Enrollment in special education for the state of Texas has gone down from 11.9 percent of all student enrollment for the 2001-2002 school year, to 8.8 percent for the 2011-2012 school year, according to a December 2012 report compiled by the Texas Education Agency.

Despite this trend, projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics predict that the need for special education teachers will continue to grow into the year 2020. This report states that the employment of special education teachers will raise by 17 percent from 2010 to 2020, and the main reasons for this growth are increasing enrollment and a “continued demand for special education services.”

The BLS findings also project that while in secondary and elementary schools overall enrollment should continue to grow, that growth will not be equal throughout all grades. In the aforementioned TEA report, special education is defined as offering “instructional and related services for eligible students with cognitive, physical, and/or emotional disabilities.”

This definition encompasses a broad range of special needs, and therefore requires a large number of teachers with different skill sets and specialties within special education. This also means that the students enrolled in special education each have vastly differing academic abilities.

Within the Graham Independent School District, for example, special education programs include deaf education, L.I.F.E Skills (Living Independently in Functional Environments), vocational adjustment classes and inclusion/mainstream classrooms.

Further, disabilities that qualify a student as eligible for special education services in GISD form a wide spectrum, from students with visual, speech or auditory impairment, to students with learning disabilities to students with autism or other intellectual disabilities.

Director of Special Education for GISD Karen Howard said that one probable reason for the decrease in special education enrollment in Texas lies in what are called interventions. Interventions are essentially preemptive steps conducted by teachers that help determine where a student may need to be placed.

“Our referral rate began to go down,” Howard said of the decreasing number of students being enrolled in special education programs due to increased interventions. “Each year, we become as a district stronger and stronger in our intervention procedures.”

Read the entire story in Wednesday's edition of The Graham Leader.