Science-Based Decision-Making in Special Ed

Last month, I wrote an article for Special Education Advisor, a blog operated by some folks located in Chatsworth, CA who are?dedicated to helping parents of children with special needs. You can see the article by clicking here.

The title of the article is “Tying the Science of Special Education to the Law.” Both science and law are fact-based disciplines (or are supposed to be), so this is a big issue for KPS4Parents, these days.?I’m not going to repeat the whole thing here. You can link to it to see what I wrote.

The point is that there is a huge disconnect between the science of special education and the law of special education. As KPS4Parents approaches its 10th year of operation, we are looking at how best to focus our efforts based on what we’ve learned so far and this seems to be the critical nexus where our attention should be focused.

Somebody scientific informed the development of the IDEA. Congress couldn’t have come up with language like “measurable annual goals” and “present levels of performance” without someone who understands the science of it all chipping in.

One of the issues we’re looking to combat on a systemic level is the watering down of the term “measurable” by the public education system. There is only one definition of “measurable” and it doesn’t include ballpark estimations framed as percentages of accuracy. Real percentages are calculated from measurable data. IEPs are required to be reasonably calculated to render meaningful educational benefit, which, again, means using reliable empiricism.

School districts try to argue that they are not bound by the same degree of rigor as scientific research, but the term “measurable” comes from the use of empirical methods ??la science. Hello!!!!!

It has always killed me that our public schools expect 3rd graders to produce science fair exhibits that include a hypothesis, methods (including for measurement), and results in a manner consistent with scientific method but the same school districts that teach this will do everything they can to exempt themselves from the same standards of accuracy when it comes to their duties to educate children with disabilities. Why specialists with advanced degrees think they are?held to a lower standard of technical accuracy than the average 3rd grader is beyond me.

In any event, this is going to be something to which I’ll be devoting a lot of attention. I’ll be doing a lot of research and posting my findings as I go along. I may also be assisting in the development of a legal treatise on the subject, which could be constructive in preventing and resolving special education legal disputes in which measurability is at issue.

If you have any background knowledge on how the scientific terminology of the IDEA ended up in the regulations, please share! You can post your feedback below.

2 thoughts on “Science-Based Decision-Making in Special Ed

  1. Catherine Reisman

    Congress passed the predecessor to IDEA, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, partially in response to federal court cases in Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia challenging the exclusion of children as “uneducable.” The “PARC” case in Pennsylvania led to a consent decree that required that school districts (1) identify and evaluate children previously excluded; (2) determine their current status or present levels or performance and their needs; (3) specify the specially designed instruction and support services (preferably in the least restrictive environment); and (4) report on progress. In the PARC case, the progress reports went to Court-appointed monitors, because the Court was managing the remedy. Thus, the IEP became a planning document but was also a document used for judicial enforcement of the order to ensure that children with disabilities were receiving an appropriate education. The Court needed the objective data to determine compliance with the order to provide an appropriate education after decades of complete exclusion from school. This became a model for federal special education legislation. Catherine @cmreisman

    1. Anne M. Zachry Post author

      Catherine, this is awesome feedback! Thank you!!! So, now I guess I need the evidence from PARC to make the argument for the same degree of measurability on a systemic basis. In California, the administrative law judges trying due process cases generally think measurability is an empty term not worth enforcing and let school districts make up estimations rather than actually measure anything, which results in teachers claiming kids have made progress when they’ve failed to progress or have actually regressed.


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