I feel like I'm standing still and the world of education, especially special education and ELLs, is being swept away in whirlwind of incredibly poor policy decisions. (Yes, I know, it's been happening for a long time. I've only been really clued in for the last 5 years or so. Bare with me.) Those decisions have nothing to do with teachers. Nothing to do with students.
Let's start with the US SecEd Arne Duncan and the changes to regulations that became effective on 21 September 2015. "In order to make conforming changes to ensure coordinated administration of programs under title I of the ESEA and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the Secretary is also amending the regulations for Part B of the IDEA." I wrote tiny bit about it here.
What he really meant by that was a fundamental change in how special education will be approached: "[ESEA to] no longer authorize a State to define modified academic achievement standards and develop alternate assessments based on those modified academic achievement standards for eligible students with disabilities." In other words, unless the student is severely disabled, students will be able to perform the same as their neurotypical peers with "High standards and high expectations for all students and an accountability system that provides teachers, parents, students, and the public with information about students' academic progress are essential to ensure that students graduate from high school prepared for college and careers in the 21st century." Add in some unicorn glitter and a miracle, and voila! Instant student with a disability success! Gee, wish I had thought of that. <insert biggest teenager-inspired eyeroll you can muster>
As galling as the basic premise of these changes are, perhaps the worst is the alleged research cited in support of this garbage that is passing for education policy. Fortunately, someone has already taken a very close look at the cited research and published a paper annihilating those citations, Primum Non Nocere: First, Do No Harm. Read it. It is is nothing less than jawdropping in its findings. Remember, the SecEd just removed states' ability to modify standards and testing for students with disabilities. His justification? A meta-analysis done in 2010, based on 70 studies done between 1984-2006. You can read the abstract here.
The gist of this is that meta-analysis included students in grades 6-12. No K-5 students were included. The students were receiving interventions in science, social studies, or English. The studies looked at seven types of interventions in both an inclusion setting and in a separate classroom. However, "The authors note that only a small number of the studies took place in inclusive classrooms and that previous studies of coteaching in inclusive classrooms have found that the effective strategies investigated in this study are rarely implemented in inclusive settings."
In other words, the SecEd just changed the basics of special education based on a meta-analysis which the authors specifically say they did not look at special education interventions in a separate classroom and very few were done in an inclusion setting. It does NOT support abandoning alternative standards or assessment. It didn't look at interventions for K-5. Nor at interventions for math. Remember this as Duncan will surely go down in history as the worst SecEd ever.
P.S. I have to include this gem from the meta-analysis abstract. Understand that meta-analysis is only as good as the research it's based on. So, in 2010, when this analysis was published, this seems wildly inappropriate: "Computer-Assisted Instruction (CAI). The seven studies on CAI programs found computer-based instruction to be moderately effective. However, most studies on CAI were conducted during the 1980s and 1990s; it is not known whether the same results would be found with current CAI programs." Is it just me? Why the heck would you include seven studies done at least 10 YEARS before, on technology that is changing annually? What is the point of this? Mark Weber? Any thoughts on this?
P.P.S. The rest of the citations either didn't exist, were paid for by USED, weren't peer reviewed, or the conclusions of the research were limited in scope (even though SecEd cited in support of broader scope).