Special Education and the Achievement Gap
Students with disabilities, special education students, students with IEPs; there is a broad array of monikers for children who struggle with learning in one way or another. But rather than lump these children into a single category, students with IEPs must be viewed as individuals with varying needs. On this page you will find an ever-growing archive of articles, tools, and resources focused on effectively teaching these students.
The opportunity to step back and reflect on challenges facing schools that are tackling achievement for students with IEPs brings an array of thoughts. Based on my observations, conversations, and consulting experiences across the country over the past few years, I have the following thoughts regarding where we are today relative to moving achievement forward for students with IEPs.
While we talk generally about "student engagement" as a variable in academic success, we may have differing ideas regarding a definition of student engagement. Engagement in learning has many constructs influenced by both the learner and the learning environment. And the learning environment has many elements, including instructional design and delivery as well as the culture of the environment (safety, reciprocal respect, expectations, supports, and nurturing relationships, to name a few). So, to discuss student engagement we need to identify some specific aspects of engagement.
Supporting students who are English Language Learners or students with IEPs, or students who fit both descriptions, requires that instruction be flexible in order to accommodate the range of students' accessing, processing, interpreting and demonstrating acquisition of skills, information, and global understanding.
School improvement variables are many and diverse and even more so when assessing and addressing achievement gaps across and within subgroups. Data-driven school improvement remains a priority and digging into relevant data can be daunting. While data analysis is typically focused at the school and classroom level, it can be useful to take a look at aggregate data at the ISD level. This level of data review can assist in tackling underlying or less obvious issues that impact achievement gaps for students with IEPs. In addition, identification of such issues can inform procedural and managerial improvements.
During the past year, we have had the opportunity to visit with educators across Michigan to talk about their questions and concerns when it comes to educating English language learners (ELLs). In our conversations, we often receive questions about the intersection of English language development services and special education needs. In particular, we have been asked about how to determine if an ELL has special needs and how to best support students who are identified in both ways. It can be difficult to disentangle English language development issues from special learning needs, so we will be devoting the next several issues of the MI Toolkit to this issue. We want to begin this series of articles by addressing several myths that arise around this issue.