Should Special Needs Students Be Exempt From Graduation Thesis

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Special Education Graduation Requirements

Half a century ago, special needs students were generally included in standard educational programs and given comparatively few opportunities to overcome their learning challenges. Since then, special education has evolved considerably and many special needs students receive educational support to enable them to benefit as much as possible from public education. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that every special needs students receives an individualized education plan (IEP) to enable educators to provide the best possible education for students with special needs.

On the other hand, there is a growing trend in the United States to end the practice of so-called "social promotion" of students who are not actually achieving the minimum learning standard at their current grade level. That argument emphasizes the importance of making sure that promotions and the high school graduation diploma mean something and that only students who qualify for advancement or graduation progress further educationally.

In that regard, it has been suggested that high school graduation tests be required as a condition of receiving the high school diploma.

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Parents of many special needs children object to this policy and argue that it unfairly penalizes special needs students. They do not consider graduation of special needs students to be a form of social promotion at all, particularly where those students have continuously fulfilled their IEPs throughout their high school years. Various suggestions for resolving the issue include outright special education exemptions for graduation tests, reasonable accommodations based on individual needs, and adjusting the graduation test for special needs students to correspond more closely to their IEPs instead of requiring special education students to pass the standard graduation test.

Thesis on Should Special Needs Students Be Exempt From Graduation Assignment

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) has further complicated the situation because it penalizes schools who contribute the most to special education programs by their high enrolment of special needs students. Under NCLB requirements, poor student performance negatively impacts the formal reputation of the educational institution. Opponents of standardized achievement testing warn that without appropriate accommodations for special needs students, NCLB requirements pit their best interests against those of some of the institutions most dedicated to assisting them fulfil their maximum educational potential.

Social Promotion Policy Issues:

A half century ago, it was standard educational policy to "leave back" public education students who failed to achieve minimum academic progress in their current grade. This practice was believed to achieve several purposes simultaneously: it allowed those students additional opportunities to learn the material necessary to progress to the next level of their studies; it minimized perpetual failure in subsequent grade levels after a single such failure to achieve minimum standards; and it often provided a more powerful incentive against academic failure among students who were capable of learning but resistant to do so. Educators often found that where the threat of detention or mandatory summer school failed to motivate reluctant students, the prospect of not being promoted with their classmates was a much more effective incentive (Davis, 1998).

A few decades later, the concern among educators began to shift from holding back poorly achieving students to promoting them automatically and regardless of their poor performance. Partly, this was justified by the argument that holding students back from promotion to the next grade was too damaging to their self-esteem and positive self-image. Similarly, proponents of social promotion also suggested that holding students back from promotion to higher grades could result in undesirable social consequences in the classroom.

In some cases, students held back for poor performance were susceptible to taunting and teasing from classmates that only further distracted them from improving their academic performance. In other instances, holding back students contributed to their becoming bullies, especially where it exaggerated any existing differences in physical development in students already inclined toward behavioral issues in the classroom. With respect to graduation test requirements as a condition of receiving a high school diploma, the corresponding argument against social promotion is that the achievement of a diploma serves two important purposes that are furthered by graduation tests and thwarted by automatic graduation.

First, mandatory graduation tests help employers evaluate prospective employees fairly and more accurately than diplomas that are awarded automatically; they provide an easy means of identifying candidates who are likely to be successful employees. Second, mandatory graduation tests are more consistent with both the reward function of the high school diploma and its function as an incentive to perform well academically. As that argument goes, automatic graduation undermines both of those essential purposes of the award of the high school graduation diploma (Davis, 1998).

The counterargument is that appropriate guidelines for in-between-grade promotions should be sufficient to ensure that students who qualify for graduation based on completion of the required coursework deserve their diplomas. This, they suggest, is even more true of special needs students whose IEPs are much more likely to be an appropriate measure of their academic achievement than standard graduation tests (Bush & Amundson, 2000).

The Impact of the No Child Left Behind Act on Special Needs Students:

The federal requirements under NCLB policies have only exacerbated the problems associated with social promotion and the appropriate evaluation of special needs students. Under NCLB, fourth-grade and eighth-grade students must take periodic achievement tests in the core proficiencies of reading comprehension and mathematics. Those tests are designed to ensure that students enrolled in public education across the nation achieve proficiency in those essential areas and they work primarily by the incentives they create through adverse consequences to the official ratings of educational institutions (Causey, 2008).

In the case of special needs students, NCLB policies do not provide adequate means of accommodating special needs in a manner that does not (in effect) penalize schools for enrolling special needs students (Causey, 2008). Whereas certain disabilities are provided for, such as Braille materials for blind students, other forms of cognitive impairment to learning are not addressed within the existing NCLB structure.

Even worse, according to special needs student advocates, is that in some cases, the additional concerns raised by NCLB-compliance issues in connection with the poor performance of special needs students generate motivation for schools to worry more about the reputation of the institution than the advisability of promoting special needs students into the fourth and eighth grades (in particular) based on traditional factors. Meanwhile, once special needs students are in the fourth or eighth grade, self-interest on the part of the institution may conflict with any genuine need to hold back special needs students where doing so is in their best interests based on objective measurement of their academic performance and abilities (Causey, 2008).

The argument against standardized graduation tests as well as standardized testing in relation to between-grade promotion with respect to special needs students is that standardized tests do not account for the obvious differences among student ability. Especially in cases of cognitive disabilities and the additional challenges faced by special needs students, promotion in between grades and qualification for high school graduation and receipt of the high school diploma should adequately reflect the same inherent learning differences that are recognized throughout the educational environment (Bush & Amundson, 2000).

In that regard, decisions about promotions in between grades must not be based on concerns about the consequences to the educational institution but only on the needs and best interests of the students. Likewise, graduation eligibility and receipt of the diploma must reflect each student's overall academic record and effort and not a single standardized test that ignores some of the most basic differences of special needs students that are recognized throughout the educational curriculum at every grade level (Bush & Amundson, 2000).

Reconciling the Issues and Concerns:

In principle, there is actually nothing wrong with mandatory graduation requirements. However, that presupposes the requirement that all such testing is designed in a manner that provides a fair and appropriate measurement of the minimum academic achievement necessary for graduation. It is in that element where typical graduation tests discriminate unfairly and harmfully against special needs students. Specifically, the entire curriculum for special needs students must satisfy each student's individual IEP. On the other hand, graduation tests ignore the inherent learning differences among special needs students that form the entire basis of the special needs IEP-curriculum in the first place.

Therefore, the key to rectifying the problem while achieving all of the conceptual benefits of graduation tests lies more in designing graduation tests that are tailored as appropriately to the specific needs and abilities of special needs students. Rather than either exempting all special needs students from any graduation tests or requiring all of them to participate in testing that is unfair to them, the solution is simply to test all students appropriately instead of applying the same standardized testing across the board in a manner that ignores cognitive (and other) learning impairments.

Developing a Policy to Benefit All Students:

To a large degree, the infrastructure necessary to implement a better approach to resolving the debate over mandatory graduation tests and special needs students already exists. The… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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