Better Late Than Never?

Since as far back as October I have suspected that not all was right with two of my students. One I introduced earlier as Bambi, a quiet (practically mute), wide-eyed girl. Her number sense is limited at best and many times she seems completely lost when presented with an independent task. The other was a student I described watching during the ELA exam. I mentioned my frustration and sadness at the time, knowing he will very likely fail the exam. I knew this because the boy reads at first grade level. It is likely he will fail the math exam next week, because his math skills are equally limited. In spite of glaring deficiencies in both students, I am just now getting help in referring them for evaluation of special needs. The question, as usual, is why? Why did it take so long?

There's two answers I can give. The one that lets me off the hook a bit is that I asked several people about both students when I first assessed them in the fall. At every turn I was given the impression that getting a special ed referral was very difficult, if not near impossible. "Don't waste your time," seemed to be the general idea. In order to get the referral I was told I needed a long paper trail and had to prove I had tried numerous academic interventions that had failed. I think the saddest part is the impression I got that I should accept the deficiencies of these students as part of the overall problem of teaching at a school like mine. In other words, just because a student was reading three grades below level and struggling with basic addition and subtraction was no reason for red flags to go up.

Now the second explanation is one where I accept more of the onus. The truth is it shouldn't matter what I was being told. I knew, even as a novice, that these students needed some sort of evaluation. I should have been more persistent and pursued an evaluation much more aggressively. The year is more than halfway done and who knows how much longer it will be before the process of evaluation is complete. That is just wasted time for these students. Time that they could have spent either getting extra help outside the classroom, or maybe even learning in a self-contained classroom if necessary. A teacher is first and foremost an advocate for their students. It's too bad I didn't speak up for them sooner.

Of course the truth is probably somewhere between these two explanations. I didn't really know what I was doing back in October and I felt I was getting mixed messages. Furthermore, these students have had many other teachers before me, and nobody else bothered to say something. I know that doesn't absolve me, but at least I can hope these two students will finally get the kind of help they need.


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