Guest Discussion: Adult Learning Disability Populations within Secure, Correctional Facilities

Hello to group members from Disabilities and Corrections,

Final preparations are being made for our joint guest discussion between the Disabilities in Adult Education group and the Correctional Education group.  The title will be Learning Disability Populations within Secure, Correctional Facilities.  It will begin on Monday, January 12th and will run through Wednesday, January 14, 2015.

Our LINCS Community will host Dr. Brant Choate and Steve Good from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and San Francisco Sheriff’s Department Five Keys Charter Schools respectively, which provide education services to San Francisco and Los Angeles’ County Jails.

With the goal of examining how to best provide adult education services to students with learning disabilities, this conversation will be of particular interest to adult education personnel including those in correctional facilities as well as support personnel, program planners, career and technical educators, curriculum developers, assessment personnel, and professional developers.

To benefit from this unique discussion, make sure that you keep up with messages throughout each day.  As always, your participation, comments, and questions will be very much appreciated.

To prepare for this discussion, you can review these three LINCS Disabilities Collection and Correctional Education resources:

   1.  Understanding the Complexities of Offenders’ Special Learning Needs

   2.  A Reentry Education Model: Supporting Education and Career Advancement for Low-Skill Individuals in Corrections

   3.   Unlocking Potential: Results of a National Survey of Postsecondary Education in State Prisons


Group members have already posted some wonderful questions to guide the guest speakers.  I am posting those questions below:

   1.  What are the statistics and incidence/prevalence figures relating to Learning Disabilities within secure environments?

   2.  In what types of secure environments are adults with LD placed?

   3.  How are learning disabilities diagnosed in secure facilities/classrooms?

   4.  Are inmates tested in their native language if LD is suspected, and what diagnostic exams are used?

   5.   In what percentage of cases are incoming inmates already diagnosed with LD?

   6.   What other disabilities are prevalent in existing inmates?

   7.   What are some of the constraints on correctional education in serving adult students that have learning disabilities?

   8.   If students self-identify as a person with a disability, what services are available to them in a prison or jail classroom?

   9.   What LD-specific professional development best suits the needs of educators in secure classrooms?

   10.   What types of critical job skills training programs are available to students with LD in correctional facilities?

   11.   What kinds of motivators/rewards can teachers use in correctional facilities?

   12.   How does recidivism relate to the need for continuing practice for students with LD?

   13.   How does the process of requesting accommodations for the GED Testing work in correctional facilities?

   14.   What is the passing rate for students in your programs that receive accommodations on the GED Tests?

   15.   Do inmates with LD use computer-based tests in a secure facility?

   16.   Since all the advantages of using the Internet for instruction don't apply in secure facilities, what do teachers utilize in place of that strategy?

   17.   Are correctional facilities able to implement any form of technology in secure classrooms?

   18,   What are some of the best curriculum resources that teachers from the field recommend?

   19.   Can manipulatives be used in correctional facilities?   If so, how are they being used?

   20.  What other instructional strategies are teachers using to help their incarcerated students improve their literacy? 


If you have additional questions prior to the Jan. 12, 2015 start date, please continue to post them here.

Kindly use this discussion thread for all your responses.  The guest speakers will begin posting their content onto this discussion thread.

I am really looking forward to this great start to the new year!!


Thank you,

Rochelle Kenyon, SME - Disabilities in Adult Education


Heather Erwin, SME - Correctional Education




Hi group members,

In only two more days, our joint guest speaker event will commence within this discussion thread.  

I have the pleasure of reporting that we will have an additional guest speaker, Jennifer Zamora, joining Dr. Brant Choate and Steve Good.  Jennifer Zamora is the Director of Special Education for Five Keys Charter School, the first charter school in the country to operate inside of an adult correctional facility. She holds two teaching credentials, a Masters in Special Education, an MBA, and has been working in education since 2002. Her experience as an educator has ranged from infants to transitional aged youth throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. A considerable amount of that time has been spent working in low income areas of San Francisco where she worked with at risk youth on emergent literacy skills and now with incarcerated transitional aged youth and adults with learning disabilities.

Anyone with additional questions for the speakers can post them as a reply to this message.

Thank you,

Rochelle Kenyon, SME


Ms. Zamora, Dr. Choate and Mr. Good,

In Florida we use the customary academic skills tests for adults:

TABE, CASAS, General Assessment in Instructional Needs (GAIN), English Skills Forms A & B and GAIN Math Skills Forms A & B.

For ESOL students we use CASAS, Basic English Skills Test (BEST), BEST Literacy, and Employability Competency System Reading Skills for English Literacy for Career and Technical Education (ELCATE), and Tests for Adult  Basic Education Complete Language Assessment - English (TABE CLAS-E)

My question is what assessments do you use for a student with a documented disability, and the assessments above are not an accurate measure of the student's ability, which assessments do you use?

For students who are under 22 and have a documented or suspected disability, we use the Woodcock-Johnson III  (academic version) and the WIAT to test academic skills and a variety of cognitive assessments depending on the disability including TAPS, BASC and TOMAL. Our whole student population is TABE tested and our teacher  use Dibbles for our literacy students. 

Hi Pamela,


I work with Brant Choate and am in charge of the EOP [Enhanced Outpatient Program e.g. severely emotionally disturbed,] and the Develpmentally Disabled Program (DDP) and the Disabilty Placement Program (DPP) [physically disabled]  in the State of California. When an inmate comes to the institution we do not screen for learning disbilites. Where they have a learning disability that is documented in an earlier IEP, we use that finding to create an indivdually tailored education plan ITEP which is implemented by the teacher.

All inmates in the DDP who have been further assigned to education programs  have a TABE Complete Battery Reading score and an Individually Tailored Education Plan (ITEP) that is reviewed every six months to establish goals and make accommodations to the program to enable the inmate to progress. We may also administer the Woodcock Johnson battery of tests.

The teacher is  responsible for implementing the recommended reasonable accommodations. Reasonable accommodations include, but are not limited to, providing supplemental “pull-out” assistance to allow for a student to be pulled out of the regular classroom to receive specific assistance for an identified need. 






Thank you, David, for contributing to this discussion.  

I am so pleased that you mentioned other types of disabilities, including emotionally disturbed, developmentally disabled, and physically impaired.  Within secure facilities, you surely have students representing every religion, race, skin color, country of origin, language, and disability.  Combining that diversity with the already mentioned barriers makes Correctional Education a remarkably challenging endeavor.

Kudos to you, our speakers, and all the educational staff for giving inmates 2nd, 3rd, and 4th chances to improve and complete their education.

Rochelle Kenyon, SME


Hi group members,

Good morning to everyone.  I am pleased to welcome our new members to this Disabilities in Adult Education group.  

Since our guest speakers work in California which is in the Pacific Standard Time zone, the discussion will not begin until later in the morning.  Please make sure to  check your Group messages into the evening if you are on the east coast.

Our three guest speakers, Dr. Brant Choate, Steve Good, and Jen Zamora will deliver informative information about LD and Corrections.  Don't miss it!

Rochelle Kenyon, SME


Good morning everyone,

I am happy to be here to share some of my experiences working at Five Keys Charter, specifically with who receive special education services. My lens will be students who qualify for special education services up to the age 22 since the majority of my work is with this piece of our school population. 

I would like to thank my administrative assistant Joe Durant for his help sifting through research. 

Thank you!

Hello Jennifer,

It is such a pleasure to have you join us to deliver this interesting topic.  I am most interested in whatever research you can share with us.

Can you describe California's state law that covers special education?  Does it pertain to children ages 3 until their 22nd birthday?  How does your state law relate to inmates with disabilities under the age of 22?

Thank you,

Rochelle Kenyon, Subject Matter Expert

Disabilities in Adult Education


For students under 22 years old, the general process for identifying students with an educationally related disability, and subsequently an IEP, comes through self-disclosure at the time of enrollment or after, transcript analysis that disclose a possible RSP or SDC course, and teacher observations. The Los Angeles Sheriff Department gathers self-reported special education data on all people being booked but we do not have access to the statistical information they gather in their initial intakes.

If a student has an educationally related disability and they have an IEP, we can offer them supports through an educational specialist working closely with the general education teacher to assess, design and implement curriculum. The student may be eligible for other accommodations that change the way they receive the information or the way the demonstrate mastery of a skill depending on their disability.  There may be some accommodations on testing like the California High School Exit Exam or summative assessments. Also, according to their educational needs, they can be provided with services like one-to-one teaching, educationally related mental health sessions and all students with an IEP are provided with college and career awareness.

The biggest difficulty lies when a student is identified as having Emotional Disturbance and their behavior plans written at their old school, could not work with in the confines of an incarcerated facility. Often, these behavior plans include being able to go to a different room, listening to their music on their phone, calling someone or taking a walking break. We try to interpret these behavior plans knowing the confines of our environment and also understanding that the student should be the driving factor in the building of their IEP. We hold student centered IEP’s that give the educational power and knowledge to the student as is the spirit of IEP’s for all transitional aged youth. We rely heavily on the student’s direction in the accommodations they need to successfully access curriculum in their classrooms. When we review previous IEP accommodations and services with students, they often scoff at what was written before as it didn’t address their real issue or it was a one size fixes all scenario the previous school used.

A lot of the research around disabilities in incarcerated facilities comes from studies looking at juvenile populations. Students in general show that students with disabilities are overrepresented in correctional facilities in the United States. Researchers have come to the conclusion that there are many factors that lead to this cause including; large numbers of youth that end up in correctional facilities are a product of the foster care system, students that fail to attend school regularly pre-incarceration, and/or students were not previously identified as having a disability. Further, 20% of students that are suspended are identified as having LD. Student who have been identified as having a disability are twice as likely to drop out of school (Hogan, Bullock and Fritsch 2010).

Juveniles that are identified as having ED or LD are arrested at higher rates than non-disabled peers. Youth populations that are incarcerated are found to have LD at around 70%. 20% of students who are identified as ED are arrested at least once before they leave traditional schools, while only 6% of students in general are arrested. Between 30 and 70% of juveniles housed in correctional facilities qualify for special education services. (As cited in Allen-Deboer, Malmgren and Glass). ED continues to be the highest prevalence of determined disabilities. This makes up 47.7% of all juveniles with disabilities in correctional facilities.  In traditional schools only 8.1 percent of students have disabilities; with 8.1 percent receiving special education instruction specifically for ED (Burrell and Warboys 2000). 

African-Americans and Hispanics are overrepresented in special education populations specifically in LD, intellectual disabilities (formally mental retardation), and serious emotional disturbances. There is a high correlation between these disabilities and school failure, delinquency and imprisonment (Rousseau and Davenport 1993). 

Works Cited

Burrell, S. and Warboys, L. (2000). Special Education and the Juvenile Justice System. U.S. Department of Justice/Office of Justice Programs/Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention

Hogam, K., Bullock, L., & Fritsch, J. (2010) Meeting the Transition Needs of Incarcerated Youth with Disabilities. Journal of Correctional Education. 61(2), 133.

Macomber, D., Skiba, T., Blackmon, J., Esposito, E., Hart, L., Mambrino, E., Richie T, & Grigorenko, E., (2010) Education in Juvenile Detention Facilities in the State of Connecticut. Journal of Correctional Education. 61 (3), 223-261.



The numbers you quote are interesting and thought provoking.  If 70% of incarcerated youth are LD, this begs the question as to how we could prevent incarceration by changing the way we educate.  I realize there are many other social factors such as foster youth, fatherless households, etc... Can the school system take over the responsibility of parenting?  As a school administrator, I walk through my schools and occasionally see adult students sitting in rows working indepentently in workbooks.  Isn't that tht reason these folks dropped out of school in the first place?  School is boring... or at least it can be.



Hello Dr. Choate,

Welcome to you and thanks so much for agreeing to join us in delivering this important discussion.

Incidence and prevalence information have always interested me.  Are the numbers that you and Jennifer are citing just for California or for all incarcerated youth in general?

There are a multitude of factors that lead to incarceration which are further exacerbated by the deficits related to disabilities.  If the way we educate students could eliminate these factors, how would you suggest we do that?


Rochelle Kenyon, SME

Disabilities in Adult Education group



The numbers are national, but consistent with what we find in California. In California, we have over 60,000 inmates enrolled in some form of school inside state prison. Over 50% do not read at the 9th grade level. For those who qualify for education (medical, security, need, etc...) they are mandatorily placed in an Adult Basic Education program to enhance their reading skills. As I visit the classrooms, I wonder how we could improve instruction using research based adult learning theory. If most of our students suffer from some form of learning disability, how can we improve our methodology? Why are we putting these students through the same thing they dropped out of when they were younger? Do we just take advantage of their "captivity" and try to force school upon them again, the the same way that failed them in the past? Some studies suggest that 75% of all incarcerated males are kinesthetic learners. If so... what would have happened to these folks if their education were more kinesthetic when they were younger? How do you teach kinesthetic lessons in a prison classroom where both movement and space is limited?  Being captive is no excuse for poor instruction--better teaching improves public safety.

Your thoughts??


Hi Brant,

The national numbers that have been stated match what I am familiar with.  In Florida and elsewhere as I have learned, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) appears in approximately 60-80% of inmates.  Since LD and ADHD are comorbid disorders, they often appear together in the same student.  It is no wonder that incarcerated youth and adults that have two or more disorders would have great difficulty learning and progressing in any school environment.  Your are absolutely right in asking why we put them through the same thing they dropped out of when they were younger.  In my opinion, the reason is we don't know any better.   Teachers are not getting the appropriate PD to learn those strategies and techniques that students need to overcome their barriers.  When teachers teach the way they learn, it will not be effective for LD/ADHD students that learn in a completely different way.  Teaching kinesthetically, as you stated, can be successful, but overlay the barriers of incarceration and you know what the results will be.

Rochelle Kenyon

While we are looking at ADD/ADHD and other LD - I don't think we can move to far forward without including PTSD in the discussion.

From the article: How Childhood Trauma Could Be Mistaken for ADHD

"These children lived in households and neighborhoods where violence and relentless stress prevailed. Their parents found them hard to manage and teachers described them as disruptive or inattentive. Brown knew these behaviors as classic symptoms of ADHD, a brain disorder characterized by impulsivity, hyperactivity, and an inability to focus.

When Brown looked closely, though, she saw something else: trauma. Hyper-vigilance and dissociation, for example, could be mistaken for inattention. Impulsivity might be brought on by a stress response in overdrive."

For the teaching and learning experience, it is critical to understand if our students are suffering from PTSD. 



Hello Kathy,

I completely agree that this is an essential element in understanding our incarcerated student population's needs.  It is not enough to say that students with Learning Disabilities (diagnosed and undiagnosed, as Dr. Choate pointed out in an earlier post) are over-represented in correctional facilities.  We need to acknowledge the cause and address that particular need.  Sunny Schwartz, who founded the education program at San Francisco jails and currently does work with Steve and Jen at Five Keys, has been vigilant in addressing additional student needs.  She developed a ground-breaking anger management program that enables incarcerated individuals to move beyond some of the violence and trauma of their youth into a place of relative peace and greater understanding, which then promotes a greater ability to achieve educational gains.

I understand the budgetary and human resource constraints that State and County systems face -- I really do.  But there are a lot of people doing a lot of amazingly innovative things with little resources or state backing. Technology is also a great equalizer in it's ability to deliver specific, low-cost programming across a large population.  These are all challenges we need to continue acknowledging and obstacles we need to continue knocking down.

Hi Kathy,

I appreciate your recommendation of the article, How Childhood Trauma Could Be Mistaken for ADHD.   I plan to read it tonight.

We know so little about the students that sit right in front of us in class.  They have so many layers that we can't peel back with the limited tools we have. Despite all that, teachers can do a remarkable job of helping students reach their potential.

Rochelle Kenyon


I have read the article "How Childhood Trauma Could Be Mistaken for ADHD". I currently teach inmates who have serious mental health conditions and I see this all the time. I have a young student right now who I believed had a classic case of ADHD. In fact, in his IEP we wrote goals to increase his on-task behavior through Functional Behavioral Assessments. In only a few short months, this student has no problem whatsoever with attention and being on task in class. But I can't say that his behavior is necessarily better because of the evaluations. I believe he is better because he is in a safe classroom environment where his needs are being met. He does not have to have be hypervigilant and on his guard all the time. He feels comfortable taking risks in answering questions wrong and he enjoys what he is learning. This article made me think of this student and made me wonder whether or not he really has ADHD or whether he just feels threatened all the time. I highly recommend this article. Makes ya think...

Hi Kris,

The suggested article was thought-provoking.  It was worthwhile reading for anyone interested in the "special needs" population.

It reminded me of my early years in special education when the terminology was objectionable.  I was a college student that coordinated the volunteer program at a nearby, large mental hospital.  Terminology taught to us in our special education classes included educable, trainable, and custodial (mentally retarded).  At the hospital, the terminology of these same students included  "morons," "imbeciles," and "idiots" respectively as required by the American Association on Mental Deficiency.  I still have a button in my office from that time period.  It says - Label Jars, Not People.

Terminology has certainly come a long way since then.

Rochelle Kenyon, SME


We know that the teacher is the single most important influflence in the success of our schools. Yet, despite the fact that  our teachers are highly qualified and experts in the field, and are committed to providing an engaging learning environment that addresses the various learning styles of our diverse inmate popuation, I still frequently hear from the incarcerated populations that they do not want to attend school. We all know the beneifts of education including reducing recidivism and providing a means for a better future.  However, why  are so many directionally opposed to attending Academic classes?   Is it Peer Pressure? Is it that they have lost hope in themselves, or maybe some just don't want to or see the need to change?  Perhaps the incarcerated dont see learning as being relevant and meaningful to survival, during incarceration or upon parole.  What can we, as correctional educators do, to motiviate this population so that they WANT to get an education while incarcerated? 

Students often fear or avoid education due to a bad experiences from the past. In working with adult students for many years, they often come into my remedial math class saying that they hate math.  By the end of the quarter, they love math. Where were you when I was in high school.  They do not know that it is easier to learn math as an adult vs. at a younger age.  We as teachers in the correctional system have an advantage with our multiple teaching methods and with our pacing. We are able to break down the prior barriers and earn their trust to enable learning.


In California, we often place inmates in school when they don't want to be there. I think inmates need to go through Cognitive Behavior Treatment (Therapy) programs either before or concurrently with school. We need to get the student's "heart" before their "head". Programs involving relationship building, addiction, parenting, and anger management have proven to be very effective in both California's prisons and county jails. I know 5 Keys conducts several CBT programs in LA County called MERIT. Steve... do you want to take it from here?


Hi Hillary,

Thanks for posing that good question.  If you take the secure facility out of the equation, there would probably still be adults that are not motivated to return to school, to pass their GED Tests, or to continue their education.  Motivation is a huge problem for educators in general.

Rochelle Kenyon


The things I have seen work when I taught in the Oakland CA public school system in Middle and High School was to get students to choose and commit to a goal, and then concentrate on teaching them things that will help them get what they want i.e. their goal. This is actually easier with older students as teachers can focus on less academic knowledge and more on knowlege that will help then get what they want. For example if they want to be a building contractor, they can learn plumbing, sheetrocking, etc.

In the academic world you have to work harder to keep it interesting but it can be done, if they want to be a writer, teach them to use adjectives, when they describe something that is unknown, the unknown  is a "riddle enshouded in mystery, wrapped in an enigma."  


I have found that families still provide a motivational component to the inmate population. During graduation ceremonies several inmates have commented that they want to be a positive example for their children to stay in school and get a good education. I agree with David's comment that we need to assist them in setting attainable goals and to let the inmates know that they have value in the correctional environment.

To Dr. Choate: As one of your teachers in CDCR, I believe the main answer to your question is professional development, professional developmen, professional development. In CDCR, we do not get very much real professional development. The vast majority of the training we get is correctional training provided by the institution. When we do get professional development from an outside source, they often do not understand that we teach adults and that we teach incarcerated adults. We are extremely limited in the professional development we receive because we often cannot go to conferences unless it is on our own time and at our own expense. And it is so very difficult to get good training at some of our remote institutions. This means it is even more important to provide opportunities for our staff to leave their areas for training. That said, I am so glad to see you asking this question. What you describe is the definition of insanity (doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results). If we want our students to progress, we may have to do things differently than the traditional pencil/paper assignments. Technology is another good answer as it appeals to multiple modalities and can often accommodate some disabilities when the software reads the text on the page. I think we are going about answering this question the wrong way. We are asking, what can we do in our environment? I think we need to brainstorm every crazy idea we can come up with and then see what we need to change about the environment. For example, in order to bring more technology in the classrooms, we may need to reduce class sizes. In our classrooms here at California State Prison, Corcoran we are jam-packed in our rooms. In order to put computers in the rooms, we may need to reduce the class size to accommodate the furniture. But this has never even been considered before. It is very exciting to me to see your questions!


In your first sentence above, "For students under 22 years old, the general process for identifying students with an educationally related disability, and subsequently an IEP, comes through self-disclosure at the time of enrollment or after, transcript analysis that disclose a possible RSP or SDC course, and teacher observations,"  what is an RSP or SDC course?  

Also, in that same sentence, how do you define the term educationally related disability?

Thank you,

Rochelle Kenyon, SME


In general, RSP is used to define as a Resource Special Program. Depending on the district and guidelines, this generally means a student that will receive one on one or small group pull out Specialized Academic Instruction (SAI) This is usually for mild to moderate disabilities and for a student that is receiving less than 50% pull out services that takes them out of the general education environment. 

SDC or Special Day Class is generally used to describe a class that is for students who require a high degree of intervention services and the ratio is a high teacher-student ratio. In some districts, it is also used to describe students that are outside of the general education curriculum more than 50%. I have seen some districts have SDC class that are disability specific. San Francisco Unified School District use to have SDC classes with only student who qualify under Emotional Disturbance (ED). Currently SFUSD does not employee that method. 

Educationally Related Disabilities refers to how an IEP team needs to assess areas of need for a student based on how it impacts their education. An example may be a student who has mobility issues. This is an area of need but when it comes to them accessing the general education curriculum, the IEP team may find that this does not interfere with their access to the content of the general education curriculum or to their demonstration of mastery. In this example, they may only need a 504 plan, if any, to have extra time to go to one location or the other.  


For several factors, we do not often diagnose a learning disability for the first time. We are striving to use Universal Learning Design and RTi theory to guide the educational path for our students. We look at other factors to determine need in numeracy or literacy and can provide those supports to anyone regardless of a diagnosed disability.  All of our students who come into the program will take the Test of Adult Basic Education assessment. This will give us rough estimates of their skills grade level in mathematics and reading. If they do not reach a high enough threshold, we look to determine if their needs are more in literacy/numeracy or barriers due to English language accrual.

Juveniles in detention facilities are often difficult to evaluate. Test and Assessment results are often questioned. Traits of juveniles delinquency can include depression, defiance, substance abuse and others. It can often be a nightmare for juveniles going through this process because on top of the evaluation they are in the middle of fighting their case, going through treatment, going through detox, and they often will feel powerless. Sometimes they are left to themselves to handle this situation (Smith 1998).

Looking at the research done on juveniles, juveniles in detention facilities are often difficult to evaluate. Test and assessment results are often questioned. Traits of juveniles delinquency can include depression, defiance, substance abuse and others. It can often be a nightmare for juveniles going through this process because on top of the evaluation they are in the middle of fighting their case, going through treatment, going through detox, and they often will feel powerless  (Smith 1998).

Juveniles in detention facilities are often difficult to evaluate. Test and Assessment results are often questioned. Traits of juveniles delinquency can include depression, defiance, substance abuse and others. It can often be a nightmare for juveniles going through this process because on top of the evaluation they are in the middle of fighting their case, going through treatment, going through detox, and they often will feel powerless. Sometimes they are left to themselves to handle this situation (Smith 1998)

With an independent study program, we can provide individualized and tailored educational path for our students regardless of a documented disability. We encourage collaboration with the special education department and our general education teachers to create curriculum that is relevant and provides multiple modes of access for the students. The ability to make our curriculum relevant and the positive classroom culture are our biggest tools to engage learners at any level.

Many of the tests commonly used to determine eligibility for special education services would disqualify a student’s score due to lack of school (truancy) or other outside factors like substance abuse. Logistically in custody, there is a time constraint of testing a student for a disability, as it would qualify under IDEA eligibility and California Ed Code.  The testing environment itself could possibility disqualify the scores as well. Taking cognitive and academic testing in order to determine eligibility while under the stress of being in custody, and in some cases substance withdrawal, is an potential issue.

When we do come upon a student who is under 22 and may have an undiagnosed learning disability that may need more support from special education services, we will go through a similar process of determining eligibly as a student would in a traditional school environment. This would include documented interventions in the general education environment, reviewing their cumulative records, observations from relevant staff, the student, their family and other agencies personnel, like social workers, that may have information relevant to the students educational history. Appropriate battery of standardized normative testing in academics, cognitive and social/emotional development, if it is determined an area of need, would be used.

If we have a learner who is not fully fluent in English, we would test them in their native language and possibly in English as well to see if the discrepancy is due to a language barrier issue or a possible learning difference.

No matter what the case is, the determination of eligibility of special education services would be determined at an IEP meeting with the full IEP team present.

We have two models of education in our schools. We have what would be considered a more traditional site-based classroom environment where students come to class twice a day for two-hour blocks daily.  There are some students that cannot be placed in the site-based program. This could be due to a conflict with another program they are participating in, their classification, gang affiliation, or housing unit they are assigned to. In these instances, we provide students with independent study where they receive work in subjects working towards their high school diploma. They will get to meet with their independent study teacher once a week one-on-one. During this time, the teachers are able to monitor work completion and accuracy, determine needs of the student and to continue a positive educational relationship with the student. 

Works Cited

Smith, L. (1998). Special Students in a Special Setting: Assessment and IEPs for Students in Detention. Correctional Education Association. 49 (4), 174-179.

Hi Jennifer,

In addition to all the traditional problems we are aware of in testing and assessment, you have explained why it is that much more difficult for incarcerated students.

What would you guess is the percentage for those incarcerated students that are in site-based programs as opposed to those in independent study? 

Are the two, 2-hour block formats in the site-based program sufficient for students to progress?

Our adult education practitioners that are members of this community may have little to no knowledge about Response to Intervention (RTI).  Do you believe that RTI is a help to adult students, and why?

Thank you,

Rochelle Kenyon, SME


I do not know the exact numbers but due to many factors including housing, classification and a room, most of our students are in an independent study model.

Progress in education is difficult when we only have a short term period of time to work with a student. We use the Test of Adult Basic Education assessment upon intake and after about 5 weeks or 60 hours of instruction. With the amount of other confounding factors, having an accurate baseline and post test are difficult and not all growth measures can be captured in the short amount of classroom time some of our students are with us.

RTI or Response to Intervention is one way of integrating universal learning design. It is meant to look gaps in knowledge when they first occur in order to provide intervention as soon as possible. As interventions are documented and little or no growth is seen, high levels of intervention are implemented until the final phase would be assessment for special education services. It is to focus on smaller areas of weakness before they become bigger achievement gaps.

I think the practices used in RTI can be beneficial; pinpointing breakdowns early and addressing them. Due to time constraints and the transitory nature of our population, a fully implemented RTI process would need an enormous amount of time, energy and staff


Time works against and for us. On one hand, the average length of incarceration is 60 days. This limits the amount of time we have to run through the whole process of enrollment into school from processing initial paper work to finding and analyzing transcripts. Not to mention teaching time to help show substantial growth in reading or math. On the other hand, having a waiver that allows the school to serve any student with out a maximum age limit removes the constraint of having to finish by a certain date. Their education can continue once they are released or once they are in a more stable situation if they are in recovery. This gives students the chance to continually work on numeracy/literacy until they are ready to move into the high school curriculum classes.

We want to have student take away skills that are relevant and meaningful in their lives. Our goal is a high school diploma but improving reading from a first grade equivalency to a third grade is just as valuable. We want our student to succeed and providing the chance to build basic skills will help them succeed, rather then pushing them into a high school level course that may not be meet their immediate educational needs.

When looking at our population and hearing the history of their education, we need to do something different than what they have experienced. Many have experienced an educational system that has been subpar; A system that just shuffled them along not addressing early skill deficits that end up manifesting later as truancy and larger gaps in their skills. What can we do that is different then what has happened to them previously? How do we help students move forward in their educational goals?

We have a commitment to provide training to teachers using research-based methods found in Universal Leaning Design and Response To Intervention. Grounding our professional development in these learning frameworks is important but there are two factors that must be there; a reflection of student’s lives in our curriculum and the ability for the school to build a positive, educationally driven relationship with the student. 

Teacher credential programs are full of buzzwords and most notably is cultural competency. Our ability as a school to look at our student demographic and give them an education that they can apply when they are back in their community, and one that follows the standards of Common Core, has to reflect the culture of our students.  Macomber et all (2010) state the “most powerful tool” in reducing recidivism is “quality education linked to employment.” As with any school, relevant curriculum is a moving target and one, that if left with out questioning, will quickly grow irrelevant as the demographics change not just in one site but through out our school agency with the myriad of populations we work with in and out of custody.

We know that one of these aspects of culture we need to address is access, use and media literacy surround technology. As much as we know the need for these skills to be explicitly addressed, we do work in an incarcerated facility where safety of students, teachers and deputized staff is first and foremost. In a traditional school, there are major issues and barriers surround technology; literacy, safety, teacher training, maintenance, and connectivity. Taking that and dropping it into an incarcerated facility is relatively same issues at a much higher degree of difficulty. These issues make us stay constantly vigilant and continually looking for new opportunities.

In many ways, our school is like any other; we are only as effective as our relationship with our students. From the moment they enroll, we need to let our students know that their education is important to us. Some may enroll and never see a day in class due to leaving custody; others may reputedly re-enroll every time they find themselves back in jail. No matter what the circumstances maybe, the ability for our students to see and feel that we care about their education is paramount. All the best teaching methods mean nothing if there is not a positive, student-centered learning environment and that relationship is our most valuable asset. If a student knows that if they can always come back to school and continue their education despite of other issues they are happening, we have a better job at helping them in their long-term educational goals.  


Works Cited

Macomber, D., Skiba, T., Blackmon, J., Esposito, E., Hart, L., Mambrino, E., Richie T, & Grigorenko, E., (2010) Education in Juvenile Detention Facilities in the State of Connecticut. Journal of Correctional Education. 61 (3), 223-261.

Good Morning (California time) 

As Jennifer mentioned we are happy to be a part of this discussion and share some of our experiences with you. By way of context, Five Keys runs several programs in the San Francisco and Los Angeles County Jails. Our main program is operating an adult charter high school (our other large program is a CTE program in the LA jails which is funded by LA County). As with all charter schools in CA, we have a legal obligation to identify LD students and provide all necessary services. To support these efforts, we are an independent LEA and contract with the El Dorado County SELPA (Special Education Local Plan Area) for assistance with technical expertise, state and federal funding and compliance reporting. Jennifer, who posted earlier today, is our Director of Special Ed. where she directs a staff of 7.5 FTEs which includes; a school psychologist, counselor/case manager and education specialists. We have approximately 1000 students in our in-custody charter school (LA and SF), of which the majority do not qualify for special education services through our program because of being over 22 yrs. This presents a challenge for our teachers as we know from the literature (and our personal experiences) on LD in correctional settings, that the majority of our students would qualify for services if it were not for their age. Jen addresses this issue in here posting on Professional Development. Essentially, all of our staff need to have training in working with those that have not only learning disabilities, but traumatic brain injuries and other health impairments that interfere with our students abilities to be successful.

California has an exemption in the Ed. Code that allow for charter schools that serve certain populations to serve adult students. These exemptions include charter schools affiliate with: Youth Build, Conservation Corp, Job Corp, and the Workforce Investment Act. We partner with workforce development to provide a high school education to incarcerated adults (we also have 32 community learning centers with WIA affiliated CBOs). 

There are 60 adult serving charters in CA, only 3 operate in a jail, all in Los Angeles, except Five Keys which is in both LA and SF. The one other charter school that I am aware of is in New Mexico that also operates in a correctional facility. That program, and one of the other charters in the LA jails use the curriculum developed by Five Keys.

There currently is a moratorium on new adult serving charters in CA.

First and foremost, safety. Making sure we are all aware of new changes in policy and procedures with in the facility but also the personal emotional and mental health of our staff. Vicarious trauma is something very real in our field. Not to be aware of the different ways trauma can manifest itself could leave us to be susceptible to making unsafe decisions for ourselves, our students or deputized staff.  

Maintaining rigor no matter what a students ability and looking at root cause analysis of the learning breakdown/teaching breakdown that does not allow a student to be successful in the general education are essential PD opportunities. 

Rigor is essential for adult learners. Their academic literacy may be low but not their real world literacy. Our standard of education must remain high for each student. We need to be mindful of the zone of proximal development (ZPD)to push students within the area that challenges them but does not alienate them.Also, we can not give an emergent adult reader a book with butterflies and stars. We need to respect the fact that many of them have families and some own businesses. We have to meld their real life experiences and allow them to see themselves in the curriculum we create. 

Root cause analysis goes hand in hand with ZPD. Unearthing the point of a learners breakdown is essentially what special education is essentially suppose to do. We are to look at where the educational barriers lie, weather input of information or output of mastery, and find strategies that help the learner recognize and over come that barrier. 

But like many times I have a computer problem, it can be traced back to a user error. As a teacher, we need to make sure what we are teaching is accessible and what we use to track mastery is actually assessing the knowledge mastery you are looking for. If your goal is to make sure students comprehend the text, running a reading fluency test will only test their ability to decode words, not to comprehend what they read.  

Welcome to our discussion about Special Learning Needs in corrections.  I am interested to hear your questions and concerns as well as learn from each of you.   In a K-12 setting Special Education is uniquely defined and regulated.  While many of our adult students in correctional faciliies may not be "diagnosed" with a learning need, there are still many needs.  How do we improve our teaching to meet the needs of the undiagnosed?


I’m so delighted to see this topic being given special focus on LINCS.  Thank you all who are contributing to this important discussion and who are engaged in this critical work.

Please let me point out one almost new document (December 2014) summarizing the larger context of legal mandates to provide educational services to young people with disabilities who are in criminal or juvenile justice confinement -- both those with learning disabilities and those with other types of educational disabilities.  This is a twenty page “Dear Colleague Letter” signed by the Director of the federal Office of Special Education Programs and by the Acting Assistant Secretary of Education for Special Education and Rehabilitation Services. 

Concerning the educational needs of youth with disabilities in adult correctional facilities – please note the section which appears on page 5 designated as footnote 10.  It explains the provisions in federal law that apply to these individuals who are in adult programs but still have certain rights under federal law due to their age and disability.  

Complying with legal mandates is not necessarily all we need to do to meet the educational needs of youth with disabilities in confinement – but it is an important base line that must be understood and observed.  I hope you will find this to be a useful resource in knowing these legal mandates.   

Thank you! 

I skim read the Dear Colleague Letter and footnote 10, and it left me with this question, is there any responsibility under Federal Law for an Adult State Prison System to test for disabilities or to comply with IDEA for inmates over 21 years of age? Your insight would be greatly appreciated.




Special Education Age Limits  California


Cal Education Code Section 56040(a)

USC Title 20 1412(a)(1)

US Code of Federal Regulations, Title 34, Section 300.101

A free and appropriate public education shall be available to individuals with exceptional needs subject to certain limitations.


USC Title 20 Section 1412(a)(1(B)(ii)

Cal Education Code 56040(b)







Cal Education Code Section 56026

USC Title 20 14412(a)(1)

US CFR Title 34 Section 300.101








An individual who is currently incarcerated in an Adult Correctional Facility and is not entitled to a free and appropriate public education if the individual (age 18-21) prior to incarceration :

  • Was not  identified as an individual with special needs;
  • Or the individual was not in an IEP program


An individual who is identified by an IEP team as a child with disability with exceptional needs who is eligible to receive special education instruction and related services will continue to receive special education services subject to the following age limitations:


<>·Any person who becomes 22 years of age during the months of January to June, inclusive, while participating in a program under this part may continue his or her participation in the program for the remainder of the current fiscal year, including any extended school year program for individuals with exceptional needs established pursuant to Section 3043 of Title 5 of the California Code of Regulations and Section 300.106 of Title 34 of the Code of Federal Regulations.  (Note:  This section of the law appears to extend the age to 22, however Section 56040(b) limits the age to 21 in situations involving incarceration.)


  • Any person otherwise eligible to participate in a program under this part shall not be allowed to begin a new fiscal year in a program if he or she becomes 22 years of age in July, August, or September of that new fiscal year. However, if a person is in a year-round school program and is completing his or her individualized education program in a term that extends into the new fiscal year, then the person may complete that term.


  • Any person who becomes 22 years of age during the months of October, November, or December while participating in a program under this act shall be terminated from the program on December 31 of the current fiscal year, unless the person would otherwise complete his or her individualized education program at the end of the current fiscal year.


  • No local educational agency may develop an individualized education program that extends these eligibility dates, and in no event may a pupil be required or allowed to attend school under the provisions of this part beyond these eligibility dates solely on the basis that the individual has not met his or her goals or objectives.





That's my understanding. The state believes that after 22, learning disabilities automatically disappear. 

Regarding Brant Choate's comment about how do we change the way we teach to prevent and or lessen learing disabilites, I think that is the right question, my thought has been to  institute a mandatory a third grade reading exit exam. If a student cannot read fluently at the end of third grade they are recycled into an intensive [all day every day]  phonics based reading program until they are fluent or it has been determined they have a grave leqarning disability, and they are then sent to schools that will work on dealing with their disability.

As to diagnosing learining disabilites in incarcerated adults, they main reason that is not done is the prohibitive costs. California already spends approximately $65,000.00 per inmate and to add another whole layer of testing would have a staggering cost.

Thank you Brant and Steve for leading this discussion.  Learning Disabilities in Corrections is one of my favorite topics; it is also one of the issues that frustrates me the most.  Ever since IDEA became law CEA has been promoting professional development and advocating for more funding.  I am not sure we have any more support now than when we started.  I reconnected with Professor Mike Nelson, a staunch LD advocate, a few months ago at the CEA Region 5 conference in San Antonio.  He and I marveled at how many years we have been working on these issues.  I am the eternal optimist and would like to hear discussion about some real gains for our students and teachers.             

Hi Steve,

Thanks for joining in on this discussion.  Your voice is an important one in this field.

When using state or federal funding for Correctional Education, what portion of it is required, or set-aside for PD?

Also, will you please tell us more about the CEA and the professional development that is provided at conferences?  Could we assume there would always be options in the program to attend sessions on LD, etc.?

I did quite a few full-day trainings at Florida prisons and attendees had a choice to attend my training on LD/ADHD or one on different,topics that were not related to education.  I was impressed that people came in to get my handouts even though they attended the other topic.

Thanks for your participation.

Rochelle Kenyon, SME