by Walker Dearth, Chandra Keller, and Erin Lillibridge
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In America's current educational system, at-risk students are failed by the general and special education models due to a lack of collaboration and a neglect of early intervention. The current system for identifying students with specific learning disabilities is a "wait to fail" model. Students who are struggling are often left to fail for one to two years before receiving needed services through special education. These students at risk for school failure are falling through the cracks, while special education services come too late and at a greater cost to address their needs.
Evidence of this failure is the fact that, of students labeled with a specific learning disability, it is estimated that 80 percent qualified because of reading difficulties as a result of poor or nonexistent instruction, not necessarily because of true learning disabilities. This is unacceptable. Public school systems must take the opportunity to reorganize their resources in order to provide services more efficiently to students in need.
Two Districts in California, Elk Grove Unified and Hesperia Unified, have created innovative approaches to address this crisis. Our client, the Director of Special Education in Pasadena Unified School District, has asked us to investigate these programs and report on their success as well as the feasibility of implementation in Pasadena. We have collected an array of both qualitative and quantitative information on the program components, impact on academic achievement, and success factors in implementation from each of the model Districts. We report the following main findings:
The collaborative service delivery model implemented in both Districts includes extensive collaboration between general and special educators, early literacy intervention, and serving students based on need, rather than based on eligibility for special education.
We find that the collaborative service delivery models are particularly effective in raising student achievement, as measured by standardized test scores, in the second grade. In addition, the collaborative service delivery models contributed to a significant reduction in special education caseloads.
In order to increase a District's chances of successful implementation of a collaborative service delivery model, we recommend the following: