kitchen table math, the sequel: LD enrollment drops

Saturday, September 18, 2010

LD enrollment drops

After decades of what seemed to be an inexorable upward path, the number of students classified as learning-disabled declined from year to year over much of the past decade—a change in direction that is spurring debates among experts about the reasons why.

The percentage of 3- to 21-year-old students nationwide classified as having a “specific learning disability” dropped steadily from 6.1 percent in the 2000-01 school year to 5.2 percent in 2007-08, according to the most recent data available, which come from the U.S Department of Education’s 2009 Digest of Education Statistics. In numbers, that’s a drop from about 2.9 million to 2.6 million students.

A learning disability—a processing disorder that impairs learning but not a student’s overall cognitive ability—is the largest, by far, of the 13 disability classifications recognized by the main federal special education law. Forty percent of the approximately 6.6 million students covered under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, fall into that category.

The decrease in the category goes hand in hand with a decrease in special education enrollment overall, though that change is not as large. The percentage of all students covered under the IDEA fell from a high of 13.8 percent in the 2004-05 school year to 13.4 percent in 2007-08—from about 6.7 million students to about 6.6 million students. Enrollment in the categories of emotional disturbance and mental retardation also went down, but students in those groups make up a far smaller slice of the IDEA pie. At the same time, though, enrollment of students classified as having an autism spectrum disorder or “other health impairment” rose.


About 80 percent of children who are classified as learning-disabled get the label because they’re struggling to read. So, scholars say, the dropping numbers could be linked to improvements in reading instruction overall; the adoption of “response to intervention,” which is an instructional model intended to halt the emergence of reading problems; and a federally backed push toward early intervention with younger students before they’re labeled.

Learning-Disabled Enrollment Dips After Long Climb Up
by Christina A. Samuels
Education Week


K9Sasha said...

I'm willing to believe it's Response to Intervention that's making the difference. Last year I worked as a reading teacher at a school where about one-third of the students were below grade level. There were two reading specialists. The other specialist - the Reading Coach - spent one-half to three-quarters of her time teaching students directly. I worked four hours a day teaching students directly. We each worked with groups of 2 to 8 kids, depending on need, with no time between groups. There were students who needed our services who couldn't get them, because there just wasn't enough time for all the kids who needed help. At the same time, the Special Education teacher had 12 kids on her case load.

Crimson Wife said...

I wonder how much of it is budget cuts. The schools are doing everything they can to deny an IEP because they don't want to spend any more than they have to on special ed.

I don't think it's at all a coincidence that the numbers of diagnosed kids started to fall right when the economy went into the toilet...

Anonymous said...

Frankly, if it's mostly reading issues, those are pretty straightforward to remediate. Truly.

lgm said...

Agree that RtI's impact is significant. One of the amazing things about school in my area is that the classroom teacher has so little responsibility in ensuring that learning takes place. Pre-rTi, a student was on his own if he didn't understand a lesson. Parents were told to hire a tutor. Now, the responsibity is on the school and the student doesn't have to wait until he is below grade level to get help.

Lsquared said...

The cynic in me agrees with Crimson Wife.