Reaching Higher Standards: Special Education, Real-World Certifications in Technology and the Community College Connection

Article excerpt

REACHING HIGHER STANDARDS: SPECIAL EDUCATION, REAL-WORLD CERTIFICATIONS IN TECHNOLOGY AND THE COMMUNITY COLLEGE CONNECTION

INTRODUCTION

Storm clouds have gathered across New York state. Although some of the initial, more ambitious timelines have been modified, within a few short years, the stimulating educational reforms inaugurated by the commissioner of education, Richard Mills, and approved by the state's Board of Regents, will be fully implemented. However, as revised examinations and elevated graduation requirements are phased in and take hold, large numbers of elementary and secondary level children will fail. When this occurs, shock and anger will register in force across the state. The first volley has already crossed the threshold with the recent publication of the fourth grade English test results. Although the commissioner of education noted that "the results from the fourth grade English test should have surprised no one," in fact, the disconcerting 50% passing rate outcome produced a torrent of reactions from the public.

More ominously, the deadlines for the revised secondary level Regents examinations are fast approaching. With their arrival, parents of high school students will soon become indignant when record numbers of their children, too, earn failing scores. These adults will realize quickly that the high school diploma has become more difficult to secure, and that access to higher education has become more competitive. With more stringent mandates posing considerable obstacles to high school success in New York state, parents will soon understand that years of planning and preparing for college may have been for naught. The realization will dawn that transport to high-level career paths now may be in jeopardy, since safe passage to the proper institutions of higher education can no longer be assured. Pressures will mount as the new realities are grasped by larger numbers of people sending their children to school.

For some, such a climate will produce opportunities. For example, quality pre-school programs will appear in greater numbers to satisfy nervous parents preparing children for the demanding years ahead. For-profit companies offering to raise student scores at the elementary and secondary levels will proliferate. Private schools will see enrollments strengthen. And Charter schools, riding a tidal wave of competitive sentiment, will win increasing acceptance as alternatives to low-performing public schools.

As the "standards" tempest increases in strength, the state Education Department will, no doubt, hold its ground--unless political pressures prove too daunting. After all, an experiment of such magnitude will require time for officials to adequately digest data, assess strengths, consider successes and shortcomings of the reforms, and formulate coherent responses to questions from schools and the public. But while the review process marches forward, there will be thousands of children with failing grades in hand anxiously considering what to do next.

SPECIAL EDUCATION

The above-described scenarios are likely to unfold as new standards and elevated graduation requirements are implemented in New York state. While the exact repercussions cannot be anticipated fully, parents, school boards, administrators and teachers throughout the state are working hard to prepare students for, the rigors of the new educational climate. Special educators, too, are anxious to know how, and to what extent, their students will meet the new requirements. More demanding coursework and examinations set at degrees of difficulty previously considered beyond the reach of many children in special education have caused great concern among special education professionals.

While a "safety set" has been put into place for children in special education for the next few years--allowing the less demanding Regents Competency Tests to satisfy testing requirements for graduation--at some point, the majority of children in these programs will be required to meet the same demands children in regular education must shoulder. …