Our Holiday Wishlist for Serving Students with Disabilities
At the Co-op, we believe that every school can serve its students with disabilities and provide strong, rigorous teaching and learning. Here is our wishlist for this holiday season (and the common practices we see when students with disabilities are being well-served):
- Grade-level is the expectation: It’s essential that, schoolwide, students with disabilities have access to grade-level standards, regardless of the classroom setting, and are provided the on-ramps to meet these rigorous levels of learning. This begins with a culture of believing that students can meet grade-level standards.
- Students have access to rigorous teaching and learning: Regardless of grade-level, students with disabilities deserve access to the science of reading and content knowledge. Teaching reading aligned to how the brain learns reading is critical for all students, including students with disabilities. Adopting a rigorous curriculum that is aligned to the science of reading will ensure more students are learning critical literacy skills without interventions and no longer leads to over-identifying students as having a disability. Students with disabilities also need regular access to teachers who are experts in their content areas so students can continue to gain content knowledge in science, history, social studies, foreign language, and every other subject and course. Co-teaching and ongoing professional development can help close gaps in how to teach content and provide supports for students with disabilities.
- Interventions are evidence-based: Students with disabilities should be learning with the same rigorous curriculum that their non-disabled peers are learning from and any time spent away from that curriculum is with evidence-based interventions to close skill gaps across reading, writing, math, and communication, led by staff trained to deliver these interventions. Two supports can make this possible: Hiring intervention specialists who can be focused on providing interventions to students and creating school schedules that build in time for both intervention and access to grade-level content.
- All adults believe in all students: Staff and students alike need a growth mindset and the core believe that all students can achieve on grade-level. In fact, research shows that 90% of students with disabilities can learn on grade-level when given the right supports. All work begins with believing in students.
- Social-emotional learning is available to everyone: Supporting all students with social-emotional learning (especially as we emerge from the pandemic!) is critical. Students with disabilities, in particular, can struggle with transitions. By providing such support to everyone, students with disabilities benefit.
- Secondary transitions are planned: Schools that begin postsecondary planning as early as middle school allows for stronger secondary transitions. We see that when schools have firm community partnerships across training, employment, and postsecondary education; strong counseling programs for all students; and a school-based advocate for students, students can both dream bigger and achieve more.
- Leaders use data regularly: The schools that have a regular routine of assessment, universally screen students, and progress monitor see schoolwide success and success among students with disabilities. This requires that leaders are well-versed in what data is being collected, know how to make instructional decisions based on that data, and communicate both data and decisions to stakeholders.