State: Schools Must Address Disabled Students' Needs
by Aundrea Cline-Thomas
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Nearly 70 school districts in Tennessee have been put on notice, including several in the midstate. They have to improve the achievement of students with disabilities.
One out of every three students at Brick Church College Prep has had some type of learning disability - twice the average of other schools in the Metro Nashville Public School system.
"Coming into the school year, last year was a definite shock. Our special (education) population was a very high percentage," said special education instructor LaToya Bryant. "Which was something that was a little unexpected."
The charter school has begun its second year, serving 5th and 6th graders. It's not a special needs school, but students have come from a traditional Metro School zone.
"Last year we did an okay job at meeting the needs but this year we wanted to do a great job at it," said Bryant.
Student needs range from requiring extra time for activities to severe forms of autism. Many have individual education plans that teachers and staff had to determine how to address.
"We try to at least have two to three adults per classroom," said Helsa Irizarry, Dean of Instruction. "It just tends to help with the ratio and students tend to learn better when they're in smaller groups and have that one on one individual attention from their teachers.
In small groups, students have been doing everything from singing to working on the computer, and looking at maps to provide different ways to absorb the information.
Officials said it was still too early to determine if the new plan was working.
"When you say, 'can they achieve at the same levels?' They can, but their achievement is going to look different from their same age peers," said Bryant.
The school has promised to do whatever it takes to give every child a shot at going to college.
The state has started implementing a step-by-step approach to address students with special needs. It starts with identifying the problem early and allows placement in special education classes only as a last resort.
Lowering expectations was not a part of the plan for most. Instead, districts have been required to give students the help they need.