Intellectual Disability in the Classroom

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed. MLIS

I remember learning about the bell curve. There was a continuum shaped like a bell on which each child’s intellectual abilities could be placed. The most intellectually able children resided over to the right, and the least over to the left. The “average” kids were the biggest group so they fit in the middle where the bell is fat.

performers graph

IQ tests are developed to help us find the exact placement for each child on the curve. The tests remain controversial even today; the environment plays such a big role in each child’s upbringing, it’s difficult to know what the causes of any child’s ability may be.

In September, we take time to assess and reassess students for this placement. The assessments are very different from the academic achievement tests we use in the spring that are aligned with learning standards. It always seems each year presents us with a new set of tests.

Once we determine the standard deviation measured for a child’s learning ability, we try to provide the best classroom placements for them. Children with significant deficits will remain in self-contained classrooms. Children with “learning disabilities” will stay in the regular classroom but perhaps be pulled out to be supported further in a resource room. Here, the emphasis is placed on reading instruction, but in some districts, students are given two resource assignments, one for general learning support, and a period each day with the reading teacher.

The costs for all these services are astronomical and rising every year. But no one has yet to develop a better way of meeting the needs of our increasingly diverse populations. We call it an investment in our future. Each child has a part to play in the nation’s economy; it is the role of the school to provide the best foundation for learning. By and large, we do a fairly good job, despite loud voices asserting the contrary.

Intellectual disability is complex, defining it is difficult. There are websites that describe the phenomenon, I’ve listed some here.

This is a very general discussion of a huge subject. In future blogs, I’ll try to expand on it and provide some resources for the regular classroom teacher who is struggling to find ways to work with their lowest performing children.

Help guide this blog, let me know what your challenges are. I may feature your class or school in upcoming blog entries.


Grant Name: Foundation Grants

Funded By: Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation

Description: Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation supports innovative projects that help youth with disabilities develop the leadership and employment skills they need to succeed, particularly for careers in science, technology and the environment. MEAF will also consider projects to create tools that help break down barriers to employment and increase job opportunities for young people with disabilities entering the workforce, including returning veterans with disabilities.

Program Areas:   Disabilities, General Education, Professional Development, Science/Environmental, Special Education, Technology, Vocational

Eligibility: Public School, Private School, Higher Education, Other

Proposal Deadline: 6/1/2015

Annual Total Amount: $400,000.00

Average Amount: $1,000.00 – $10,000.00

Address: 1560 Wilson Blvd., Ste. 1150, Arlington, VA 22209-2463

Telephone: 703-276-8240

Website: Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation

Availability: All States

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