Many Schools Are Grappling With Ways To Assess Outcomes For Children With Disabilities

Many Schools Are Grappling With Ways To Assess Outcomes For Children With Disabilities

Research to practice means implementing research-proven instructional and assessment practices identified through scientifically based research. The purpose is to advance the quality of education, make teaching more effective and efficient, and thus enhance learning outcomes for all students.

Scientifically based research includes research that:

– Is rigorous and systematic (i.e., carried out in a way that is consistent, disciplined, and methodical)

– Is objective (i.e., free from the influence of subjective judgments)

– Is empirical (i.e., grounded in data and not based on opinion and speculation

– Has reliable data (i.e., data measured consistently and repeated measurements under similar circumstances or over time produce similar results)

– Has valid data (i.e., data measures what they were intended to measure).

– Involves rigorous data analyses (i.e., researchers analyze the data using methods that are appropriate to the task)

There are no “cookie-cutter” programs that work for all students with disabilities. However, a body of knowledge does show that specific programs and practices are effective with particular students. Therefore, increasing exposure to research-proven instructional methods and practices, materials and media, and supports and accommodations will help students with disabilities effectively engage in learning general education curriculum content. Empirically proven practices will help these students meet high educational standards and achieve their instructional goals because objective statistical evidence indicates that these interventions do result in positive student gains. For example, mnemonics, a research-proven instructional strategy to enhance recall of factual information, vocabulary, or key concepts, helps students with mild disabilities engage in instructional content and learn the general education curriculum.

One of the best ways to learn about research findings is to review syntheses of research from organizations and professionals that stay in touch with the latest research in the field and collect and synthesize research-proven practices based on the studies and empirical work of their researcher colleagues. Often these organizations and professionals will ask experts in a particular area to synthesize their own research with the work of their colleagues. Another way to learn about research is to read what researchers say about their own research as found in journal articles, papers, and books. Although more expensive, receiving direct training on research-proven practices can be extremely helpful. University researchers and professionals working in research organizations conduct the majority of the rigorous research studies; however, other individuals and organizations throughout the country also conduct direct research.

Educators who want to identify research-proven practices applicable to their settings should carefully examine information about research by asking the following questions:

– Who funded the organization’s syntheses or research?

– Who conducted the research?

– When (how current are the syntheses) and for what purpose was this work conducted?

– What process did the organization use to identify research-proven practices?

– How do the findings and syntheses apply to our work to improve access to the general education curriculum for students with disabilities?

– What is the validity of the findings?

– Were the program and outcome properly defined?

– Was the program the cause of the change in the outcome?

– Was the program tested on relevant participants (for example, students with disabilities)

– Do the findings accurately demonstrate the effect size between the subgroups involved in the program?

Deciding which research-proven programs and strategies are appropriate to your school setting requires an understanding of the programs and critical issues they are designed to address. However, although a program has been demonstrated to work in for one student population, school, or community, that same program may not be right for your student population, school, and community. As you assess applicability of a program or strategy, think about the following questions:

– Does it address our target population(s)?

– Does it meet our needs and goals?

– Does it provide outcome data for students with disabilities who are similar to the students in our school?

– Are the situations in which it worked similar to ours?

– Are the resources required appropriate to our needs and goals?

– What are the implications for our staff in terms of time, resources, or professional development?

– Do we have the organizational resources (textbooks, staff, budget, space, time) for effective implementation?

– Is it aligned with our general curriculum? Is it compatible with state, local, and school policies and procedures?

– Is there external support that can help us implement the program or strategies (e.g., technical assistance centers, program developers, and district or regional staff)

Several school and community members must engage in these discussions. Organizing a program-adoption committee with general and special education teachers, administrators, parents, and paraprofessionals provides an opportunity to learn from multiple perspectives.

If you cannot find a research-proven program that matches your available resources, consider increasing your school’s organizational capacity to implement the program that your review demonstrates will work best in your school. In this case, capacity refers to the capability needed to implement a particular program or practice. Research on education capacity often refers to five types of capacity needed to implement a program:

– Intellectual capacity—the knowledge and skills needed to implement a program

– Physical capacity—the physical space, materials, and technology needed for implementation

– Fiscal capacity—the financial resources needed to acquire or develop other aspects of capacity

Social capacity—the quality of interpersonal relations and trust needed among the professional staff, students, and parents to support implementation

– Cultural capacity—the degree to which your district, school, or other units have shared goals and values for student learning. For example, is there agreement on the knowledge, skills, and attributes all students should attain or the attributes for students with varying types of disabilities? Are these attributes aligned with the new program being considered?

If the program has mostly been implemented in settings different than your own, you should carefully examine how they are different. You should also find out whether or not there are results in settings similar to your own.

If you are unable to increase capacity or if the settings are somewhat different, you may also consider adapting the program to meet your own needs and circumstances in a way that does not alter its most essential features. When working with students with disabilities, adaptations to programs or curriculum do not change the program’s content; they change the conceptual level for the standard the student is expected to learn. Similarly, for students with disabilities, accommodations do not change the content or curriculum; they change the input or output method used by the teacher or student. Your priority should always be, however, to replicate with fidelity a program that has proven effective through rigorous evaluation.

Various settings will have different ways of responding that work best for them; one of the best strategies is to develop a strategic plan for implementing new programs or practices. This strategic plan could be developed by a planning committee that would include the major stakeholders who could influence implementation. Members of the planning committee may include administrators, counselors, general education teachers, special education teachers, resource teachers, paraprofessionals, parents. Among the responsibilities of the committee is to identify who in your setting will be responsible for the following:

– Articulating how the program will enhance student access to the general curriculum

– Acquiring the resources needed—personnel (e.g., general education teachers, special education teachers, paraprofessionals, volunteers, parents), fiscal, time

– Ensuring that administrative policies, such as release time, incentives, support for coteaching, are in place

– Setting goals and measurable objectives for students with disabilities

– Designating roles and responsibilities for implementing the program or practices and the time frames in which this will occur

– Fostering collaboration between general education and special education teachers

– Establishing appropriate linkages with the research community and program developers

– Designing and providing professional development

– Determining when and how the results of your actions will be assessed and evaluated

– Determining how outcomes will be reported to stakeholders

Before you begin implementing a new program, consider visiting a school using this program to help you understand how it operates. Talk to the teachers and administrators to learn about how they initiated the program, what challenges they may have encountered, and how they addressed those challenges. In addition, when you begin to implement, you may want to consider starting on a small scale.

While many children with disabilities have benefited from the accomplishments of successful teachers, schools, and programs, replicating this success on a larger scale has proven to be a difficult challenge. Much literature states that change efforts are most successful when the following exist:

– Enthusiastic and knowledgeable teachers

– High-quality curricula and instructional strategies

– A high level of engagement and involvement of multiple stakeholders

– Relevant, ongoing professional development

– Support from key stakeholders—students, parents, teachers, and administrators

Developing a process to successfully replicate a new program or practice on a large scale is important. As part of that process, reforms that claim to change practice should explain the underlying theory about how teachers learn to teach, and individuals responsible for implementing the program should be aware of this theory.

While the body of knowledge on sustainability continues to grow, you need to consider several critical issues, including the following:

– Teacher motivation and beliefs

– The degree to which practitioners can be creative and build their own vision into the program as implemented

– The extent to which the program can be adapted to changing circumstances and demands on schools

– The level of continuing support provided by important stakeholders

– The degree to which practitioners responsible for implementation have fundamentally changed (not just learned the basic skills needed for implementation) their conception of how to do whatever tasks are involved, such as their conception of teaching and learning

A program is sustained when the community embraces the program’s guiding principles and continues to allocate internal resources even after explicit external resources are withdrawn.

Professional development is a key component in translating research into practice at all levels: initial implementation, going to scale, and sustaining change. Regardless of how much empirical research exists that justifies your selection of a particular education program or practice, it will not be successful if staff lack the knowledge or skills to implement the program. The format of professional development may vary depending on staff needs, resources, and time. Generally new information is introduced through a workshop or seminar and then may be followed up by study circles, round table discussions, inquiry research, observations, or peer coaching, all of which are embedded within the daily lives of teachers. Consider the following when planning for professional development:

– Provide theory to support the practice. For example, what is the theory behind access to the general education curriculum and how does this program relate to access?

– Show how the program is integrated into classroom practice to enhance access to the general curriculum.

– Make certain the professional development includes all staff that will be involved with the program; access is not only for special education teachers. Depending on the program and student placement professional development may involve general education teachers, paraprofessionals, library staff, parents, and volunteers. Administrators also need to know about the program to support classroom practices.

– Provide concrete examples for how the program is working. For example, invite teachers from a school that has implemented the program to talk about their experiences in using the program.

– Provide opportunities for practice (application) and feedback. At a workshop, this may occur via case studies, but application can occur through other professional development approaches that are embedded in the teaching environment.

– Set up ongoing support mechanisms. Study circles, inquiry research, observations, collaborative teams, learning communities, or peer coaching reinforce learning and provide opportunities for ongoing assistance. This step is essential. All staff and volunteers require ongoing support.

Even if you are implementing a program with empirical evidence of effectiveness, you will need to collect data periodically (and if possible data before the program is implemented for your baseline information) to evaluate the impact the program is having on your students and school. Measure the outcomes of the program against your goals and objectives for students with disabilities as outlined by your planning committee. Your outcomes should be as follows:

– Specific: What are the specific changes expected (e.g., 70 percent of the students with reading disabilities will go up two levels in reading)?

– Measurable: How will the changes be quantified or measured (e.g., performance assessment, achievement test)?

– Action-Oriented: How does the program result in positive change for students (e.g., fourth grade students with mild disabilities will demonstrate an increase in vocabulary after teachers incorporate mnemonic strategies in the instructional process)?

– Realistic: Is the outcome consistent with what you expected as a result of implementing the program with the target audience (e.g., related to the student’s developmental level, time on task)?

– Timed: How long will it take for students to demonstrate change and how consistent is this with the time and resources available (account for both short- and long-term outcomes)?

Many schools are currently grappling with ways to assess outcomes for children with disabilities. You may want to measure changes via performance assessments, achievement tests, teacher developed tests, or observations. Think about the instruments you can use to collect data and how often you will collect that data.


Jeff C. Palmer is a teacher, success coach, trainer, Certified Master of Web Copywriting and founder of Jeff is a prolific writer, Senior Research Associate and Infopreneur having written many eBooks, articles and special reports.



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