The Florida Board of Education discussed the ESEA Waiver on February 28, 2012. Florida’s waiver was given contingent on the state’s full inclusion of students with disabilities in their accountability system. As a Florida resident, a Parent Leader for NCLD, and the Co-President of the Learning Disabilities Association of Florida, I attended this meeting to make sure the needs of students with learning disabilities were being considered.
As a Parent Advocate for NCLD and the Co-President of the Learning Disabilities Association of Florida, I felt I had to speak up at the Board meeting. My key point was that it was critical to include a parent who represents students with specific learning disabilities. To ignore that group is to ignore the “Elephant in the Room.”
Parents Push for a Task Force
During the board meeting, Roberto Martinez, the Vice Chair of the Board who has a son with dyslexia, insisted that the Commissioner of Education appoint a Task Force to address the implementation issues.
The Task Force was then formed and three parents were appointed, including:
- A parent of a child with Williams Syndrome – that impacts 1 in 20,000 students
- A parent of a child with Downs Syndrome – that impacts 1 in 800 students
- A parent of a child with Autism – that impacts 1 in 110 students
Not included? The parent of a child with learning disabilities, or 4%-6% of all public school students.
Then a 4th parent was appointed – a second parent of a child with Downs Syndrome.
I was then told that a separate Task Force might be appointed to address students with LD. This is important because there are unique risks for that population.
The Task Force met, I attended, and there was barely a mention of students with Specific Learning Disabilities (who make up 39% of Florida’s students with disabilities). Frustrating, to say the least!
The Board of Education then met and no mention was made of the exclusion of students with specific learning disabilities, nor was public comment allowed.
The Task Force did make one very good recommendation – to reward schools who make significant growth for students who are not yet proficient, but who have made substantial progress – and this is a good first step. (I want to thank NCLD’s previous Public Policy Director, Laura Kaloi, for providing wording from the work that NCLD has done with Congress that supports this effort!)
Many Issues Not Addressed for Students with Specific Learning Disabilities
The way Secretary of Education Duncan has shifted the focus from Sub-Groups (e.g., Students with disabilities, African American Students, Hispanic Students, etc.) to the lowest 25% of the students, means that the accountability system may no longer focus on our sub-group.
The changes agreed to by the Florida Board of Education now include students with disabilities in the accountability system. That’s good news – but it doesn’t go far enough.
Key points that were not covered include:
- Long-term goals for students with disabilities
- The best practices for students with disabilities who are on the diploma track
- The need to move towards a standards based IEP that drives towards proficiency
- Making sure the IEP is not used as the measure of proficiency
Let’s Work Together to “Occupy LD”
In Florida, we are presently considering ways that the Learning Disabilities Association, the International Dyslexia Association and CHADD (Children and Adults with AD/HD) will work together to make sure that our students with LD and AD/HD are effectively integrated into the State Accountability System. Our children count – and they need to be counted!
I’d greatly appreciate ideas from parents, advocates, and others to improve the outcome in Florida and potentially in other states that have been issued ESEA waivers. Parents working together to ensure accountability, sharing ideas across state lines, and learning from each other form the foundation of a successful “Occupy LD” movement. Please send your ideas to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mark Halpert has been immersed in the world of learning disabilities for 20 years: first as the father of two children with learning disabilities, then his wife developed the 3D Learner Program (R) to help children with learning disabilities to improve their reading comprehension, test scores and more. Mark then joined 3D Learner and has been presenting nationwide.