ERIC Identifier: ED458735
Publication Date: 2001-10-00
Author: Beckman, Pat
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Disabilities and Gifted Education Arlington VA.
Access to the General Education Curriculum for Students with
Disabilities. ERIC Digest.
A new goal is challenging teachers: All students, with or without
disabilities, including English language learners and students who are "falling
between the cracks," are to achieve in the general education curriculum. For
students with disabilities, access to the general education curriculum is
mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments of 1997
Successful student access to the curriculum comes about through the
implementation of validated programs and procedures. It calls for a paradigm
shift that is required in the law: the student (if appropriate), special and
general education teachers, parents, a district representative, and
representatives of other agencies necessary to best serve the student's needs
are required to take part in the student's educational planning, with improved
learning in the general education curriculum as a goal. This digest discusses
changes needed to bring about successful student access to the
curriculum-changes in attitudes and belief systems, parent involvement,
pre-service training, and ongoing professional development, as well as increased
support from districts and state legislators. Within this background of support
from a larger educational community, teachers must work together to apply
well-founded, research-based instructional practices in their classrooms.
ATTITUDES AND BELIEF SYSTEMS
Improved student learning
requires teachers, schools, and districts to give up unproductive traditions and
beliefs, replacing them with validated practices and a full understanding of the
intent of the law. Successful student access to the general education curriculum
is most likely when there is general acceptance of the following principles:
* Responsibility for the learning outcomes of special education students is
equally shared by the classroom teacher and the special education teacher.
* The classroom teacher is not only aware of the student's IEP goals, but
plays a significant role in determining those goals and providing instruction to
help the student reach them.
* The classroom teacher is concerned with each student's strengths and needs.
* Administrators understand that teachers need time within their contracts to
prepare standards-based activities and materials designed to meet the diverse
needs of their students.
* Collaboration is valued: Time is allocated for teachers to collaborate with
other teachers and parents regarding students. Ideally, paid days at the end of
each school year are provided so that teachers can discuss their students,
improving the students' chances for smooth transitions to the next grade.
* Expectations are not set according to a student's classification; it is
recognized that a classification does not determine how much or how well the
student will learn or perform.
* It is understood that good instruction incorporates variation in delivery,
activities, expectations, and assessment to accommodate diverse learning
strengths and needs.
* Accountability is considered a challenge, not a threat. As required by IDEA
'97, students with disabilities are included in state and district assessments.
* Parents are considered to be part of the team.
IDEA '97 mandates that parents be
participants in the educational planning for their children. These mandates
support the idea that an inclusive school creates a society of learners that
involves parents and the school's community in meaningful contributions to the
education of its students.
The following activities lead to productive collaboration between the parent
and the school:
* Obtain information from parents about their child at the beginning of the
* Contact parents often, informing them of successes as well as problems.
* Contact parents at early onset of a learning or behavior problem, and ask
them for feedback and ideas on how the problem could best be handled.
* As mandated in IDEA, invite the parents to any formal meetings concerning
TRAINING AND PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
IDEA '97 made federal
funds available for in- and pre-service training to states that qualify for a
State Improvement Grant (SIG). These grants are awarded to states that have
developed a plan to improve educational outcomes for students with disabilities.
Ensuring that all students gain access to the general education curriculum
not only requires teacher commitment, but necessitates that districts support
individual schools' efforts to improve teacher skills. Each school has its own
set of unique circumstances. When staff identify and address their own training
needs, they become better able to tackle the challenges they face in the
classroom. In accordance with the principles of inclusion, a growing number of
schools are assuming greater control over professional development activities,
often moving from traditional training models to more participatory or
job-embedded forms of learning.
GAINING DISTRICT AND INFORMED LEGISLATIVE SUPPORT
legislators need relevant and accurate information for making appropriate
decisions regarding education statutes and funding. For example, implementing
change usually requires additional teacher time and resources. In some states,
legislatures and districts are allocating monies to provide for additional
teacher-paid training days. States are also considering the idea of offering
teachers varied contract options. For example, teachers interested in developing
instructional plans and activities would be on an 11-month contract, using
non-teaching days to accomplish this. Their products would address the state
curriculum standards as well as the diverse instructional and assessment needs
of students. Through these efforts, data banks of curricular plans, activities,
suggested materials, and additional resources can be made available on-line as
well as in print.
Schools with successful inclusion programs
have faculties that work together. It is recognized that all teachers are
specialists who bring their areas of expertise to the table when planning and
making decisions about students. Classroom teachers are specialists in
curriculum; special education teachers, including related service personnel, are
specialists in the unique learning and behavior needs of students. Each
specialist learns skills from the others with all students being the ultimate
Effectively bringing all of this expertise to the classroom requires adhering
to organizational principles designed to help all students learn, and yet
allowing for their individual variations. Classroom instruction should be tied
to state and district curriculum standards and objectives, which should at some
level be appropriate for all students. The following teaching strategies help
students learn the curriculum and develop independent learning skills:
* Making accommodations and modifications for individuals when needed
* Using multiple instructional delivery systems (e.g., visuals, audio,
* Using grouping variations such as cooperative learning groups
* Helping students understand their own learning profiles
* Teaching them to use cognitive and metacognitive strategies.
Inclusive teaching also relies on ongoing informal classroom assessments so
that teachers can begin teaching at the student's present performance level,
keep abreast of student progress, and make appropriate instructional decisions.
Assessments are matched to student learning styles.
As classrooms are becoming more diverse, new instructional strategies and
technologies are being developed to help teachers accommodate diversity. For
example, principles of differentiation (Tomlinson, 1999) are being implemented
and universal design (Orkwis & McLane, 1998) is being applied to facilitate
access to the curriculum by students of diverse abilities and needs. New
directions such as these help all students move toward progress in the general
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