Understanding the Decline of Academic Indicators for Students With Disabilities at a Rural Middle School

Hunter, Bethany, Administration and Supervision - Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Tucker, Pamela, Education Leadership, Foundations, and Policy, University of Virginia

Policymakers and advocates of Students With Disabilities (SWD) have worked together for decades to ensure SWD not only have access to public education, but also have equal opportunities within public education. These policies do not determine the specific criteria for a learning environment that serves SWD, only requiring students to be placed in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). Educational researchers have highly recommended collaborative instruction, where general educators and special educators work together in the classroom (Austin, 2001; Dahlberg & Hoover, 2003; Magiera & Zigmond, 2005). Given the high-stakes testing environment and the expectation that all students, including SWD, pass multiple curriculum tests in order to graduate, it is crucial that schools understand the impact of different instructional environments on SWD, giving them the greatest chance for success.
This study examines different models of delivery in serving SWD in a LRE and describes one rural school’s approach to delivering instruction over a five-year period. Measures of student achievement, attendance, and discipline data from three groups of SWD were used to explore the impact of collaborative instruction. Additionally, 18 teachers responded to a survey reporting on the presence of criteria related to leadership, organizational structures, and professional development during the implementation of collaborative instruction. Six teachers responded to interview questions elaborating on the same criteria.
Findings from this study showed the presence of two out of three criteria for optimal implementation of collaborative education. Survey respondents and interviewees reported supportive leadership and organizational structures were present to support collaborative instruction. Teachers also reported professional development supporting collaborative education was lacking. Despite the presence of supportive leadership and organizational structures, student achievement, measured by SOL pass rates in English, writing, and math, declined from 2011 to 2016. Attendance rates and discipline rates, however, did improve during this time.
Key findings resulted in the following recommendations for future implementation of collaborative instruction:
• Provide professional development opportunities targeted to teachers who have collaborative classrooms, including training specific to: the different models of collaborative instruction, classroom management for SWD, and collaborative consultation skills.
• Provide more feedback to collaborative instructors, especially general educators, to help them improve their instruction for SWD and their relationships with co-teaching partners.
• Provide teachers with the opportunity to volunteer to teach collaborative classes, rather than assigning collaboration without consulting the teacher.
• Provide extra time for collaborative teachers to plan together, either allowing them to have a common planning time, or reducing some of their other non-classroom responsibilities (like after-school or lunch duties).

EDD (Doctor of Education)
students with disabilities, collaborative instruction
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
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