Success in Special Education Programs Relies on the Help of Master’s-Prepared Teachers
Since the implementation of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 2004, the state of Texas has been struggling to adopt the standardized mandates required for federal assistance for special education.
Like many states, Texas is coping with an epidemic of autism in its public school system. According to the Autism Society of Central Texas, the prevalence of autism diagnoses increased 119 percent from 2000 to 2010, making it the fastest growing developmental disability in the country.
One in every two hundred Texas students has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The rate is not the highest in the nation, but since Texas is such a populous state, that puts it at number two in terms of the total number of ASD students nationwide, with nearly 12,000.
The requirements for coping with so many ASD students are breathtaking. Again, according to the Autism Society of Central Texas, it costs an extra $8,600 per year, on average, for each ASD student in the school system. This is over and above the $12,000 annual cost for each student. And the cost to society is higher yet—only 20 percent of disabled people participate in the workforce after graduation.
Slow Improvements in Special Education Across Texas
The Texas Education Agency (TEA) is responsible for overseeing special education and distributing funding within the state. Despite suffering a “Needs Intervention” rating from the federal government, since 2005 TEA has managed to improve graduation rates among students with IEPs (Individual Education Program), from 74 percent to almost 80 percent.
Better yet, the drop-out rate for IEP students has plummeted from a high of around eleven percent to only around two percent as of the last time this information was published in 2013.
One area where Texas schools excel, however, is in using master’s-educated teachers to identify students in need of special assistance in the first place. Using a program called Child Find, 98 percent of students that were identified as candidates for special needs programs got an evaluation within 60 days from a qualified assessment professional.
Master’s-Trained Special Educators Make Sacrifices to Help Students
One of those trained professionals is San Elizario teacher Irene Salom.
Salom is a fourth and fifth grade elementary school special education teacher at Sambrano Elementary School. She also happens to be Texas’ 2013 Elementary School Teacher of the Year.
Her path to that high honor was unexpected. While attaining her master’s degree, Salom found herself sidetracked by financial concerns. With a grad school background in providing therapy for autistic children, it was an easy jump to become a special education teacher.
Unexpectedly, however, the work really resonated for Salom. Through the years, Salom has described how she felt enormously gratified by the progress she sees from her students. She remains committed to helping them lead as normal a scholastic career as possible, co-teaching a science class with a general education teacher to keep special needs students with their peers, and involving them in special programs like the school Christmas pageant and talent show.
With master’s-trained teachers like Irene Salom at the helm of Texas special education classes, the state’s exceptional students are in very good hands.