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Oct. 17, 2006
Contact: Brandis Griffith, University Relations, (785) 864-8855.

New center at KU to test alternative to traditional special education programs

LAWRENCE — No two kids fit into the same mold. But children falling behind their classmates in schoolwork are delivered to the same few categories outside the classroom, such as special education or English as a Second Language. These resources may or may not be specific to their individual needs.

“There’s sort of a one size fits all model,” said Wayne Sailor, associate director of the Beach Center on Disability at the University of Kansas. “Frankly, it hasn’t worked. We continue to have huge achievement gap problems particularly in urban environments.”

Sailor is teaming up with the Illinois Department of Education to try a different model on schools in both states. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs has awarded KU a $1.5 million grant over four years to work with schools in Kansas and Illinois to test a Response to Intervention model.

Under the model, schools would use three levels of intervention and monitor how students respond or progress in their work at each level. Children having persistent problems on the first level in the general education classroom are temporarily grouped in a smaller setting, the secondary intervention level.

“The hope is that by giving those kids learning strategies in small group arrangements, we can get them back into primary level instruction in their regular classroom,” said Sailor, also a professor of special education at KU.

Children still not meeting standards for their age and grade level receive tertiary, or third-level interventions. There, they receive more intense, personalized help with learning.

Sailor says there are many reasons children have problems in school, from learning or physical disability to significant poverty or violence in the community.

“What RTI does is put everybody on the same playing field,” Sailor said. “It doesn’t matter what your language structure is, whether or not you’re disabled, whether or not you’re poor. What matters is what you need to progress at a satisfactory pace in the general curriculum.”

The grant will establish the K-I (Kansas-Illinois) Center, to set up the program at schools in both states. Sailor said most schools already use some form of the first two levels but need more focus on developing the third level of intervention as an alternative to automatic referrals to categorical programs.

The students’ performance will be frequently assessed to monitor academic progress, as well as social and behavioral progress. Based on that information, students who are not making progress will be moved to the necessary levels of intervention.

“The reason Special Education is funding this center is because they realize this (current categorization) is not an effective use of special education,” Sailor said. “I think we’re beginning now to reinvent education. The categorical systems have run their course and we’re not making good progress.”

Sailor hopes that after the grant’s four years, the Response to Intervention model will be used in more schools.

The grant begins in January.

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