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April 28, 2003

Seventh-grade son regresses to first-grade level

From: New York Daily News, NY - Apr 28, 2003

Mom gives special ed 'F'
Monday, April 28th, 2003

Seventh-grader Julian Soto could read better when he was in fifth grade.

And every day the Queens 13-year-old spends in special education classes at Intermediate School 227 seems to put him further behind, his mother said.

"He's going backwards, not forwards," Ivette Soto said.

The state is set to release statistics today showing how few city special ed students succeed, despite the $2 billion poured into the system annually. Schools Chancellor Joel Klein has vowed to improve special ed as part of his schools overhaul.

Julian's experience, education advocates say, reads like a textbook case of what's going wrong in special ed classrooms.

Julian is partially deaf in his right ear - but there aren't any classes specifically for students with moderate hearing loss.

Instead, he's stuck in a class with 11 other students with a mix of disabilities - including children with obvious emotional problems, his mother said.

"We don't get a lot done because some of the kids jump around and act crazy," said Julian, adding he was bit on the arm by a classmate in December. "They like fighting, and yelling."

Julian's mother wants him moved to a class with fewer students with emotional problems - and more of a focus on academics.

School officials told her Julian is fine where he is - a position that belies his declining academic performance.

'Setting him up to fail'

Julian was in second grade when he was diagnosed with a hearing problem, and was placed in a special ed class the next school year.

By the end of fifth grade, he was reading at a third-grade level. An evaluation completed last month showed the seventh-grader now reads at a first-grade level. He cannot do long division or multiply double digits.

But in the topsy-turvy world of special ed, Julian is one of the better students, with an 81 average. He notched an 85 in reading on his January report card.

"It's not real grades, it's in comparison to the rest of the class. But how does that prepare my son for high school? They are setting him up to fail," Soto said.

But a school psychologist glowingly reported in February that Julian "appears to be benefiting from his present education program."

If anything is wrong, it's Julian's behavior, according to his teacher. "At this point his activity level/impulsiveness and distractibility are more of an impediment to his learning than his hearing," the teacher wrote in a recent report.

The school psychologist described Julian as a focused student who followed the rules, constantly volunteered to be called on and gave correct answers.

Still, the psychologist noted that the teacher said Julian's behavior that day was "not typical for him." The psychologist said Julian kept turning around, "suggesting he was aware that he was being observed, and that he was modifying his behaviors."

Ellen McHugh, head of the advocacy group Parent to Parent of New York, said the school system needs the adjustment, not Julian. "A seventh-grader who reads like a first-grader has a right to be frustrated and antsy," she said. "It's the program that's failed, not the kid."

© 2002 Daily News, L.P.