Raising the Bar for the Learning Disabled in Florida
Almost all of the 15 percent of Florida’s public school students identified as having learning disabilities are not exempt from the state’s push for rigor. Up until now, these students were eligible for classes using standard curriculum “with modifications,” which, according to the Florida Department of Education, were adapted to individual learning disabled students, and were usually less complex than general education courses.
Florida eliminated that designation over the past year for elementary students and for middle school students this year, with high school students to follow in 2012-2013. All will still receive the services and accommodations specified in their individual education plans, says Bambi Lockman, who heads the Florida DOE’s Bureau of Exceptional Education and Student Services.
Lockman says that the push to raise standards for students with learning disabilities follows a decade-long commitment. “We’ve worked very hard to get many students back in the arena of general education, and they’ve been doing very well on our state assessment exams,” she says. “We’ve been finding out that these students are able to demonstrate cognitive abilities at a higher level than people had thought.”
Over the past decade, the percentage of Florida’s K12 students with learning disabilities who take general education courses has grown from 48 percent to 67 percent. The percentage receiving a standard diploma in four years has risen from 30 percent to 50 percent, according to the Florida DOE. And by 2013, many more high school students with learning disabilities will be taking the same advanced courses in science and math mandated by Florida’s new law upgrading the high school curriculum in the state’s public schools.
The course material will be challenging, but Lockman says, “I think it may be easier for students with learning disabilities to handle the end-of-course exams because they will have just focused successfully [on what’s covered] in the classroom.”
At the same time, teachers will have to extend the differentiated instruction, learning strategies and interventions they have been using with learning disabled students in recent years, Lockman says.