ERIC Identifier: ED436054
Publication Date: 1999-11-00
Author: Quinn, Mary Magee - Rutherford, Robert B., Jr. - Osher, David
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education
Special Education in Alternative Education Programs. ERIC
With the 1997 Amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
(PL 105-17), the mission of alternative programs has expanded from the education
of youth who have dropped out, or who were at risk for dropping out, to students
with disabilities whose behavior warrants special attention outside the general
education setting. These programs now provide alternative programming, including
flexible curricula that can address the unique social, behavioral, emotional,
cognitive, and vocational needs of the individual student. In contrast to the
traditional alternative settings where students were "sent away," many
communities are offering alternative programs within the public school setting.
While there are numerous models for serving students with disabilities in
alternative programs, there are seven essential elements of effective programs
(Quinn & Rutherford, 1998; Rutherford, Nelson, & Wolford, 1985: (1)
functional assessments; (2) functional curriculum; (3) effective and efficient
instructional techniques; (4) programming for effective and efficient
transitions; (5) comprehensive systems; (6) appropriate staff, resources, and
procedural protections for students with disabilities (Rutherford & Howell,
1997); and (7) educational climates that are supportive of the student's
social/emotional needs (Quinn, Osher, Hoffman, & Hanley, 1998).
Assessment of student needs for the
development of educational and treatment plans is essential to successful
alternative programs. Functional assessment procedures identify student
strengths and skill deficits that interfere with educational achievement and
social/emotional adjustment. This form of assessment is based on identifying
students' needs in relationship to the curriculum and to their individualized
education program (IEP), rather than on global achievement and/or ability
Functional assessment is also a continuous process, not static, and results
can be used to make systematic adjustments in the student's educational program
(Howell, Fox, & Morehead, 1993). Assessment procedures should include
curriculum-based evaluation and measurement procedures to monitor overall
student performance and improvement. To accomplish this assessment, the academic
and social skills curricula for the student must be clarified and implemented.
A functional educational curriculum
allows the program to meet a student's individual academic, vocational, social,
and behavioral needs. Such a curriculum focuses on the student's general
curriculum and IEP. In addition to academic skills, this curriculum can include
developing functional job-related skills, daily-living skills, and social
skills. While most alternative education programs do not have comprehensive
vocational programs on site, the development of basic work skills tied to
job-related social- and life-skills training is often an important component of
a student's IEP. Effective alternative programs sometimes provide the
opportunity for part-time employment and access to vocational training in the
In addition, the student's IEP team should review and revise the IEP to
include goals that directly relate to the behaviors that warranted the placement
in the alternative setting. These goals should be based on a functional
behavioral assessment and should lead to a positive behavior intervention plan.
EFFECTIVE AND EFFICIENT INSTRUCTION
uses positive and direct student-centered instructional strategies, which are
aligned with functional assessment measures and the curriculum. In this
situation, instruction specifically addresses the short-term objectives in the
student's IEP that are based on the results of the functional assessment, as
well as the standards specified in the general education curriculum. Student
progress toward mastery of these objectives and standards is monitored using
ongoing data collection procedures.
Effective and efficient instruction can also involve the use of behavior
strategies for meaningful intervention in alternative classrooms. Behavioral
interventions include a variety of procedures to teach acceptable replacement
behaviors, enhance and support appropriate behaviors, and reduce inappropriate
The transition of students and their educational
records into and out of alternative settings is important. Staff in the public
and alternative settings can make a major contribution to the transition process
by providing comprehensive information concerning the strengths and needs of
their students and assuring that there is follow-up and continued support for
students in the new settings. It also is important to include the results of any
functional behavioral assessment and the positive behavioral intervention and
support plan that addresses the specific behaviors that warranted the placement
in the alternative setting.
The public school, the alternative setting, and other community-based or
residential program staff must share the responsibility for transition of
students into and out of alternative education programs. Planning for transition
as soon as the student enters the alternative setting ensures that the student
is taught the necessary skills and is provided with the necessary supports.
Further, functional transition plans and meaningful transition objectives should
be a part of the student's IEP.
Comprehensive systems provide
coordinated special education services to eligible students in alternative
settings. Alternative programs can offer a continuum of education and treatment
services (e.g., direct instruction, pull-out programs, therapeutic programs) to
best meet the individual needs of students who qualify for special education.
In alternative programs with separate education and treatment functions, it
is important that staff develop common goals and objectives for student success.
In addition, coordinated and comprehensive linkages must be developed among the
public schools, the alternative education program, the student's family, and
social service agencies. Unless agencies collaborate, programs often lead to
fragmented services for these youth. Educational, social service, juvenile
justice, and mental health agencies must be linked by providing a system of
"wraparound" programming (Eber, 1997) where coordinated, cooperative, and
comprehensive services are implemented to serve students with disabilities.
Wraparound programming is a process for developing realistic behavior plans
linking the student, the alternative program staff, families, public school
personnel, and staff of the different social service agencies (Woodruff et al.,
APPROPRIATE STAFF, RESOURCES, AND PROCEDURAL PROTECTIONS FOR
STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES
The 1997 Amendments to IDEA contain new regulations
about sending students to alternative educational settings for drugs, weapons,
or "substantial evidence that maintaining the current placement of the child is
substantially likely to result in injury to the child or to others..." (Section
300.521) As a result, the number of students in alternative programs could
increase. Therefore, some of the education staff of alternative programs should
have special education certification, and support staff should have extensive
training in how to serve students with disabilities. Multidisciplinary education
and treatment teams also must be established in alternative schools and
In addition, special education programs in alternative settings must provide
a full continuum of educational services, including instruction in academics,
independent living skills, social skills, and work related skills, and assure
procedural protections, including parental notification of evaluation and
parental involvement in the review and revision of IEPs.
Since students and staff are more
productive in environments where they feel welcome, safe, and valued
(Gottfredson, 1997), alternative settings should actively provide each person
with the skills and supports necessary to create safe, productive, caring
environments. In effective alternative settings, everyone is treated with
respect and problem behavior is viewed as an opportunity to teach new skills
(Quinn et al., 1998).
It is still unclear how alternative programs will
translate the policies promulgated by the 1997 Amendments to IDEA into practice.
It is certain, however, that alternative programs around the country will have
to make some significant changes to their operating procedures. Without a doubt,
when alternative programs focus on providing the seven essential elements of
effective alternative programs as discussed in this digest, they are more
effective at meeting students' needs.
Note: This digest was prepared in collaboration with the Center for Effective
Collaboration and Practice as part of its information exchange efforts. For more
information on issues related to children and youth with emotional or behavioral
problems and their families contact the Center at: 1000 Thomas Jefferson St.,
NW, Suite 400, Washington, DC 20007 or visit their website at:
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