All The Eggs In One Basket
School was hard for Scott due to his learning disability, but he tried his best in the past because he wanted to play football. This year, with incentives lost and grades falling, the only option to graduate if he failed the HSCT was with a special diploma. One course and one teacher with a strict reputation stood in his way.
On Friday afternoon, Janine Davis sat in the bleachers of the football stadium with her co-teacher and friend, Marsha Owens, for the first pep rally of the season. As she looked around, she saw many of her students among the masses of cheering teenagers crammed into the stadium. Janine had been a respected member of the special education department at Blue Hills High School for about eight years. She taught students with specific learning disabilities, sometimes in self-contained classes, but more often these days teamed with a regular education teacher.
She searched the crowd for Scott Johnson, one of her 11th grade students whom she and Marsha had been concerned about lately. Finally, she found him sitting with some of his friends, most of whom played football for the Blue Hills Bobcats. "Poor Scott," she said as she pointed him out to Marsha. Last year Scott played on the team too, but this year he was exempt because his grade point average was too low. A new policy in the district required all sports participants to maintain a 2.0 grade point average in order to play.
Janine's heart went out to Scott as the coach introduced the members of the football team one by one. As his friends stood and joined the rest of the team on the field, Janine could almost see Scott shrink inside. "What a shame," Marsha said in a low voice. Football had been the most important thing at school for Scott and Marsha and Janine had used it as an academic incentive for him. Now that was no longer possible and Scott's school work was suffering.
Scott was in Janine and Marsha's second period Geometry class. Marsha was a general education teacher who had taught at Blue Hills for five years. She was sensitive to her students' needs because she had a child with a learning disability and believed that she, herself, had been learning disabled as a child. She and Janine had been teaching together for four years and had worked out a comfortable teaching style. For most of their students with learning disabilities, this arrangement worked well, but for Scott it wasn't working at all.
The teachers remembered Scott from two years ago when he had been in their ninth grade pre-algebra class. From the beginning of the first nine weeks he had struggled, and by Christmas it was apparent that he was failing. Reluctantly, Janine and Marsha recommended that he be put back in the self-contained pre-algebra class for students with specific learning disabilities. They reasoned that the smaller class size and the more individualized, instructional approach would help Scott be successful. He did, in fact, pass the class with a 'C' and the following year was placed in a general education, co-taught algebra class at the request of his parents. He passed with a 'D' but Janine and Marsha both wondered how he had managed. Now, he was in their geometry class and floundering.
Scott and his older brother Doug had been in the program for students with specific learning disabilities since elementary school. Even with the support of their family, both boys had struggled. Scott's deficits in auditory processing, language comprehension and short-term memory made language arts and math difficult for him. He was able to get by in his self-contained, specific learning disabilities English class, but he was reading at only a third grade level. Scott's mother was very vocal about his right to an appropriate education and made her presence known around school. Although she appeared to be supportive of Scott, Janine wondered how much attention Mrs. Johnson actually paid to helping him with homework.
Janine and Marsha's geometry class was unique in that it was designed to be taught with a "hands on" approach. With lots of visual demonstrations and manipulatives, most of the students with learning disabilities were able to grasp the concepts as they were taught. Because of the structure of the class, it was common for group activities to take place throughout the period. But no matter how Marsha and Janine structured the class, Scott appeared to have given up and shut down. Janine wondered if Scott was distracted by all the noise and activity in the class, or if he was just too embarrassed to admit that he was lost and ask for help.
Scott entered the geometry class everyday and tried to look invisible as he took his seat. The class was spending a great deal of time preparing for the upcoming High School Competency Test. As directions were given and students began to open their books, Scott would sit staring blankly into space. Janine tried working with him individually because she knew that he had little background knowledge in math from which to build. He didn't understand formulas or how to plug numbers into them. Decimals still confused him, and he avoided the computer lab like the plague. This frustrated Janine because Scott wasn't even asking for help. Janine suggested that he join some of the other students coming for extra help after school, but he never came.
The teachers often considered how they could get Scott more involved. Marsha was supportive of Janine spending most of her time helping Scott during class, but she was beginning to think that Janine was making herself too available.
"I would like to see Scott initiate the request for help," she suggested to Janine. Janine knew Marsha was right, but she hated to see that desperate look on Scott's face as he sat with his eyes fixed on the floor. When she sat beside him and talked him through the problems, he could get some of them right. Not surprisingly though, by the next day he had usually forgotten everything he had learned.
Scott would have to pass the High School Competency Test in order to graduate from high school with a regular diploma. He would also need to have three math credits including the one for Geometry. He couldn't move to a self-contained class again because there wasn't one offered for Geometry. Marsha and Janine were beginning to wonder whether Scott's passing the High School Competency Test or their course was a realistic possibility.
"His learning disability is so severe," Janine said to Marsha after a particularly trying lesson. "I think we might be placing all of our eggs in one basket by continuing on this path with Scott. I'm not sure it's wise."
"I agree," answered Marsha, "and is it right to put him through this frustration if he can't pass the test anyway?"
The one alternative known to Marsha and Janine was the special diploma, an option offered for students who could not pass the High School Competency Test or get the required number of subject credits. Many students in special education opted for this diploma but in order to earn it, they were required to take a class in employability skills. This class presented Scott with a different type of challenge.
Irene Gunther, the only employability skills teacher at Blue Hills High, had a reputation for setting extremely high standards for her students. Although it was not a course requirement, she insisted that her students hold a job. Anyone who was not able or willing to do so was strongly encouraged to drop her class. When a student did not drop the class under those conditions, Irene succeeded in making their lives miserable. The special education teachers were hesitant to place their students in her class, and teachers and administrators alike chose to avoid confrontations with her.
Scott had signed up for her class last year but did not get a job. Because he played football, Scott's parents felt that working would take too much time away from his schoolwork. Irene, true to form, managed to have Scott's schedule changed. She was not interested in giving Scott a second chance this year.
Janine knew she was facing a multifaceted dilemma with Scott. Should she abandon her attempts to prepare Scott for the High School Competency Test and pull him through Geometry? Should she appeal to Irene to allow Scott back into her class? Given the circumstances, Irene might be reasonable and recognize Scott's need for the course. Because Scott was no longer playing football, he could get a job. But then again, if Irene was true to her reputation, Janine feared they would be setting Scott up for still another failure. How would Scott's parents respond to all of this? Who would they hold responsible if he failed to graduate?
Janine felt the weight of Scott's dilemma on her shoulders. How could she realistically solve this problem while keeping his best interest in mind? "What is the best thing to do for Scott?" Janine asked herself again for the hundredth time.
CEC Competency/Knowledge Areas Addressed in the Case
Demands of various learning environments (e.g., individualized instruction in general education classes)
Importance and benefits of communication and collaboration, which promotes interaction with students, parents, and school and community personnel
Educational implications of characteristics of various exceptionalities
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