPs [Gifted Individualized Education Plans]) and the adaptations and accommodations that are required for the various groups of learning support students, I had to create seven versions of each assessment I gave to students. SEVEN versions – all with their own requirements, standards, accommodations, number of questions, and number of multiple choice answers allowed. Creating the tests took just as long (if not longer) than grading them.

I actually became quite adept at differentiating my tests and quizzes – so much so that other faculty members frequently sought my advice on the process. When my contemporaries would complain about the additional work, I would remind them that IEPs and GIEPs were legal contracts, and the teacher, principals, school, and school district could be sued if they weren’t followed precisely. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 states that individuals with disabilities (whether physical or mental) cannot be subjected to discrimination in any school program. This act also states that students with disabilities are entitled to a free appropriate public education (FAPE). Educational services were to be designed to meet the educational needs of each student with a qualifying disability (hence the IEP). Students with disabilities were also to be educated in the same classroom as students without disabilities.

So…with all this differentiation occurring in our classrooms today, surely every student must be receiving what they need, right?

What are we doing to help the average students — not the high flyers and not those with learning disabilities, but our students who aren’t particularly interested in school, who struggle to earn Bs or Cs in their classes, who float through the day without being a distraction, who rarely participate in class or in school activities, and who come to school because it is simply required of them? Other parents can sue the school if their child is not receiving a free appropriate education, but what about these students? Are they ignored because teachers have to focus their attention on the groups of students whose parents have the ability to take legal action?

I once had a classroom of 32 students. Seventeen of them spoke little or no English. Thirteen of the remaining 15 were learning support students. Two of them had no disability. There were no aides, translators, TSS (therapeutic support staff) workers, or teaching assistants in class with me. As a veteran teacher, I was challenged to find activities that were appropriate for all the represented groups. However, my students with limited English proficiency and special needs definitely required a lot of my time and attention. While teaching that class, I couldn’t help but wonder if the parents of the two students ever truly knew the environment in which their children were placed (I tried unsuccessfully to have these two students moved into a different class). Did these parents feel the desire to sue the school for a free appropriate education for their children? I also wondered if they even had a legal leg to stand on, since their children had no “designation” attached to their names.

Let me be clear. This blog post is not a debate about the appropriateness of FAPE, the inclusion of special needs students in classrooms, the provision of additional services to students who require them, or a parent’s right to sue a school. It is a reminder to our teachers that ALL students have the right to an exceptional education in our public schools. Typically, the squeaky wheel gets the grease, but in an ideal situation, all the wheels would be properly maintained on a regular basis. And our children are worth a whole lot more than wheels, don’t you think?

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