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Can high-achieving students with special needs take AP courses?

Last year, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein said he wanted to increase the number of students passing Advanced Placement tests. But for high-achieving kids with special needs, taking AP classes can be near impossible.

This week, I talked to a parent about how hard it was for her to find a high school that says it will offer AP classes to her child, a high-achieving eighth-grader who is legally required to be placed in a team-teaching setting.

Specifically, this student must be in a Collaborative Team Teaching class, where two teachers, one with special education certification, work with a class made up of some students who have special needs and some who do not.

Despite her careful research, the mother told me, it hasn’t always been clear which high schools will meet her child’s needs. In the high school directory released each year by the DOE, most selective schools say they will offer special education services “as needed.” Some schools have reputations for including kids with all kids of special needs in their most challenging courses, but others do not.

When the mother spoke to an administrator at one high school well known for its special education programs, he told her that the school does not offer AP courses in the CTT format. Instead, he recommended that she try to have her child’s needs legally recategorized to require general education classes. That way, the administrator said, her child could take AP classes and receive extra help or counseling during the school day. But her child wouldn’t be in the most appropriate class setting.

AP classes aren’t guaranteed, and schools make the decision whether to offer them, DOE spokeswoman Maibe Maibe Fuentes-Gonzalez told me. Because CTT classes are mandated to have a 60:40 ratio of general education to special education students, it could be hard for schools with few high-achieving kids with special needs to provide AP classes for them. Small schools in particular could have trouble opening AP classes to students who require a CTT setting.

“Resources are limited, and not every school offers every option,” Maggie Moroff of Advocates for Children told me. “If it is true that the only way that this young person can be served is in a CTT class, and can do the AP academics, then the DOE should be working with this particular student to find a school that offers that, but it can’t force a particular school to offer that.”

But Moroff said it’s tough to figure out before enrolling which high schools offer what kinds of services. That’s why AFC is pushing for the DOE to improve access to information about special education, said.

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