eNews - January 11, 2016

spec ed connection

Are we failing students with learning disabilities by placing them in general education classes under the label of inclusion? The lack of proficiency and performance of students with disabilities, across fourth and eighth grades in reading and math, have gone down or remained stagnant across the country according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

Is inclusion the reason for this lack of progress?

Is general education meeting the needs of our students with disabilities?

The Education for All Handicapped Children Act, signed in 1975, was the first comprehensive law acknowledging the educational rights of students with disabilities. It has since been amended and renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1997. Forty years later, the debate over what is the best way to educate our students with disabilities continues.Many schools and educators embrace the goal of full inclusion for students with disabilities. They believe inclusive classrooms create students who are comfortable with differences, skilled at confronting challenging issues, and are aware of their interconnectedness. However, some express concerns about how full inclusion in the practical sense works in the classroom. Can students with disabilities receive academic equity and progress through the curriculum from a general education teacher in a classroom with 25 to 35 students? What then becomes the role of the special education teacher? One of the most important questions for us to answer should be: Are we providing adequate support for the student with disabilities and the teacher if they are being educated in the general education setting?

Co-Teaching has proven successful as one answer to the inclusion dilemma. It is imperative that both the special education teacher and the general education teacher receive the necessary intensive professional development to achieve a comprehensive understanding of the components of co-teaching. Co-teaching is when two or more educators co-plan, co-instruct and co-assess a group of students with diverse needs in the same general education background.

According to the Utah Education Association, these provisions must be met for inclusion to work best:

  • “adequate supports and services for the student"
  • well-designed individualized education programs
  • professional development for all teachers involved, general and special educators alike
  • time for teachers to plan, meet, create, and evaluate the students together
  • reduced class size based on the severity of the student's needs
  • professional skill development in the areas of cooperative learning, peer tutoring, adaptive curriculum, varied learning styles, etc.
  • collaboration between parents, teachers, and administrators
  • sufficient funding so that schools will be able to develop programs for students based on student need instead of the availability of funding, or lack thereof

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a research-based set of principles to guide the design of learning environments that are accessible and effective for all students.

These are the 3 Principles of UDL:

  1. Provide multiple means of representation (The what of learning)
  2. Provide multiple means of action and expression (The how of learning)
  3. Provide multiple means of engagement (The why of learning)

For more information on UDL please visit, www.udlcenter.org.

Whether or not you give Inclusion a pass or failing grade, the law requires a full continuum of placement options be available for all students with disabilities and that placement decisions be made by the Individualized Education Program (IEP) team based on the student’s needs. However, it is the legal right of students with disabilities to be educated in the least restrictive environment possible. As educators, it is our role and responsibility to decide how we can make inclusion successful for our students with disabilities. Inclusion is about creating a society in which all students feel valued and loved.