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.

One of the frequently expressed challenges for schools that have English Language Learners (ELLs) is determining when to evaluate for special learning needs or learning disabilities. In some schools, ELLs may be over-identified for special education; in others, they may be under-identified. While a lack of training in assessment and instruction for ELLs (for both language proficiency and academic/learning challenges) may be the reality for many school teams, it is not an excuse for failing to provide appropriate assessment and instruction for students who are English learners.

When it comes to closing the achievement gap for any group of students, we know that a focused and targeted professional learning agenda is a critical feature of the effort. How we tackle this agenda is based, in part, on a thorough understanding of current student performance as well as a deep understanding of our own personal and systemic strengths, skills, and challenges. Reflections on these variables can yield insight into professional learning priorities and strategies.

“The key person in the learning equation is the student.” - 

Murphy, J. & Torre, D. (2014)1  

As the summer (or at least part of July) offers a brief respite from the anticipated and unanticipated events of a school year, we hopefully can take time to reflect on the past year in anticipation of the upcoming school year.  With a lens on students with IEPs, there are many variables that are impacted by our leadership and make significant differences in outcomes for these students. Academic learning, social learning, increasing self-confidence, gaining a sense of one’s own agency, are critical components (among others) of a growing portfolio of personal capital for students.

"Opportunity to learn" as a concept, policy framework and strategic discussion starter has been part of our public education landscape for over two decades (or more). A little over a year ago, the U.S. Department of Education released the report of the Commission on Equity and Excellence in Education. In the forward to the report, Congressman Mike Honda (CA) stated: "This game-changing report embraces the urgent truth in education reform: that parity is not equity. The report commits to a transformative vision on how local, state and federal governments can, and should, wield power to ensure excellence in education all of America's children." As a policy-influencing document, the report is all about assuring equity in opportunity to learn..

"Classrooms are the ideal laboratory for helping young people develop persistence, resourcefulness, coping skills, optimism, and hardiness. We're wise to live in that laboratory – and our students are the better for it."


(Tomlinson, 2013)

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