Grade Retention Policy
Must Address Learning Disabilities
Last month I devoted this space to draw attention
to the need for Chancellor Klein and Mayor Bloomberg to have
sound, educational planning for children who will be held back
as a result of the high-stakes third grade tests, noting that
experience has shown that merely holding back a child who has
not demonstrated minimal mastery of subject matter at a particular
grade level has failed to produce good outcomes where individualized
assistance is not provided. This month, I follow up on that
with a focus on children with special needs.
I have written to Chancellor Klein and demanded
that all children whom the Department will identify based on
the 3rd grade high-stakes reading or math exams as those that
cannot be promoted to the 4th grade be screened for learning
disabilities or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD),
and other impairments or developmental disabilities. And at
the statewide level, I am introducing a bill that would require
every district to provide such screenings before holding back
any elementary school child as part of a district's implementation
of grade retention policies.
It is a certainty that some of the children who
have not demonstrably achieved threshold scores on a standardized
test are not achieving because of a variety of factors requiring
special intervention, including a learning disability, ADHD,
or a hearing or vision loss that has gone unidentified and
To simply place such a child in an intensive summer
school program or have that child repeat the grade is senseless
and a waste of resources. Early identification and appropriate
intervention are the keys to providing children the targeted
resources they need to meet their full potential, and it is
both right and essential to make sure that the reason the child
has not demonstrated minimal academic success isn't because
the child has a previously undiagnosed or untreated disability
better it is to catch these students say at third grade,
rather than have them repeat a grade and be on a doomed academic
trajectory, unassisted and without the right interventions.
In the long run we will save money, and I don't think this
is an exaggeration—save lives—in
terms of quality and fulfillment of these children's true potential,
by addressing their special needs early so that they have the
tools they need to learn and succeed.
with a plan to hold thousands of young students back without
the screenings would be absolutely irresponsible. We'd just
be ensuring that many of these youngsters will fail again.
As has been said, insanity is doing something that doesn't—and
in this instance cannot—work, over and over again.
The screenings should identify which children who
have not performed well academically have either a learning
disability, a developmental disability, or conditions that
include ADHD, autism, or impairment either of a child's vision
According to figures obtained from the U.S. Department
of Education, the National Institute for Mental Health, and
experts, somewhere between 15 and 20 percent of public school
students have either one or more learning disabilities, ADHD,
or both. Undoubtedly, the percent of students with undiagnosed
disabilities will be higher from among students who the city
has deemed to have failed.
Chancellor Klein has often spoken about providing
children with the tools they need to learn and succeed. To
do that, we cannot treat every child the same, without identifying
those who have a developmental or learning disability and then
making sure the special instructional support services are
in place for them. Yes, all children can be held to high standards.
But only if we give each of them a real chance.#
Steven Sanders is chairman of the Assembly Education
Committee. You can write to him at 201 East 16th Street,
New York, NY 10003, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or
phone him at (212) 979-9696.