Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Categorical Programs for Remedial and Handicapped Students: Issues of Validity

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Categorical Programs for Remedial and Handicapped Students: Issues of Validity

Article excerpt

Categorical Programs for Remedial and Handicapped Students: Issues of Validity

In this article, we examine the instructional validity of current educational policy regarding categorical programs serving low-achieving students. We raise questions about the relative instructional level and learning rates of learning disabled (LD) and other remedial students, and about the instructional methodologies best suited for these student groups. These questions lie at the heart of the rationale for categorically organized special programs for low-achieving students and the means by which such programs can optimize their services, concerns that are central to the Regular Education Initiative (Will, 1986). Examination of the instructionally relevant learner characteristics of LD and remedial students will help address issues such as the extent to which LD and remedial programs serve children with different instructional needs; the feasibility of grouping LD and remedial children together for instruction; and whether the majority of low-achieving, special needs children could be served within one integrated program with one funding source, one set of rules and regulations, and one administration rather than in a host of distinct categorial programs as they are now served.

Before describing the problems with the present system, we want to emphasize that these problems do not detraact from the worth of individual programs nor from the validity op the reasons that led to their establishment. The fact that solutions to one set of problems create sill other problems may be inevitable in the evolution of any system. Yet, it is no accident that task forces, federal initiatives, and discussions in the literature now focus on the lack of coordination among services to low-achieving children and ways of addressing that problem. These discussions are also occurring among administrators and teachers at the district and building levels. There is a healthy questioning of the validity and usefulness of the current relationship among separate, narrowly defined programs and a willingness to entertain the possibility of cooperation and integration of programs and services. A paramount issue is whether the present systm provides the best possible instruction for children and enables teachers and administrators to provide their services with optimal effectiveness and efficiency.

Categorial Programs

Instructional problems posed by individual differences are a fact of life in classrooms. By some estimates, as high as 25% of elementary-aged students are considered unable to learn basic skills under ordinary classroom conditions (Birman, 1979). As a means of easing the instructional problems that arise from student diversity, lawmakers have created a host of special programs. These categorical programs--special education, Chapter I, and state and local district remedial programs--were created to meet specific needs: providing an appropriate education to children with disabilities, overcoming the effects of poverty, or assisting low-achieving students (Leinhardt, Bickel, & Pallay, 1982).

As they now exist, each program functions separately, conforming to regulations that discourage cross-program integration and the sharing of instructional resources. Students with learning disabilities are taught in special education programs by special education teachers, students with limited English proficiency are taught by teachers funded through bilingual programs, and remedial students are taught in various remedial programs sponsored by the federal government (Chapter I-Disadvantaged and Migrant), by state government, or by local school districts. The introduction of categorical programs, each created at a different time and emphasizing the needs of a specific target group, followed a pattern that Reynolds and Wang (1983) characterized as disjointed incrementalism, rather than pursuit of a comprehensive program that addressed the needs of all or at least the majority of students experiencing difficulty learning in the classroom. …

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