Monday, September 15, 2008

nearly half of california special ed students fail high school exit exam

Today I read an interesting piece in the Los Angeles times about the relatively new high school exit exam that has been mandatory in california for a bit of time now. 2008 was the first year that special ed students were required to take it alongside their nonhandicapped peers.

In spite of the pie-in-the-sky promises of the IDEA, ABA for autistic children etc., it came as no surprise that only 53.8% of those special ed students passed the exam while 46.2% failed. So nearly half of all children in the california high school classes of 2008 who receive special ed services won't be receiving their diplomas. By comparison 93.6% of non-handicapped high schoolers passed the exam.

Sid Wolinsky from Disability Rights Advocates who tried to exempt special ed kids from the exam was quoted as saying that the psychologic damage to these children is horrific. Dozens of parents of these children offered Wolinsky sworn declarations of their children's depression from failure of the exam. It must be noted that the California state law only applies to public schools and private school students are exempt. It was the class of 2006 who was first required to take this test. Special education students were exempt in 2006 and 2007.

State supt of public instruction, Jack O'Connell who sponsored the exit exam bill for then governor Gray Davis was quoted as saying that exempting special ed students from the exit exam was not helping them and setting them up for failure in the workplace.

One of the reasons for passage of the Education for all handicapped act in 1975 (later to become the individuals with disabilities education act when it was reauthorized in 1991) was that if handicapped students were to receive educational opportunities, that this would help them succeed in the workplace and welfare, SSI, etc. would be greatly decreased for those handicapped children who received IEPs under this law. Someone named Jacobson also did a cost benefit analysis of ABA for autistic children stating the exorbitant costs of ABA therapy were greatly exceeded by the costs of a life on the dole and claimed that ABA was saving autistic children from life on the dole. The quality of science in this analyses was typically very bad, as no adult outcomes have been published in the peer reviewed literature for ABA. Jacobson only used an informal presentation at a conference to prove ABA's efficacy in preparing adult autistics for the workplace.

The IDEA has now been in existence for over 30 years, spending on special education increased 60 fold in less than a 30 year period. One has to wonder if the nearly half of special ed students who failed the exit exam won't have significant problems in the workforce starting at age 22 when they are aged out of special ed services. Perhaps it is time for reexamination of the IDEA and whether or not this law should be abolished.


Jamie Sue said...

In Ohio I have the option of sending my son to public school or applying a twenty thousand dollar education voucher to the cost of private schooling. I believe this is an excellent program, however my options are still very limited. Schools that specialize in Autism are few and far between and waiting lists for ABA therapists that can accept vouchers are long. I've so far had a very difficult time deciding between continuing in our public school system (which is doing great with my son in preschool but I fear will fail with him once they require him to stay confined in a more restrictive environment) and trying an alternative environment.

Unknown said...


How does the general statistic you cited relate to ABA in ANY way? Have American school children with autism who failed these exams been receiving intensive ABA therapy between ages 2 - 5 and how much ABA after age 5? Can you provide any numbers and sources?


jonathan said...

ABA is one of the treatments of choice for special ed students with autism in california. This is in spite of the fact no peer reviewed research has shown ABA efficacious without physical punishment which have been outlawed in california when the hughes act was introduced in 1991. It is a safe bet to assume that many of the nearly 50% who failed the exit exam were students with autism who had undergone ABA. It suggests to me that ABA is a failure. But in California ABA without aversives has been falsely promoted as lovaas has claimed that the physical aversives he used between 1970 and 1987 in his 1987 published study were no longer necessary and he was able to get the same results without aversives in spite of neglecting to provide any peer review publications. The high failure rate of the high school exit exam suggests to me that ABA has not been helpful for these kids.

Unknown said...


I am already familiar with your opinion about ABA. Your opinion though differs radically from those of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the US Surgeon General's office, the New York State Department of Health and the Maine Autism Task Force (MADSEC) all of which reviewed hundreds of studies over several decades and concluded that ABA is supported by those studies as an effective autism intervention that helps improve several important areas including behavioral, communication, social and intellect.

In response to my request for numbers and sources to support your conclusions correlating special ed high school failures and ABA you provided the following:

"It is a safe bet to assume"
"It suggests to me"

In other words you have no information or sources to show what numbers of the failing special ed students in question received ABA, for how long, at what ages, or at what developmental level were they when they started.

Against the AAP, US Surgeon General, NYDOH, and MADSEC reviews of ABA based effectiveness you have offered "safe bets", assumptions and suggestions. I will stick with the APP, NYDOH, MADSEC and the US Surgeon General.

Anonymous said...

ABA has nothing to do with academics. It relates to speech therapy and a bit of language/pragmatics, including the "W" questions and figures of speech which is not much different compared to preparing for the SAT.

ABA and other speech therapy programs are 'jump-start' programs for autistics- that's not much different compared to giving kids homework in preschool today.

Just as professionals have been figuring out dyslexia doesn't always mean you mix letters and words up, they're figuring things out for ASDs NOW. That's why language therapy currently exists.
When Hurricane Andrew hit South Florida, it caused hectic damage due to no shutters. Now that we have shutters, we have FAR better protection. The same thing applies to us individuals on the autistic spectrum. Yes, our lives are a prank in a way. People who spend all their precious time on the Internet don't even know they could be getting my kind of help, and it's sad.

Unfortunately, no one seems to give a shit due to a lack of PR within this type of program. I get told by my pathologist, "But you can't control people!" Well lady, don't you and other pathologists want to get paid even further? I could be stopping all the chaos (i.e. inability to regulate rules and standards, rigidity, being hypersensitive) going on from all the different messages boards like WrongPlanet but it seems it will never happen. :(