Special Education Screening Research Paper

Excerpt from Research Paper :


Students with disabilities or suspected disabilities are evaluated by schools to determine whether they are eligible for special education services and, if eligible to determine, what services will be provided. In many states, the results of this evaluation also affect how much funding assistance the school will receive to meet the students.  This study provides a brief detail historical background on special education screening.  It focuses on the philosophies of leaders in education who have promoted special education services for students. It identifies the Montessori method as significant because it adopts an approach to the screening issue which uniquely views all students as special and deserving of individualized education.


How Screening was Before Becoming Recognized by Law

Part of why special education became an issue in America was the implementation of the standard grade, which “was first introduced in Massachusetts in 1847 in response to the organizational needs of the evolving school system” (Winzer 328). The standard grade implied that all students of the same age were expected to master the same skills and advance at the same time to the next set of curricula. One of the first leading proponents of special education in North America was the psychologist J. E. Wallace Wallin. Part of the Progressive Movement of the early 20th century. Wallin challenged the standard grade concept and “discounted as myth the idea that all children should fit within a standard grade and that schools should assign children to the same grade level on the basis of their ages (Winzer 328). Wallin also highlighted some of the characteristics of special needs students and showed that students with learning disabilities were “almost always irritated, disheartened, depressed or embittered by the progress and not infrequently jibes and ridicule of the normal pupils” (Wallin 390). Wallin asserted that the standard grade concept should be abandoned and that curricula should be more flexible so that a variety of students could receive an education that was tailored to meet their needs. For students who were particularly deficient, he called for “special classes” and applied the term “orthogenic” and “orthophrenic” to the students who exhibited learning disabilities.

By 1900, 20% of all students in public schools in the U.S. were special needs students (Winzer) but through the support of proponents like Wallin, “the first class for mentally retarded children opened in Atlanta in 1915” (Winzer 329). Early identification or screening was conducted through the use of IQ tests, which were deemed “crucial to the advance of special segregated classes” (Winzer 329). The methods for screening relied entirely upon “mental tests, properly used and properly interpreted” (Terman 5). The result was that by 1916, a clinical set of criteria was provided to educators for screening for students with special needs. The IQ test was adopted in several states as a legal basis for determining which students should be assigned to specially segregate special needs classes.

The rise of special needs classes, however, was met with backlash especially among the eugenicists of the time: they wanted to implement their own strategy for solving the problem of the “feebleminded,” as these students were often called. The eugenicists’ solution was to breed them out of existence using methods of forced sterilization. Teaching these students was viewed by opponents of special classes for the learning disabled as a waste of resources and a drain on the national economy (Winzer), yet the number of classes continued to grow: Boston had 9 special needs classes in 1912 and 141 special needs classes by 1941. Along with the growth of these classes, the categorization of special needs students also expanded. Students were “tested, labeled, and slotted into ungraded, auxiliary, opportunity, open-air, steamer, welfare, and other types of classes” (Winzer 331). Screening for hearing impairment did not arrive until the 1920s, but visual impairment was screened for as early as 1899 using a visual function test known as the Snellen chart. This type of screening facilitated educators in identifying students with special sight needs and aided reformers in the development of special classes for the blind or visually impaired. Children with speech impairment issues were identified by signs of “lisping, stammering, and stuttering” and were assigned to special classes as well in the (Winzer 332). Teaching special needs students required a new curriculum. Teachers were specially trained: by 1930, sixteen states required that teachers have special certification to give special education (Winzer 334).

Philosophers and Screening

Dr. Jean Itard and Anne Sullivan are regarded as pioneers in the field of special education (Chia, Kee). Itard was the chief medical officer at the National Institute for the Deaf and Dumb in France in the early 19th century. He rose to prominence for his famed endeavor to educate a severely disabled feral child named Victor, who was said to be raised by wolves. While Itard was working with a child who had suffered from severe mental and behavioral disorders, less severe forms of learning disabilities, such as problems with “task and setting” have been used by teachers to identify special needs students (Mock, Jakubecy, Kauffman). Anne Sullivan was a teacher who gained notoriety for being the tutor of Helen Keller to finally break through using a simple form of communication (touch) and make contact with Helen. Both instructors focused on sense data and sensory information as a means of reaching and communicating with special needs children. What their research showed was that special needs children typically have sensory issues that can be identified. Methods of screening stemmed from this approach to the child’s own experience or sense of the world. According to their philosophies, IQ would have been a poor indicator of whether or not the child needed special education: the indicator was the child’s use of the five senses and whether or not they were being applied. Behavioral assessment was integral to determining which children were learning disabled. The disability, moreover, was viewed as an educational one—not a mental one—by Itard, Sullivan, Sequin and Montessori.

Dr. Edouard Seguin worked with Itard to focus on “education through specific sensory motor exercises” (Mangal 34). Maria Montessori was influenced by the work of Seguin in the following century. Montessori focused on self-learning and institutionalized the concept of a student learning at his or her own pace. In this sense, all children were special needs students. There was no need to differentiate them or to segregate them (as became the practice in America in the early 20th century). As self-learners, they commanded the pace of their own education. The teacher could facilitate that education and push the students to tap their potential—but by tapping into the student’s innate desire to learn and know, the Montessori method provided educators with a new philosophical approach to education—namely that all education was special education.


From IQ testing to behavioral assessment, the method of screening for learning disability has fluctuated over the years. Physical tests that test for visual or hearing impairment are relatively easy to perform and highlight a real sense issue that can be discerned and addressed. It is when no apparent sense issue is identified that the trouble begins—especially for parents who do not want their children to be identified or labeled as learning disabled because of the risk of being held back, segregated from the class, or having a stigma attached to their child that could haunt them their entire life. The threat of stigma is very real for many parents and students today.

It is especially all the more tricky considering the rights of parents and students. As Dewey notes, parents have rights about how their children are labeled and identified in schools and it is important for educators to include parents in the process of screening for learning disability. The modern process of screening is particularly important because schools have been put on notice by various court cases regarding the responsibilities they owe to students and parents. Burriola v. Greater Toledo YMCA (2001), Community Consolidated School District #9 v. John F. (2000) and Cedar Rapids v. Garret F. (1999) are just a few examples of cases where schools have been required to provide special needs education and to do appropriate screening in order to detect whether or not a student with behavioral issues is indeed in need of special education services. The policy of manifest determination, adhered to in many school districts, is that administrators and educators must respond to a request made by a parent to assess a student who has been in trouble for behavioral issues. The school must do an assessment of the child to see if the student is having behavioral issues because of a learning disability. In many cases, the student’s learning disability is not discovered otherwise. In many cases, students with learning disabilities are simply passed along year after year because the concept of social promotion (a student should stay with his or her peers in the same age group for the entirety of…

Sources Used in Document:


Chia, Noel Kok Hwee, and Norman Kiak Nam Kee. \"Professional development of special needs therapists through Lesson Study within the Triple-D model of special education in Singapore.\" World Association of Lesson Studies 8th Annual Conference. 2012.

Dewey, J. The School and Society and the Child and the Curriculum. IL: University of Chicago Press, 2013.

Drasgow, E., Bradley, R., Shriner, J. “The IDEA amendments of 1997.” Education and Treatment of Children, 22,3, 1999: 244-266.

Frey, N. “Retention, social promotion, and academic redshirting.” Remedial and Special Education, 26,6, 2005: 332-346.

Koonce. G. Taking sides: Clashing views on educational issues expanded (18 Ed.). McGraw Hill Publishers, 2016.

Mangal, S. K. Educating Exceptional Children: An Introduction in Special Education. Delhi: PHI Learning, 2007

Mock, Devery; Jennifer Jakubecy and James Kauffman. “Special Education—Current Trends, Preparation of Teachers, International Context—History of.” http://education.stateuniversity.com/pages/2438/Special-Education.html

Morgan, G. Images of Organization. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2006. Office of Specialized Services. “Manifest Determination.”

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