Changing Paradigms Of Special Education In The United States

Changing Paradigms Of Special Education In The United States

Prior to the legislation, requiring equal education opportunities for disabled children began in 1970s, close to 4.5 million special education children were denied adequate schooling. This period represented the darkest period in special education history. During this period, millions of students with special needs were refused enrollment in public schools or were underserved. The discrimination of persons with disabilities has been a worldwide practice for many years. In the United States, services to children with disabilities have been minimal throughout public schools history. Only local school districts offered such services. The worst moments for disabled students were experienced during the mid-1970s. At this time, states enacted laws requiring schools not to enroll students considered uneducable.

These laws completely denied education services to some students while some disabled students were admitted in public schools under no special services. Other disabled students were served under special programs but with in adequate services. These practices went on until 1978 when the Public Law 94-142 was affected, and states took up education for all polices. The first groups advocating for quality special education were parents with marginalized special needs students in 1933. However, some states adopted laws requiring refusal of special education to students deemed uneducable in 1970s. Such states were sued, and numerous court decisions obligated states to offer special education funds and schooling to students in need.

How and why special education assessment was administered historically in the United States

After the requirement to offer special education resources and schooling, states did not subject most students with special education needs to, routine large-scale, assessments. Different states adapted different guidelines regarding the exclusion of students with disabilities. As a result, the participation rate of disabled students varied across different states remarkably and was low. In addition, school personnel was accountability for decision on whether or not to include students with disabilities to such tests. These personnel included the team responsible for student IEPs or individualized Education programs. As a result, additional inclusion patterns were developed as many educators received incentives to exclude students who could score poorly from the assessments. During this time, assessment of special needs children was intended to eliminate disabled students who performed poorly from the education system.

Exclusion of most students from assessment contributed to placement of students in inappropriate programs. For instance, children with physical disability but normal intelligence were placed in classes designed for students with mental retardation. This trend was changed by the federal court decision that imposed new obligations to states and local school districts in 1975. Despite requirements to offer education to children with special needs, Congress realized that some students were not receiving education and that others were in inappropriate educational need programs. In response to this problem, Congress took nondiscrimination approach through the Rehabilitation act and an educational grant approach through Education for all handicapped children Act.

How and why protocols for special education assessment changed over time in the United States

Through the Rehabilitation Act 1973, there was a provision requiring that federal financial assistance recipients end discrimination against persons with disabilities during the offering of services. In 1990, the congress enforced nondiscrimination of persons with disabilities through ADA or Americans with Disabilities Act. Through the education for all handicapped children act, the congress required that all special needs students receive free, appropriate public education. The act also provided funding mechanisms to assist in excess costs associated with such programs. In 1997, EHA revolutionalized to become Individuals with Disabilities Education act or IDEA whose emphasis was on IEPs or individual Education Plans use for all special education students.

At national and state levels, there have been recent reforms intended at elevating students with disabilities inclusion in large scale assessments. This is part of attempts to include all students in reforms that are founded on standards. For instance, the IDEA amendments of 1997 required states to include all children with disabilities to assessment programs in the state and district wide. The efforts to elevate inclusion of students with disabilities in large scale assessments are driven several objectives. First, inclusion in large-scale assessment will offer information on disabled student’s performance, and the aggregate school performance. Second, inclusion of disabled students in large scale assessment coupled with accountability makes disabled student’s performance the responsibility of the school.

The assessment of special education is founded on functional Behavior assessments or FBA (Zirkel, 2011). In this approach, the identification of the purpose and function of problem behaviors is done. This identification is done through investigation of preexisting conditions in the environment that influenced such behavior (Holowinski, 1976). Using the behavior intervention plan or BIP, the best action to alleviate the exhibited behavior is dictated by the needs of the behavior victim. Until 1997, Idea legislation contained no requirements for FBAs or BIPs.  Through IDEA amendments in 1997, individualized education programs or IEPs teams consideration included behavior intervention strategies and supports to deal with a conduct preventing a child or other children from learning.  In the presence of positive behavior, the team would consider using positive behavior intervention and support. After IDEA’s amendments in 1997, the office for special Education program or OSEP, 1997, clarified that the new IDEA legislation did not need FBAs for cumulative removals of less than ten days.  During the 1999 regulations, OSEP clarified that proactive steps differed from minimums requirements and that BIPs were not limited to strategies and support that is positive.

Assessment for learning or Afl is an assessment strategy conducted by the teachers or learners with the aim of supporting the teaching and learning process while it is ongoing.  According to Phaidin (2010), AFL has positive impacts on all learners while the low achievers experience disproportionate positive affect.  In special education, AFL works best in student centered assessment approach to teach students life skills. The success of AfL approach was its promotion for learning especially with emphasis on sourcing material and tasks of interest to students (Phaidin, 2010). The application of AFL assists students to develop the concept of learning intentions.  When the learning intention is discussed with a student with learning difficulty, the student understands how he would learn. In addition, there is a demonstrated level of enthusiasm for performing the task once the success criteria had been discussed. Phaidin (2010) argues that the uses of AfL methods results to increased cooperation between students.  This takes the form of self assessment or peer assessment. Peer assessment encourages students to share feedbacks relative to the success criteria.

In literacy assessment, in special education, the success of students is dependent on the efficacy of the teacher. Issues with assessing students with disabilities relating to identification and classification define the efficacy of the teacher. During identification, a student is determined for recognized disability. Such a decision is done using IDEA terms and rehabilitation act of 1973 (Pufpaff, Yssel, and Garwood, 2010). Most of the students are identified using IDEA. However, the efficiency of teacher based student assessment is susceptible to bias. As a result, evidence based reading practices that are properly implemented result to the filling of achievement gaps and prevention of false identification of students with disabilities (Pufpaff, Yssel, and Garwood, 2010). In addition, the use of evidence based practices as relating to intensive reading interventions within Response to Intervention system requires placing a student within the right education tier. This is essential since it results to the reception of intensive interventions needed to close performance gap (Pufpaff, Yssel, and Garwood, 2010).

Special education assessment has been prompted by the need to align resource room reading instructions to evidence based practices for disabled students. The special education teacher is called to be fully prepared to offer high quality, intensive literacy instruction and remedy to students with special needs (Pufpaff, Yssel, and Garwood, 2010). This is essential   the establishment of fluency and comprehension skills as special needs students is lacking in the foundational PA skills. In order to achieve significant results in establishment of skills, preservice teacher education should focus on ensuring that the teacher receives training that is concurrent to the accountability of the teacher (Pufpaff, Yssel, and Garwood, 2010). Special education has also changed owing to the introduction of technology in the form of communication boards used among students with augmentative alternative communication needs during reading interactions. For students without functional speech and vocabulary supply, communication boards allow for language expansion and development of literacy.

Impact of change in special education assessment

Changes in special education assessment have had negative impacts.  First, the assessment uses an inefficient approach to determine eligibility (Macy & Hoyt-Gonzales, 2007). The current approach used in the identification for eligibility is characterized by fragmented and disconnected flow of information gathered with the aim of eligibility determination. For instance, student is first tested for determination of special education eligibility (Macy & Hoyt-Gonzales, 2007). However, these results are not used in the determination of the precise support needed by the student when found eligible. As a result, the student is subjected to further testing. This information disconnection demonstrates that an eligible patient has to undergo further testing (Macy & Hoyt-Gonzales, 2007). Extra administration of assessment beyond eligibility assessment since standardized assessment has no authenticity and functionality needed in planning.

As a result, operationalization of program planning into the establishment of meaningful goals in education or instruction content is difficult. during the transfer of information from one stage to the other, there are high chances of misinterpretation given the difference in training and disciplinary affiliation. This misinterpretation of data could result to challenges especially if the results have to be transferred and interpreted. In order to promote an effective eligibility assessment program, gathered assessment data should be useful and connected across service delivery areas. From the eligibility assessment, derived information should provide directions on the programmatic constituents of the system for service delivery. These goals can be achieved though the adaption of curriculum based approach to eligibility assessment.  The merit with this approach is its ease of translation into programmatic efforts. A linked service delivery system is also a good alternative.


Holownsky, I., (1976). The journal of special education. Vol. 10. Iss.1.

Macy, M., and Hoyt-Gonzales, K., (2007). A linked system approach to early childhood special education eligibility assessment. Teaching exceptional children.

Phaidin, E., (2010). Assessment for learning in a special education setting. REACH journal of special needs education in Ireland. Vol. 24. Iss. 2.

Pufpaff, L.,  Yssel, N., and Garwood, A., (2010). Introduction to the special issue: the role of literacy assessment and intervention in  special educatin. Psychology in schools. Vol. 47. Iss.

Zirkel, P., (2011). State special education laws for functional behavioral assessment and behavioral intervention plans. Behavior disorders. Vol. 36. Iss. 4.

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