Across multiple sites and settings (e.g., Zigmond et al., 1995), studies have confirmed the undifferentiated instruction provided for students with disabilities (Baker and Zigmond, 1990). This does not necessarily mean that students with LD were not receiving an appropriate education, so long as their progress was being monitored appropriately. These studies as well as others have resulted in questions about how to ensure that students with disabilities are provided with access to the general education curriculum and how their progress should be monitored. The notion of monitoring students’ progress is a direct result of the lack of sufficient data for determining that placement in special education was associated with improved outcomes for students with disabilities.
There has been a convergence of the knowledge base about effective interventions for teaching reading to struggling readers (NRC, 1998); however, too little of this knowledge has been woven into the instruction provided for students with disabilities. For example, instruction in reading for students with difficulties is often provided as a whole class format, even when group sizes are as small as three to six (Allington et al., 1986). Although most agree that “children learn best when instruction corresponds to their current reading level, and may not learn well if the instruction is not attuned to their stage in learning to read” (Brady and Moats, 1997:9), students with LD are often provided with the same reading instruction, even though their abilities cut across a broad range (i.e., 3 to 5 grade levels; Vaughn et al., 1998). Students with disabilities are not provided instruction tailored to meet their individual needs in large part because teachers are responsible for teaching too many students at one time (Moody et al., 2000). Thus, many students with disabilities are not provided the explicit intensive instruction they need (Zigmond and Baker, 1995).
The committee is not aware of any published studies that compare the quality of special education programs or the efficacy of specific instructional practices among various racial/ethnic groups. However, from what is known of the context of schools that serve minority children from low-income communities, it is reasonable to suspect that certain aspects of these schools will not be conducive to state-of-the-art practice. Two particular aspects that are likely to be detrimental to special education efficacy in such settings are low parental empowerment and lower levels of education and experience of school personnel.
In Chapter 5 we referred to the fact that parent advocacy is considered a factor that should protect children from inappropriate placement or treatment. The literature on parent advocacy, however, shows that minority