Colloquium Series Fall 2003 Highlights
September 17, 2003
Maryland's Institute for Minority Achievement and Urban Education kicked off its Colloquium Series for the 2003 academic year on Wednesday, September 17. The theme of the series is "Special Education and Minority Achievement: Using Research to Inform Our Teaching and Testing Practices." The series will feature professors from the Department of Special Education in College of Education. The goal of the series is to focus attention on the issue of minority achievement and bring to bear the pertinent research underway within the College of Education. In the opening session, "Response to Instruction as a Method of Unbiased Assessment," Deborah L. Speece focused on testing and identification of young students with learning/reading problems.
As policymakers, teachers, academicians, community agencies, and activists argue the causes and answers for the many achievement gaps in education, few debates are as compelling and contentious as the matter of special education. A substantial body of evidence suggests that minority students are both disproportionately over-represented in and underserved by special education. Both claims can be made convincingly, especially when we consider the question, "Are educators meeting the needs of all children so that they may actualize their individual potential?" Under that framework, achievement is not relegated to discussions on honors students, AP courses, or standardized tests. Achievement is a goal that is applicable to all children. As Deborah Speece's research suggests, unbiased assessment of children who may require more intensive instruction is critical if educators are to appropriately meet the needs of all students.
According to Speece, in regards to LD or learning disabilities, there is an "identification crisis" which hinders our ability to accurately identify children who require special education.. Speece's work emerges from the growing evidence that IQ-achievement discrepancy methods of identifying LD do not capture all students in need. That is, students who are poor readers but who do not have a discrepancy exhibit instructional needs similar to children who have a discrepancy. Speece's work adds to the a growing body of research that examines alternative methods of identifying LD. Speece incorporates responses to instruction to form an alternative model of identification.
Response to instruction captures both students' level of achievenment and growth within the educational context (i.e., general education classrooms). As Speece notes, "If we only consider level, important information on progress is lost. A child may be below the benchmark but making considerable growth toward reaching the benchmark. Consideration of level without regard to progress/growth may lead to abandoning an effective instructional program." Using measures of growth allows educators to identify children who are "nonresponsive" by simultaneously considering low levels of achievement and poor growth over time. This method makes distinctions among low achieving children—between those who are responsive and those who are non-responsive to general education instruction. Those who are non-responsive may need additional services or screening for a learning disability.
Using a Curriculum-Based Measure, oral reading fluency (ORF), as the primary dependent measure, Speece showed that it was unbiased with respect to gender and ethnicity. Neither gender nor ethnicity predicted first grade children's level of reading fluency in May or growth measured across most of the school year. In a different study, Speece and colleagues found that the response-to-instruction model identified a sample of first and second grade children with more academic and behavioral problems compared to children identified by IQ-achievement discrepancy or low achievement. Further, they found that children who demonstrated consistent non-responsiveness across three years differed from other at-risk children on reading, reading-related, and behavioral measures. All the major findings suggest that response to instruction may be a viable alternative to problematic IQ-discrepancy methods. For more information see: Speece, D. L.Case, L. P.Molleoy, D. E. (2003). Responsiveness to general education instruction as the first gate to learning disabilities identification. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 18(3), 147-156. Or you can reach Deborah L. Speece, Ph.D. via email at <email@example.com>.