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Testing delays special needs help: expert

By Ada Slivinski, 24 Hours Vancouver



With class composition a major sticking point in the ongoing labour dispute with teachers, a special education expert says part of the problem is early support and intervention is delayed while waiting for testing to assign children with specific special needs labels.


Linda Siegel, University of British Columbia’s special education chair, said the system encourages special needs testing because of the extra support and funding that goes with that label. But the long waiting period before kids can be diagnosed means they often don’t get the help they need right away, she said.

“What’s required is intensive testing of the child and often that is delayed as much as two years so that when parents and teachers notice difficulties, the child does not get tested and so the child doesn’t get help or doesn’t really get very much help because they don’t have the designation of having a learning disability,” she said.

According to statistics from the Ministry of Education, there were 16,163 classes with four or more children who had individualized education plans last year. The ministry said in a statement that this is a deliberate increase.

“Instead of an educational assistant being asked to split his/her time between your students in separate classrooms it makes better sense to group these students together,” the ministry said.

The BC Teachers’ Federation has argued that having fewer special needs students per class is better as it reduces pressure on the classroom teacher.

Siegel said the best long-term solution is to improve early childhood education.

“We can prevent a lot, not all, but a lot of learning disabilities by giving good classroom instruction in kindergarten and Grade 1 and that prevents a lot of problems from developing,” she said.


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