Achieving Unprecedented Learning Results for Students With Disabilities in a PLC
I was recently asked how our school had such great success in helping students with special needs learn at high levels and how, as a PLC school, we work collaboratively to achieve unprecedented learning results. The following are some key steps our staff have taken to ensure students who are working below grade level, regardless of disability, become successful learners.
- We find the greatest level of success, with over 90 percent of students with special needs meeting state standards, when we mainstream all students nearly the whole day and for all core subject areas. Any student, including our lowest-performing students with special needs and students who take the alternative state assessment, receive targeted literacy interventions on a daily basis. The structure for those intervention classes is to preteach the core curriculum and align the instruction to the general education language arts essential outcomes. This daily class usually replaces an elective class for our students.
- Many of our students with special needs also receive a daily resource period, which focuses typically on additional literacy intervention or math intervention. We recognize that some of our students who are furthest behind need even more literacy support. Those students are placed in a social studies class that incorporates extensive fluency/comprehension instruction to further accelerate our students. Many students in this class have what we would typically consider low-incidence disabilities, and through these multiple layers of intervention, are very successful on our state assessments.
- Our expectation is that every student who takes the state assessment should take the team and district common assessments with the same accommodations the state assessment allows. Preteaching occurs in both the reading intervention class and the special education resource period. Our students are very successful with this model, in large part due to the high expectations our language arts, reading intervention, and special education teachers have for our students.
- Our students who qualify for the alternative assessment in Illinois (IAA) also take the common formative assessments. At times, we make modifications and shorten the assessment only for the students who were taking an alternative assessment. In Illinois, this assessment is intended mainly for the lowest 1 percent of all students. By supporting our students who qualify for the alternative assessment with these interventions and by precisely focusing on our essential outcomes during all levels of instruction, our alternatively assessed students are highly successful on our common assessments (with some reteaching needed) and on the state alternative assessment. In fact, 100 percent met or exceeded standards on the state alternative assessment.
- We use a guided reading and guided math structure during part of core instruction for all students. When working with students with disabilities who are many grades below grade level, we ask ourselves in a more specific way, "What do our most struggling students really need to know and be able to do?" As all educators working in a PLC know, we ask a similar question for the 99 percent of our students who take main state assessment, "What do we expect all students to know and be able to do?" In this case, we are more specific so we are focused on what really matters for our students with disabilities.
- We find that our IEP (Individualized Education Plan) goals are nearly all reading, writing, and math focused, so we utilize our special education teachers mainly to support our students with special needs in language arts and math. Most co-teach multiple periods in both language arts and math to support our most struggling students. This gives us the greatest leverage in the areas we find build core skills for other content areas. We have instructional assistants (para-pros) who support them in science and social studies or when needed, in specials. By prioritizing to this level and also assigning our special education teachers whenever possible to one grade-level team, they are able to collaborate with both the math and language arts departments, specifically with the grade level they support. This enables our special education teachers to plan with only two content areas in one grade and dynamically support their students. They know which outcomes are most essential, help write the common assessments aligned to grade-level essential outcomes, and know what to focus on during core instruction, resource, and intervention periods.
There certainly are specific schedules, intervention models, and instructional strategies that benefit students with special needs and enable them to achieve unprecedented growth. Through these structures, high expectations, and co-teaching, we see profound growth in our students as they close the achievement gap and perform nearly as well as a subgroup as their non-disabled peers.
For more information about the PLC at Work™ process at Robert Frost Junior High, visit: http://www.allthingsplc.info/evidence/robertfrostjuniorhighschool/index.php