Issue 4
February 1999

Editorial Staff: 
David Lloyd
Gail Mann 
Ellen Serfaty 
Ann Shlapobersky
Renee Wahl

Special Students—Special Needs

Ellen Hoffenberg-Serfaty 

In this edition’s “Special Students – Special Needs”


Our faithful readers will notice that we have changed the name of this column, dealing with the needs of learning disabled and “weaker” students, from “PhD’s”—an acronym for “Pupils Having Difficulties” to “Special Students-Special Needs”.  “PhD’s” has been recognized in many parts of Israel in the last few years to identify a very heterogeneous population of students who, for many important reasons, do not learn, produce, or perform according to teacher expectations.  However, as the Israeli teacher and general population awareness is raised on the issues of learner motivation, styles, intelligences and especially disabilities, many of us have come to the conclusion that labeling students as having difficulties may not be the best approach.  Instead, those teachers, teacher-trainers and administrators who work extensively with this population, believe that many students deserve to receive instruction that promotes their talents; and that as teachers, we are responsible for recognizing any special efforts or tools that might be necessary to enhance their learning.  Perhaps we are falling victim to the present “PC” (politically correct) consciousness of the 90’s.  But once again, those of us who serve in the “trenches”, working with students with problems, find ourselves able to reverse years of student frustration and failure by simply offering acceptance of how our students arrive in the classroom, and beginning the long, but rewarding process of accommodation.


Beginning in October, the ETNI List hosted an invigorating exchange of views and information about working with students with special needs.  Although much of the discussion centered on hakalot, or as we are now instructed, behinot metuamot, for Bagrut examinations, teachers offered some very practical and successful strategies for working with students with disabilities.  We wanted to summarize some of these ideas, and hopefully, will develop a special web page on the ETNI website to capture and update this important work.

But first, some perspective:  In November 1998, right during the beginning of the ETNI List discussion, the Ministry of Education approved major changes for testing students with disabilities.  All teachers and administrators working in this area should read the directive, in Hebrew, very carefully.

Soon thereafter, the Judy Steiner, the Chief Inspector for English, with advice from Aharona Givaryhu, National Counselor for Learning Disabilities, produced an explanation of this directive, regarding which dispensations are appropriate for which students, and why.
See, Special Testing Conditions for Pupils Taking the Bagrut Examinations in English. 

It should be noted that the document from the English Inspectorate is not a translation of the Ministry directive.  It is an explanation of the directive, with  information for teachers.

November 1998 Ministry Directive

The Ministry directive is definitely a “recommended read”!  The document makes a distinction between students with learning disabilities, and those who lack motivation or have difficulties learning—many of us in the field wonder how these distinctions are applied.  However, the document goes far in recognizing that learning disabilities can depress student achievement and chances for fulfilling their potential.  There is also recognition that individual learning styles and strategies are likely to promote higher achievement and effective learning.

The responsibility for identification and assessment of learning disabilities is placed squarely on the shoulders of schools, and assessments done in elementary school are to be recognized in middle and high school. 

The directive further declares that where a par exists between a student’s achievement and expectations for his grade level, and that student has not been assessed in elementary school, the school must refer the student for an evaluation.  This referral should be made in junior high school, but no later than 10th grade.

Those students who have not been assessed prior to 11th grade will now be referred by the school to special assessment centers designated approved by the Ministry.

The directive also makes a significant change in who does evaluations:  only an educational psychologist, and not an assessment professional. 

The directive goes on to list the types of testing alternatives that are available for students that have been assessed:

  •  25% extension of time
  •  disregarding spelling mistakes
  •  reading test paper by neutral party, and in English, listening to the test paper on tape
  •  recording student answers
  •  enlarging the test paper
  •  student dictation of answers to tester
  •  special test papers for certain disabilities
The most significant change in the directive is that school “pedagogical committees” are given the right to grant certain dispensations to learning disabled students without additional assessments; however, these dispensations can be given on the basis of a professional evaluator’s recommendation, but this is not required (educational psychologist not required either).

The dispensations are:

  •  extending exam time
  •  enlarging the test paper
  • disregarding spelling mistakes
What does this mean?  In our school, as a teacher who has observed certain learning disabilities, I have raised the need for allowing these dispensations to the “school pedagogical committee”—which is often the administrative and educational staff present during meetings on student grades and problems—indicating on what basis I have made the findings that any or all of these dispensations have proved successful in raising student performance.  As a result, many students that I screened in tenth grade, who could not afford a full assessment, but who benefited from time extensions, disregarding spelling mistakes or enlarging the test paper, can now be tested with the same accommodations during Bagrut exams.  However, oral testing, listening to the paper on tape, recording answers and dictations require the recommendation of an educational psychologist—not an assessment professional. And in the case of oral testing, the recommendation must be updated (recent).

English Inspectorate Advisory

Now on to the English Inspectorate’s explanation. The declared purpose of Special Testing Conditions for Pupils Taking the Bagrut Examinations in English is to explain the special testing conditions in the Ministry directive.

The English Inspectorate document emphasizes the need for English teachers to advise the Pedagogical Council of the school about the students’ special needs, and “how the pupil is presently being tested in the English classroom.”  This latter statement is very important—in some schools, teachers and coordinators believe that unless students have recognized dispensations, the teacher is not permitted use of special testing techniques at all, or only for a limited time.  The Inspectorate further warns that unless the English teacher is consulted, the dispensations granted may not be appropriate. 

Some notable recommendations for teachers applying the dispensations:

  •  15 minutes per hour time extensions, with the teacher assuring that exam venue be a quiet place, free of distractions that the student is accustomed to
  •   disregarding spelling errors, not grammar mistakes!
  •   use of an electronic dictionary for those with automatic naming/retrieval/memory problems, but printed dictionary training is highly recommended because of the problems encountered with finding the correct definition in electronic dictionaries—see also, Supreme Court Decision on the use of electronic dictionaries.
  •   text enlargement for those students with visual impairment.  (Please note that some teachers ignore this dispensation—the writer’s experimentation with this dispensation has yielded some interesting results for those students who are not ordinarily classified, or have not been “assessed or diagnosed” as having a visual impairment!)
  •   listening to a recording of the exam, which does require the assessment and recommendation of a professional, is for students who have difficulties reading, but can write.  Two tapes are sent to the school, and if the school needs more tapes, a special request must be made one month before the Bagrut exam.  Special arrangements can be made for a neutral tester to read the examination to the student if they are unable to use a tape recorder.  (Those of use who have used this method know that students need lots of guidance and practice in using this dispensation correctly and effectively!) Please note that you need an updated letter from a qualified psychologist for this dispensation.
  •   recording student answers—The Inspectorate makes some important recommendations here, stating that rewriting the examination dispensation is not recommended for English students, because the student might read back the answers incorrectly, as evidenced by discrepancies found when examining student answer booklets and the recorded responses.  This dispensation allows for the student to record his answers on a cassette.  Anyone with students using this dispensation should read the requirements of this section very carefully.
  •   oral exam for students with serious problems reading and writing.  Also check the extensive explanation and advice by the Inspectorate. Note that this dispensation also requires an updated letter from a psychologist.
  •   special school exam approved by the Chief Inspector,  for students with medical problems and exceptional learning disabilities.
  •  contacts for testing visually and hearing impaired pupils.

A careful reading of these two documents takes care of some of the issues raised by ETNI members.  Let’s take a look at them again:

Deadline for assessments

A lot of frustration was expressed about the tenth grade cut-off—that if your students don’t receive an assessment by 10th grade, they can’t receive dispensations.  Many teachers felt that the process doesn’t work that quickly; that economically disadvantaged students are discriminated against; and that sometimes, problems aren’t identified by tenth grade.  The new Ministry directive takes care of some of these problems: 
(1)  students can be referred up until 11th, instead of 10th grade now; (2) special assessment centers are in the process of being designated for those students who can’t afford an evaluation or find their way through the process; (3) schools have an affirmative responsibility to identify any student who exhibits a par between achievement and expected performance for his grade level; and (4) the school Pedagogical Council has the right to grant certain dispensations—time extensions, test paper enlargement and disregarding spelling mistakes—without any formal assessment.  The problem:  Nitzan and other professional evaluators cannot conduct full assessments; an educational psychologist is now required.

Teacher compensation for special testing; how to set special testing conditions for your students and other management problems

Several teachers mentioned the long hours necessary for preparing special tapes and extra time devoted to testing LD students individually.  Not many schools are giving compensation for these hours.  With the growing number of LD students being identified, teachers are once again being asked to volunteer these hours as “an integral part of their job”.  This also touched off a debate about schools that, having identified students as LD and in need of special assistance outside of the classroom, are unwilling to add teacher hours.  (The writer has made progress in this area—after three years of teaching primarily LD and weak students in high school, the school is now granting numerous extra hours for individual or small group tutoring, sometimes allowing me to remove the student from the regular class temporarily—of course these are paid as “substitute teacher” hours, and not regular hours.  But this is clearly progress!) 

 Pnina Feldman suggested that teachers who teach 12th grade,  ask the adminstration not to assign them as substitute teachers when the 12th graders stop attending regular classes, in recognition of the extra hours that they put in.

Maxine Tsvaigrach  shared how the teachers in her school help each other: “If I have a free hour I will test another teacher’s student and vice versa.”  She also advises that using a pre-recorded version of the exam on tape can help if the school’s counselor indicates that this is permissible.  (Note:  you don’t know that this will help until you try!)  Or she asks the administration to assign another teacher with a free hour to proctor the exam—I have used this as well, with some success.  But in some very weak classes, my presence makes a difference in behavior and performance.  And, you have to make sure that you are available for any questions.  Or, she advises the  use students volunteers.  Sometimes, teachers try to test students when the student has other classes—in our school, we are very careful about requiring approval from the teacher to release a student from his/her class prior to arranging this.

Efraim Perlmutter offers several suggestions:

  •   use cassette recorders with double heads, a fast dubbing feature and counter for quick copying of tapes; and one with a plug-in jack for a microphone, plus a hand-held microphone—he feels that built-in microphones don’t do as good a job
  •   also, a jack for earphones, if you don’t want to disturb everyone in your house while you do the recordings
  •   Ask the school to purchase this equipment, and plan to replace the recorder every year
  •   have the school purchase 6-8 Walkman players, in case the student doesn’t have one or forgets; plus lots of extra batteries.  The school should mark the players as school property and be prepared to replace them frequently.
  •   reorganize the test to allow different types of questions in a series 
And how can a teacher manage, prepare and administer exams to students who have a wide range of dispensations?

Take a look at Lev Abramov’s table organizer.  I used it at a recent hishtalmut for chechven teachers on learning disabilities, and it was very favorably received.  Thanks Lev!

And many teachers advised to keep in close contact with your school counselors—to “push” on assessments, make sure that dispensations are granted and recorded, etc.

No doubt about it—helping teachers do this impossible task by providing sufficient additional hours and staff is a long way from realization…but probably one of the most important issues for the Ministry to work on.

School exam

Judy Steiner explained in more detail that internal school exams are granted for students with special medical problems or exceptional learning disability problems, which need to be approved by the Vaadat Harigim in Jerusalem and then approval from Judy Steiner—send a copy of the approval from the committee and the description of the students’ problems; and the English teacher should describe which parts of the test are intended for administering to the students, with the Inspectorate providing advice on the best design for the test to meet the student’s specific needs. (The exam is  usually given for students at the 3 point level). Only an updated psychologist's letter will qualify a student for a school exam.

Raising Awareness

We learned as list members, what is “official” and not official, re: distribution to people outside of our list, especially as it relates to the special effort that the Inspectorate is making to keep us teachers informed.  A must of internet/e-mail etiquette:  before you share outside, ask the writer for permission! 

Aside from this unintended glitch, teachers came up with some great ideas on raising student, parent and teacher awareness about disabilities.

Esther Frimer and Leah Wolf shared with us their experiences of talking to students about dyslexia.  It’s time to break through parent concerns that the army and other institutions/employment opportunities will negatively label the student!  Students are also quite interested in knowing their rights in receiving certain dispensations for exam-taking. 

Adele Raemer talked about using the movie “F.A.T. City" in teacher meetings.  At a recent meeting at our high school, our teachers even thought that students and parents should see the film.  Having viewed it a few times, I was delighted to find that viewing with other teachers in my school opened up new channels of communication—I am no longer viewed as the LD “nudnick”!

Using computers and other aids

The importance of the Bagrut sometimes overshadows what we are really supposed to be doing out there—teaching!  Renee Wahl reminded us that in everyday classroom practice, we can work with programs like Read 2 Me  for tests, quizzes, and other written material.  Speakers hooked to headsets can take care of the noise problem. Gail Shouster-Bouskila sent information on how to download Read 2 Me. 

Some other teachers suggested using native or near-native speakers, retired Anglos, or students who are doing personal community service/volunteer work, for reading books and tests into tapes.

Let’s Not Forget What the Problem Really Is

Jennifer Byk, Terry Benor  and Julie Yosefyan shared with us their experiences and advice about the cause of some LD and other learning problems. 

  •  Some students have not been taught to read and some teachers have never been taught how to teach reading.  Remedial reading is a specialty; and schools should think again if they plan on remediating several years of reading problems in a few months! 
  • Many students lack background knowledge on subjects that interferes with their ability to comprehend material; 
  •  When screening for learning problems, we should remember that they can occur at any of the four stages of learning:  Input, Integration (processing, sequencing, organization) Memory and Output.  For example, students who perform poorly on tests because of information retrieval problems can be assisted through strategies to overcome this problem; 
  • Focus on the positive, strong points—don’t neglect the areas that students do well in by concentrating only on their difficulties
Terry also reminded us, as teachers, that we should be contacting those who assess students to get more information and advice.

Did I forget someone or something?  Misquote you?  Things not clear?  Mea culpa—I am sorry…Let us know! Send us a note and it will appear in the next News.


No doubt about it…computers can transform “weak” students, students with disabilities, and those who don’t seem as motivated as others, into English STARS—but only if we work with our students to solve some of the problems that can make computer work difficult. 

Adaptive or AssistiveTechnology---heard a lot about it, probably even doing it, but what is it and where do you go to polish off those strategies of helping students use technology to ameliorate their problems, or adapt technology to their needs?

Internet—An Inclusive MagnetforTeachingall Students, by Batya Bahya, published last year by the World Institute of Disability is downloadable and easy to read in an Acrobat Reader format or text version, from
(If you do download, have some fun with the different options available on the Acrobat Reader—it will give you interesting ideas on how you can adapt your own text, e.g. use the little hand/mouse to scroll, instead of trying to find the pesky arrows and bars on the side of a page, or playing with page up and down for moving within a page; and try out the “abc” tool—mine highlights text in rainbow colors!)

Recognizing that the Internet is a “high-status” skill that can effectively motivate LD students, the book offers lots of strategies for using assistive technology (ways which can specifically aid students through the use of certain devices).

The book is in an easy-to-read format, presenting sample problems that students might face, a strategy to accommodate the problem, and the benefits that can be gained.  Subsequent sections discuss “Success Stories” where teachers have successfully made adaptations; and an additional problem/solution section that carefully defines terms; as well as a section on how to build accessible web sites.  Additionally, although many of the additional resources discussed are in the States, the section is chock full of URLs.  By the way—know what you are looking for?  Check the index first, on the last page of the booklet.

LD Online has an updated list of Adaptive Technology Resources.

One of the best resources I have found in the last two years (besides David Lloyd, Gail Mann, Ann Shlapobersky, and Renee Wahl, my experienced techie ETNI News co-editors!) is SNOW—Special Needs Opportunity Window
If you haven’t visited SNOW—do yourself a MAJOR favor and do so…right now!

I can’t say it better than them—
“SNOW is a project aimed at supporting educators of students with special needs. Our web site serves as a clearinghouse of practical resources and curriculum materials, as a place for educators to meet and share ideas, and as a place for educators to develop their professional skills.”

And check out SNOW Kids,
the sister site with activities for special needs children.

I have taken several on-line courses (both moderated and unmoderated) , and so have several ETNI colleagues.  Highly recommended!  >From Learning to Learn, dealing with difficult behavioral problems, learning how to design accessible curriculum, adaptive technology, multiple intelligences…the list goes on.  The courses feature high quality format and materials, as well as great technical assistance.  A great way to introduce yourself to aids that your students can use as well! See more in this issue.


In our last issue, ETNI News #3, we focused on the world of Multiple Intelligences, Learning Styles and catering to the needs of special learners.  As a result of that issue and my work with SNOW courses, I began an interesting journey into the issues of creativity, multiple intelligences and alternative learning styles.  Here’s one of the newsletters that you may be interested in:

New Newsletter forMI

“Multiple Intelligences Research and Consulting, devoted to research and application of the theory of Multiple Intelligences, announces the
inauguration of a free newsletter.

The MI-News is delivered approximately twice per month free via email.

To subscribe, send the following command in the BODY of mail To:  HUB@XC.ORG


OR  send any message TO:  <>

To receive a sample copy of the inaugural issue, send any message TO:


Each issue will contain reviews of current research, interviews with people using and applying multiple intelligences models, columns on parenting, and information contributed by readers.”

Anyone interested in other discussion groups or lists, just drop me a line.

And don’t forget about LD Online—January and February issues are chock full of news and resources.

January’s highlights included on on-line chat and book excerpts from Louisa Moats and Susan Hall’s new book, Straight Talk About Reading
The exerpt, entitled Key Components of Early Reading Instruction, is geared toward reading acquisition among young native speakers, but has some good tips for those of who help remediate foreign language reading.  Besides reinforcing the need for direct and systematic instruction on phoeneme awareness, the article offers some ideas and actual activities.  The article cites that there are 40-50 letter/sound combinations, and that teaching these in a systematic way (juxtaposing instruction for letters/combinations that make the same or different sounds), emphasizing those that are the most useful, is the way to go.

Reporting on the America Reads Challenge, there is a list of help for reading tutors, including general guidelines, as well as a review of LD and other problems that interfere with reading. 

To subscribe to LD Online Report (which will arrive in your e-mail every month with a synopsis of new articles) visit their Homepage and click on "Sign up for the LD OnLine Newsletter”.

Editor’s Plea
This edition’s column really blossomed because of you—ETNI listers—and the great discussion we witnessed on our list.  So keep sending in your comments, suggestions, complaints, concerns.  We’ll try to investigate them and talk about them in our upcoming issues.  And we need your help—anyone interested in editing this column or writing articles, please get in touch!