Each week Marcy Winograd and Jackie Hirtz, educators with over 20 years of experience working with students from elementary to high school, will answer your questions regarding reading strategies, essay writing, homework habits and math challenges. Submit your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and include Ask Marcy and Jackie in the subject line.
Q. My 9th grade daughter has a severe visual processing disability. Her individualized education plan, mandated under federal law for special education students, recommends she be mainstreamed in classes that sometimes have over 40 students. Her first year of high school isn't going well, as she's struggling to keep up in both math and English -- even though she receives extra help at a school resource center. Should I put my 9th grader in a special day class, separate from the general population?
A. We suggest you and your daughter visit the special day classes on your high school campus to see what you think. Do the students have access to the common core curriculum or are they doing drill-and-kill worksheets every day? Find out.
Some special education students prefer the smaller classes, which rarely have more than a dozen students, and thrive when the curriculum is taught at a slower pace with more visual aides and individualized instruction. The smaller classes with teaching assistants can create a more familial environment, where students feel safe saying they don't understand something and need help. Additionally, they may find it comforting to know that others are also struggling and benefit from a slower pace. Special day classes for mild to moderate disabilities can include students with a range of issues, from visual and auditory processing challenges to attention deficit disorder to emotional disturbance to autism.
Others students feel embarrassed because they don't want to be segregated and identified publicly as special education students assigned to a separate classroom. Sometimes other special day students with emotional disturbances can be unsettling or worse -- threatening. If your daughter feels fearful or stigmatized in the special day class, her self-image could suffer into adulthood. On the other hand, failing academic classes isn't good for one's self-image either. Though your daughter is receiving extra help at the resource center, it may not be enough assistance. We suggest you hire a tutor, if you can afford it, or sit down with her yourself to tackle math problems and essays together.
If this doesn't work, if she continues to struggle in general education classes, you can always advocate for the more restrictive setting of the special day class. Where she is placed is not a life sentence and can be changed at any time, provided the parent requests an amendment to the student's individualized education plan or IEP.
Finally, this question may be answered by the trend toward full inclusion, meaning general education and special education teachers work side by side in the same classroom to differentiate instruction. Rather than pulling out special education students, school districts are mandating that students with disabilities be pulled in to the general education setting to educate them in the least restrictive environment. We suggest you talk to the coordinator of your school's special education program to find out if your daughter's school is moving toward full inclusion. In that case, your daughter would receive special educational services inside the general education class.
Credentialed in both English and social science, Marcy Winograd now teaches special education students at Venice High School in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Jackie Hirtz, MS Ed., a writer and writing coach, taught elementary school for seven years. Together, Marcy and Jackie have written for children's television, print, and new media. Their most recent project is the tween novel Lola Zola and the Lemonade Crush, available on Amazon. They also blog at lolazola.com and tweet @tweenorama.
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