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Approximately ten percent of all students receive special education services. Special education has existed for about thirty-five years and continues to be redefined as the years go by. Prior to 1975, there were no federal guidelines for educating students with special needs. In several cases, these students were sent to a school designed for special needs, put into an institution, or in some cases, kept at home. Many special needs children didn't receive a diploma. In 1975, with the passing of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, schools were required to provide an education for all special needs children. Thus, the birth of special education.
Emotionally Disturbed, Learning Disabled, Mental Retardation and Other Health Impaired are just a few of the qualifying categories for special education. According to Federal Guidelines, any child who meets the specified criteria for one of the areas of disability, and demonstrates a need for special services, is eligible to receive special education.
So what is special education? It's providing an educational program uniquely designed for a student with special needs. For children ages 3 through 5, the Committee on Preschool Special Education (CPSE) is responsible for special education and related services. For school age children, the Committee on Special Education (CSE) is responsible to meet the needs of special needs children.
Typically, an evaluation is done to determine the child's disability and need for services. The CPSE or CSE committee meets to review the evaluation results and to write an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP). The plan includes: educational goals, modifications, related services, social/emotional/physical needs, and current learning levels. Modifications might include revising worksheets or rubrics. The need for in-servicing teachers or providing teacher resources is also discussed. Once an IEP is agreed upon, it becomes a legal document for a year. The CPSE or CSE is responsible to meet at least once a year to review the IEP and create a new one for the following year.
Thanks to IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Educational Act), a stronger effort has been made to educate special needs children within their district's school. Schools are responsible in educating special needs children in the least restrictive environment, also known as LRE. In many schools, the inclusion model has been implemented. With this model, special needs children are placed in the general education classes and modifications and special instructions are provided in those classes by the special educator or a teacher assistant, under the direct supervision of the special educator. When appropriate, the related services, such as speech, occupational therapy (OT), physical therapy (PT), etc. are provided in the general education setting as well. For students with physical needs, such as muscular dystrophy, a 1:1 aide might be assigned to the child.
The driving force behind special education is the provision of a free and appropriate public education for all students, regardless of disabilities, with some type of diploma as the end goal. For most children, this provision will take place in the general education setting. Special education, related services, and modifications will be determined at the CPSE or CSE meeting, which must be held at least once annually.