Secondary Academic Programs
As I reflect on the how we accommodate students with learning disabilities, I am seeing a paradigm shift. Previously, students with disabilities were isolated and had little to no interaction with their peers. Over the course of the last several years with No Child Left Behind (NCLB), its replacements, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA 2004) have created a shift to including students with disabilities with the general education population. Students with mild/moderate disabilities are increasingly being educated in regular education classroom where they learn along side their regular education peers (e.g., McGuire, Scott, & Shaw, 2006) (Scanlon & Baker, 2012). Instructional accommodations are envisioned as a primary means of ensuring “appropriate” education in this evolving context (Mc Leskey, Hoppey, Williamson, & Rentz, 2004) (Scanlon & Baker 2012). IDEA 2004, Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) states: "students with disabilities receive their education, to the maximum extent appropriate, with non-disabled peers and that special education students are not removed from regular classes unless, even with supplemental aids and services, education in regular classes cannot be achieved satisfactorily." [20 United States Code (U.S.C.) Sec. 1412(a)(5)(A);34 Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.) Sec. 300.114.]. Least restrictive environment isn’t a place; it’s a principle that guides children's educational program. Educators have developed various ways of meeting the LRE requirements of special education law. Some of these ways are the following:
Mainstreaming-placement of a student with disabilities into ongoing activities of regular classrooms, so that the child receives education with non-disabled peers
Partial Mainstreaming/Inclusion-the student spends part of the day in a general education classes. He/she gets some individual or small-group instruction in a special education class, or is pulled out of class for some services
Integration-includes mainstreaming into regular classes and access to, inclusion, and participation in the activities of the total school environment
Integration-also refers to placement of students in special education classes located on integrated school sites (that is, sites that have both special and regular education classes)
Full inclusion-the total integration of a student with disabilities into the regular education program-with special support
Special Education Class-this is a program with specialized instruction for students with similar learning needs
Reverse mainstreaming-the practice of giving opportunities to interact with non-disabled peers to a student who is placed in a self-contained or segregated classroom (or school) or who lives and attends school at a state hospital (Special Education Rights, 2018).
“The intent of LRE is to make sure that kids who receive special education are included in the general education classroom as often as possible.” (LRE, 2018).
When students are placed in the least restrictive environment, it’s important to provide accommodations. Appropriate accommodations help students with disabilities be more successful in their learning environment. Accommodations involve identification, provision, and evaluation, and they intersect regular and special education missions and practices (Scanlon & Baker, 2012). Beginning in Middle school, students should start identifying the accommodations they are receiving per their IEP. By high school, best practice is to educate students on using their accommodations, monitoring their accommodations and learning how to advocate for their own learning needs.
One way to provide accommodations that meet the needs of individual students is through Universal Design for Learning (UDL). UDL is an educational framework designed to provide flexible pathways that support the learning goals and addresses learner variability by delineating the ways in which all students, including students with mild/moderate/severe disabilities process, express, and engage in information in a general education setting. The framework consists of a set of three principles:
Provide multiple means of representation-->Purposeful, motivated learners
Provide multiple means of representation-->Resourceful, knowledgeable learners
Provide multiple means of action and expression-->Strategic, goal-directed learners
UDL is an instructional design framework that educators can use as they plan curriculum and instruction. UDL guidelines can be applied to the design of instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments (Meyer, Rose, & Gordon, 2014) (Rao, Smith, & Lowrey, 2017) to build in flexible paths for learning. It also supports inclusion for all students.
Another way is by encouraging students with disabilities to enroll in Career and Technical Education (CTE) classes in high school. According to Powell, "Although multiple variables influence a students's decision to engage in school, CTE has proved to be an effective teaching strategy among students with disabilities as it connects hand-on experimental learning with traditional academic teaching styles" (Powell, 2017). Sheldon H. Horowitz, Ed.D., senior director of learning resources and research for the National Center for Learning Disabilities, states that "Learning disabilities are not a prescription for failure. With the right kinds of instruction, guidance, and support, there are no limits to what individuals with learning disabilities can achieve" (Powell, 2017). CTE classes also give students the opportunity to try different career pathways to see which one will fit their strengths, preferences, interests, and needs. When they complete the classes they have relevant skills that will help them transition into competitive wage jobs and full-time employment after graduation. In our district we offer several CTE classes at each of our high schools. Students have to opportunity to take classes such as auto mechanics, welding, floral design, child care, food service, and more.
Adapt or alter the general curriculum for students with disabilities
Use or share resources with teachers on how to embed transition content within general academic courses
Align students’ IEP goals with identified measurable postsecondary outcomes
Modify transition programs based on current reform models used in my district or school
Plan for accommodations and modifications in postsecondary settings
Provide or coordinate academic accommodations for students taking state assessments as needed
Assist students to self-advocate for accommodations within core academic courses
Embedding Transition into General Education
The National Secondary Transition Technical Assistance Center has identified evidence-based predictors of post-school success for students with disabilities based on a systematic correlational literature review (Test, D. W., Mazzotti, V. L.,Mustian, A. L., Fowler, C. H., Kortering, L., & Kohler, P., 2009). Research also indicated that students with disabilities, who participated in academic courses in regular education placements, had higher academic skills, and/or were integrated in regular education settings, were more likely to be engaged in post-school education, employment, and independent living.
When more and more of our students with disabilities participate in general education classes, it becomes challenging to deliver the transition activities that are required in their IEP. It's also important to train our general education teachers on how they can integrate transition activities into their curriculum in a meaningful way that doesn't take away from, but adds to their curriculum. I created this Power Point to show teachers how easy it is to infuse transition activities into their lessons.
Competencies: 4.1, 4.2
Accommodations and Modifications
Accommodations are provided for students with disabilities to give them equal access to course instruction, materials, and evaluation. They help "level the playing field" and minimize the impact of the student's disability on their academic performance. Accommodations do not change what the student is taught or what he or she are expected to know. Accommodations change "how" a student learns, not "what" a student learns. Understood.org provides a great example of an accommodation:
Here’s a classic example. Let’s say your child is taking an American history class, but she struggles with reading. As an accommodation, the teacher lets her listen to an audiobook version of the textbook.
By using an audiobook, she can learn history without her reading issues getting in the way. This has removed a barrier to her learning.
Accommodations don’t change what your child is expected to know or learn. They don’t lower expectations. Your child may use an audiobook in American history, but she’s still expected to learn about events like the Civil War. And she still must complete all assignments and take exams, just like her peers. The accommodation simply helps her work around her challenges.
Accommodations can be made to:
The physical environment
For organization in the classroom
To instructional materials
To instructional method and presentation
Modifications change the level of instruction provided or tested and what your child is expected to do in school. Only students with an IEP or a 504 plan can have modifications. Those modifications should be written specifically in the student's IEP or 504 plan and not left to interpretation by different individuals. The most common modifications are those made to the general education curriculum for a student with a cognitive disability.
I've included four artifacts on accommodations and modifications that I use in my practice. The YouTube video provides an excellent explanation on the difference between accommodations and modifications, and I would recommend it for parents, educators and administrators. Accommodations are different when a student is in college, and it's important to note the difference. Colleges are not bound to a students IEP.
Competencies: 4.1, 4.5, 4.6
Universal Design for Learning
From the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008, Universal Design for Learning is defined as a scientifically valid framework for guiding educational practice that:
provides flexibility in the ways information is presented, in the ways students respond or demonstrate knowledge and skills, and in the ways students are engaged and
reduces barriers in instruction, provides appropriate accommodations, supports, and challenges, and maintains high achievement expectations for all students, including students with disabilities and students who are limited English proficient.
Universal Design for Learning is a way of thinking about teaching and learning that helps give all students, and especially students with disabilities, an equal opportunity to succeed. It offers flexibility in the ways students’ access material, engage with it and demonstrate what they know. The goal of UDL is to use a variety of teaching methods, to remove any barriers to learning, and give all students equal opportunities to succeed. It adjusts for each student’s strength in learning. I’m including two artifacts about UDL. I choose these two artifacts because they give a good example of what UDL is and how you can use it in your classroom. It’s an excellent framework for giving access to all students in your classroom with diverse learning needs. To access two different Universal Design for Learning websites go to: https://www.cast.org and/or https://www.udlcenter.org
Competencies: 4.4, 4.6, 4.7
For students with disabilities, learning to advocate for themselves is usually a struggle. Self-advocacy is learning how to speak up for yourself and make your own decisions about your life. It is a skill that allows students to understand their strengths and weaknesses, know what they need to succeed, and communicate that to other people. Self-advocacy does not always come naturally, it needs to be taught. Parents and educators both play an active role in teaching self-advocacy skills. When students have strong self-advocacy skills they are able to describe their disability, abilities, needs, and accommodations they need to support their learning. They also stay in school longer and are typically more successful in the workplace. The artifacts that I included here are how we begin to teach self-advocacy to our middle school students.
Competencies: 4.1, 4.2, 4.7
Agoratus, L., (2016).The effects of the ESSA (Every Students Succeeds Act) for children with disabilities. The Exceptional Parent (Online), 46, 26-27.
Barakat, Janet. “ Embedding Secondary Transition into General Education Courses” Teacher, Teaching Specialists Training, Pomona Unified School District. 13 April 2018, Village at Indian Hill, Pomona, CA. Teacher, Teaching Specialists Training.
Beatrice, J. A., (n.d.). Learning Style Inventory. Adapted from, Learning to Study Through Critical Thinking.
CAST (2011). Universal design for learning guidelines version 2.0. Wakefield, MA: Author.
ESSA (2015). Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015, Pub. L. No. 114-95 §114 Stat. 1177 (2015-2016).
Hehir, T. (2017, May 10). Academic Modifications: What You Need to Know. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=52&v=tuKdIxmd6QE.
Higher Education Opportunity Act, Public Law 110-315. U.S. G.P.O. (2008) (enacted).
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments of 2004, 20U.S.C. §1400 et seq. (2004) (reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1990).
Koorndyk & Simmons, (1997). Transition Planner. Diagnostic Center Southern California.
Least Restrictive Environment (LRE): What You Need to Know. Retrieved from
National Center for Learning Disabilities Universal Design For Learning Fact Sheet
Retrieved from http://www.understood.org.
No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, 20 U.S.C. §6301 et seq. (2002).
Powell, C. C. (2017). How CTE can help prepare students with disabilities for the future. Association for Career and Technical Education.
Quinlan, M. M., Bates, B. R., & Angell, M.E. (2012). ‘What can I do to help?’: Postsecondary students with learning disabilities' perceptions of instructors' classroom accommodations. Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs, 12(4), 224-233. doi:10.1111/j.1471-3802.2011.01225.x.
Scanlon, D. & Baker, D. (2012). An accommodations model for the secondary inclusive classroom. Learning Disability Quarterly, 35(4), 212-224 doi:10.1177/0731948712451261.
Rao, K., Smith, S. J., Lowrey, K. A., (2017). UDL and intellectual disability: What do we know and where do we go? Intellectual And Developmental Disabilities, 55, No. 1, 37-47. doi: 10.1352/1934-9556-55.1.37.
Special Education Rights and Responsibilities, Chapter 7, Information on Least Restrictive Environment. Retrieved from
Test, D. W., Mazzotti, V.L., Mustain, A. L., Fowler, C. H., Kortering, L., & Kohler, P. (2009). Evidence-based secondary transition predictors for improving postschool outcomes for students with disabilities. Career Development for Exceptional Individuals, 32, p. 160-181.
U. (2010, January 06). UDL At A Glance. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=bDvKnY0g6e4.