Special Education Leadership

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1 OPROFIT ORG. U.S. POSTAGE PAID PERMIT O. 116 Journal of Volume 25, umber 2 September 2012 Osigian Office Centre 101 Katelyn Circle, Suite E Warner Robins, GA Subscribe to the Journal of Special Education Leadership Special Education Leadership The Journal of the Council of Administrators of Special Education A Division of the Council for Exceptional Children Photocopy and mail to: CASE Osigian Office Centre 101 Katelyn Circle, Suite E Warner Robins, GA If you are already a member of CASE, you will automatically receive the Journal of Special Education Leadership as part of your membership. However, you can subscribe if you are not a member of CASE. Subscription otes: The Journal of Special Education Leadership is published by the Council of Administrators of Special Education. Copy requests should be made to CASE at the address above. Single copies may be purchased. Orders in multiples of 10 per issue can be purchased at a reduced rate. Call CASE for membership information: (478) Or visit our website at Yes, I want to subscribe to the Journal of Special Education Leadership! Single Issue: $25 Full Subscription: $40 (includes two journals) Institution/Library Subscription: $60 (includes two journals) Payment Information: Check/Money Order (payable to CASE, in U.S. dollars) Please bill my credit card: MasterCard VISA Card umber Exp. Date Cardholder Signature Ship to: ame Address Phone Articles Letter from the Editor Mary Lynn Boscardin, Ph.D., Editor Effective Practices in High Performing Districts Serving Students in Special Education M. Huberman, M.A., M. avo, M.A., and T. Parrish, Ed.D. Leading the Way to Appropriate Selection, Implementation, and Evaluation of the Read-Aloud Accommodation M. L. Thurlow, Ph.D., S. S. Lazarus, Ph.D., and J. R. Hodgson, M. A. A Case Study of Team-Initiated Problem Solving Addressing Student Behavior in One Elementary School A. W. Todd, M.S., R. H. Horner, Ph.D., D. Berry, M.S., C. Sanders, M.S., M. Bugni, B.A., A. Currier, M.S.,. Potts, J. S. ewton, Ph.D., R. Algozzine, Ph.D., and K. Algozzine, M.S. Managing Autism: Knowledge and Training in Autism Spectrum Disorders Among Special Education Administrators in Texas H. Hughes, Ph.D., B. H. Combes, Ph.D., and S. Shukla Metha, Ph.D. Section 504 for Special Education Leaders: Persisting and Emerging Issues P. A. Zirkel, Ph.D., LL.M. Case in Point: Lessons from the Cheshire Cat D. Tinberg, Sp.A. Author Guidelines

2 ISS Editorial Board Editor Dr. Mary Lynn Boscardin University of Massachusetts Amherst Assistant to the Editor Mr. Robert Storey University of Massachusetts Amherst Board of Associate Editors Dr. Jean Crockett University of Florida Gainesville, FL Dr. Susan Hasazi University of Vermont Burlington, VT Ms. Charlene Green Clark County School District Las Vegas, V Dr. William Hickey Avon Public Schools Avon, CT Review Board Dr. Bonnie Billingsley Virginia Tech Blacksburg, VA Dr. Kenneth M. Bird Westside Community Schools Omaha, E Dr. Rachel Brown-Chidsey University of Southern Maine Gorham, ME Dr. Leonard C. Burrello Indiana University Bloomington, I Dr. James C. Chalfant University of Arizona Tucson, AZ Mr. James W. Chapple Ashland University Elyria, OH Dr. Gary Collings ISEAS Carmel, I Dr. Pia Durkin Brown University Providence, RI Dr. William East ASDSE Washington, DC Mr. Cal Evans Jordan County Public Schools Sandy, UT Dr. Susan Faircloth Pennsylvania State University University Park, PA Dr. Elise Frattura University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, WI Dr. Preston Green, III Pennsylvania State University University Park, PA Dr. Thomas Hehir Harvard University Cambridge, MA Dr. Robert Henderson University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, IL Dr. Dawn L. Hunter Chapman University Orange, CA Dr. Shirley R. McBride McBride Management, Ltd. Victoria, BC Dr. Harold McGrady The University of Ohio Athens, OH Dr. Jonathan McIntire Orange County Public Schools Orlando, FL Dr. Margaret J. McLaughlin University of Maryland College Park, MD Dr. James McLeskey University of Florida Gainesville, FL Dr. Judy Montgomery Chapman University Orange, CA Dr. Festus Obiakor University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, WI Dr. Tom Parrish American Institutes For Research Palo Alto, CA Dr. Barbara Pazey University of Texas at Austin Dr. Margaret Pysh University of Arizona Tucson, AZ Dr. David P. Riley The Urban Special Education Leadership Collaborative ewton, MA Dr. Sharon Raimonde State University of ew York Buffalo, Y Dr. Kenneth E. Schneider Orange County Public Schools Orlando, FL Dr. Stan Shaw University of Connecticut Storrs, CT Dr. Katherine Shepherd University of Vermont Montpelier, VT Dr. James Shriner University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, IL Dr. Thomas M. Skrtic University of Kansas Lawrence, KS Dr. William Swan University of Georgia Athens, GA Dr. George Theoharis Syracuse University Syracuse, Y Dr. Martha Thurlow ational Center on Educational Outcomes, University of Minnesota Minneapolis, M Dr. Edward Lee Vargas Hacienda La Puente Unified School District City of Industry, CA Dr. Deborah A. Verstegen University of evada Las Vegas, V Dr. Christine Walther-Thomas University of Kansas Lawrence, KS Dr. Wilfred Wienke University of Central Florida Orlando, FL Lakeland, FL Dr. Jim Yates University of Texas at Austin Dr. Mitchell Yell University of South Carolina Columbia, SC CASE Executive Committee Dr. Laurie VanderPloeg, President Dr. Mary Lynn Boscardin, President Elect Dr. Mary V. Kealy, Past President Ms. Laural Jackson, Secretary Mr. Tom Adams, Finance Committee Chair Ms. Sheila Bailey, CASE Units Representative Ms. Emilie Anderson, Membership Chair Ms. Christina Lebo, Policy and Legislation Chair Dr. Michel Miller O eal, Journal Editor Mr. Gary Myrah, Professional Development Chair Dr. Gina Scala, Research Liaison Dr. Pamela Howard, Publications and Products Review Chair Dr. Luann Purcell, Executive Director Ms. Robin S. Smith, Administrative Assistant The Editorial Mission The primary goal of the Journal of Special Education Leadership is to provide both practicing administrators and researchers of special education administration and policy with relevant tools and sources of information based on recent advances in administrative theory, research, and practice. The Journal of Special Education Leadership is a journal dedicated to issues in special education administration, leadership, and policy. It is refereed journal that directly supports CASE s main objectives, which are to foster research, learning, teaching, and practice in the field of special education administration and to encourage the extension of special education administration knowledge to other fields. Articles for the Journal of Special Education Leadership should enhance knowledge about the process of managing special education service delivery systems, as well as reflect on significant techniques, trends, and issues growing out of research on special education. Preference will be given to articles that have a broad appeal, wide applicability, and immediate usefulness to administrators, other practitioners, and researchers.

3 Journal of Special Education Leadership Volume 25, umber 2 Subscriptions The Journal of Special Education Leadership is published by the Council of Administrators of Special Education. Copy requests should be made to CASE, Osigian Office Centre, 101 Katelyn Circle, Suite E, Warner Robins, GA Single copies may be purchased. Orders in multiples of 10 per issue can be purchased at a reduced rate. Members receive a copy of the Journal of Special Education Leadership as part of their membership fee. See back cover for subscription form. Advertising The Journal of Special Education Leadership will offer advertising for employment opportunities, conference announcements, and those wishing to market educational and administrative publications, products, materials, and services. Please contact the editor for advertising rates. Permissions The Journal of Special Education Leadership allows copies to be reproduced for nonprofit purposes without permission or charge by the publisher. For information on permission to quote, reprint, or translate material, please write or the editor. Dr. Mary Lynn Boscardin, Editor Journal of Special Education Leadership 175 Hills South School of Education University of Massachusetts Amherst, MA Copyright The Journal of Special Education Leadership, a journal for professionals in the field of special education administration, is published by the Council of Administrators of Special Education to foster the general advancement of research, learning, teaching, and practice in the field of special education administration. The Council of Administrators of Special Education retains literary property rights on copyrighted articles. Any signed article is the personal expression of the author; likewise, any advertisement is the responsibility of the advertiser. either necessarily carries CASE endorsement unless specifically set forth by adopted resolution. Copies of the articles in this journal may be reproduced for nonprofit distribution without permission from the publisher.

4 A Letter From the Editor ational professional standards provide a solid foundation for identifying the roles and responsibilities of leaders of special education, however, federal and state mandates continue to contribute to making the work of leaders of special education more complex. These additional complexities create an unrealistic expectation that any one leader of special education would possess all the expert knowledge or specialized skills necessary to address all situations. To succeed in these challenging times requires leaders to draw for a myriad of evidencebased leadership practices in order to maintain oversight and accountability while opening possibilities and opportunities for providing effective instruction to learners with disabilities from diverse backgrounds. This issue of the journal examines how leadership might begin to help address some of the challenges associated with providing the services and programs needed to meet the needs of students with disabilities and their families. Huberman, avo, and Parrish take the long view considering the costs related to the adoption of effective practices in high performing districts serving students in special education. Articles then follow that consider more discrete aspects of effective practices. Thurlow, Lazarus, and Hodgson investigate leaders9 roles in the evaluation and implementation of a reading accommodation. Todd, Horner, Berry, Sanders, Bugni, Currier, Potts, ewton, Algozzine, and Algozzine examine team-initiated problem-solving in relationship to student behavior. Hughes, Coombs, and Metha explore administrative approaches to managing autism. Zirkel then provides a broader frame by revisiting persisting and emerging Section 504 issues as they affect the administration of special education. Tinberg, emphasizes intentionality of planning, fidelity of implementation, and ongoing, targeted professional development in her as she reflects on each article s relationship to the continued challenges faced by leaders of special education. Before closing, the last issue, 26(1), under my editorship will go to press this spring. We extend a warm welcome to Dr. Michel Miller O9eal who has accepted the appointment as editor by the President of CASE. Dr. O9eal will be providing JSEL a new home at Drexel University as she gradually assumes editorial responsibilities throughout this year. We appreciate the patience of the readership during this time of transition. We know Dr. O9eal will be equally committed to maintaining the high quality and regard JSEL has come to enjoy. CASE is very appreciative of the time, effort, and excellent contributions made to this issue of JSEL by this cadre of authors. The collection of articles in this issue of JSEL highlights the attention and work required to promote, support, and develop leaders and administrators of special education who are invested in improving the educational outcomes of students with disabilities. On behalf of the CASE Executive Committee, we hope you enjoy this issue of JSEL. Mary Lynn Boscardin, Ph.D., Editor in transition to President-Elect of CASE 58 Journal of Special Education Leadership 25(2) September 2012

5 Effective Practices in High Performing Districts Serving Students in Special Education Mette Huberman, M.A. American Institutes for Research Matt avo, M.A. Sanger Unified School District Tom Parrish, Ed.D. American Institutes for Research Through a rigorous selection process based on special education performance over four years, this study identified eight unified districts in California that showed unusually strong academic performance for their special education population compared to similar districts in the state. Researchers conducted interviews with these districts special education directors to identify the policies and practices they credited for their districts success. Ultimately, the study team selected four districts to profile. Descriptions of all four districts, with a special emphasis on one of the districts Sanger Unified are included in this article. The main themes that emerged across the districts are consistent with the research and literature on effective practices that lead to improved student achievement for students in special education: inclusion and access to the core curriculum (four districts), collaboration between special education and general education teachers (four districts), continuous assessment and use of Response to Intervention (RtI) (three districts), targeted professional development (three districts), and use of Explicit Direct Instruction (EDI) (two districts). The authors believe that these districts can serve as models for others struggling to improve the performance of students in special education. Introduction Improved academic outcomes have been an important emphasis for special education policy over the past decade. The 2001 reauthorization of the ESEA, the o Child Left Behind Act (CLB), specifies that schools be held accountable for the adequate yearly progress (AYP) of all students, requiring the disaggregation and reporting of data for specific subgroups, including students with disabilities. Failure to meet AYP for students in special education can result in an entire school or school district being placed in In eed of Improvement status. More recently, the federal Blueprint for Reform (U.S. Department of Education, 2010) states that the Administration s ESEA reauthorization proposal will increase support for improved outcomes of students with disabilities (p. 20). In California, 84% of school districts with sufficient students with disabilities to count for accountability purposes failed to make AYP for specifically due, at least in part, to the academic performance of their students in special education. The purpose of this study is to identify districts that are beating these daunting odds. Sanger Unified, which is profiled in this article, enrolls students in poverty at a much higher rate than the state average (76 vs. 50%). Sanger also actively attempts to serve students outside special education when appropriate, classifying only 8% of its students in special education, compared to the statewide average of 10% (and a national average of 13%). Yet Sanger s students in special education show much higher academic proficiency on statewide tests than similar districts (and the statewide district average), and Sanger continues to make AYP. Given the challenges faced by California districts in making AYP, it is important to identify districts like Sanger across the state, to analyze what they are doing, and to consider whether their strategies might work for students in special education statewide. To identify such districts, researchers used a rigorous selection process based on special education Journal of Special Education Leadership 25(2) September

6 Effective Practices in High Performing Districts academic performance from the to school years showing higher-than-predicted academic success for their students in special education. The study employed a four-year span for these analyses to identify districts whose exceptional performance had been sustained over time. Subsequently, researchers conducted in-depth phone interviews with the special education directors in eight districts to learn about the policies and practices they had put in place that they attributed their success to. From these eight, four districts were selected with clear, well-articulated strategies to feature in this article. The experiences of these districts are relevant to district, county, and state practitioners and policy makers because they provide specific examples of what has worked. Because of the focus on higherpoverty districts in this article, these findings may be of particular interest to other high need districts in California and across the country. Study Background In 2001, in Education Finance in the ew Millennium, Chaikind and Fowler (2001) predicted that the future of special education would focus on questions regarding the best outcomes for students with disabilities. However, while the 1997 IDEA amendments required states to establish performance goals for students with disabilities, some critics have argued that these changes did not go far enough in fully establishing a results-oriented process (Wolf & Hassal, 2001). In 2002, the President s Commission on Excellence in Special Education recommended that special education should focus on the outcomes achieved by each child and not on process, litigation, regulation, and confrontation (p. 8). The preamble to this report states, The ultimate test of the value of special education is that, once identified, children close the achievement gap with their peers (President s Commission, 2002, p. 4). The intended purpose of CLB is to ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education and reach, at a minimum, proficiency on challenging state academic achievement standards and state academic assessments (CLB, 2001, ). These provisions emphasize that the expected educational outcomes for students with disabilities, or for any other subgroup, are the same as for all students. 60 Given the challenges that students in special education face, some may expect low performance. However, at least one study by Hanushek, Kain, and Rivkin (2002) shows that the average special education program boosts mathematics and reading achievement of special education students, particularly those classified as learning disabled or emotionally disturbed, while not detracting from [the experience of] regular education students (p. 584). Analyses of key student and district characteristics and academic achievement of students identified for special education in California show that while some districts are achieving relatively impressive outcomes, many are not. Large variation is found across districts in the percentage of students with disabilities scoring proficient in English language arts (ELA) from 0 to 60% across California districts in the school year. The high end of this range shows that low performance for students in special education need not be a given. This variation is illustrated in Figure 1. Each district in California is represented by a circle; the circle s size is based on district enrollment. The figure maps the percentage of students in special education scoring proficient and above against the percentage of students identified as being in special education by district. Although there is a slight positive correlation between performance and the percentage of students in special education, there is relatively high variation in performance across the range of percentages of students identified. Some of the variation shown above is negatively related to district poverty (defined as the percentage of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch), as indicated by the number of high-poverty districts (in blue) in the lower ranges of performance. However, relatively high performers are also found among these high-poverty districts. This illustrates that while the poverty of its students is beyond district control, other factors are not, such as where and how students are served. Figure 2 plots ELA proficiency against the percentage of students in special education spending 80% or more of their time in general education classrooms. Overall, a positive correlation can be observed; however, there is a great deal of variation. This may indicate that when students in special education are included in general education classes with appropriate supports, they do better than predicted, but that increased general education placements may Journal of Special Education Leadership 25(2) September 2012

7 Effective Practices in High Performing Districts Figure 1. Percentage of students in special education in unified school districts meeting proficiency in English language arts, as a function of the percentage of students identified for special education in these districts, (each district is represented by a circle proportional to its size and grouped by poverty quartile). Source: The California Standardized Testing (STAR) Program. also lead to poorer than predicted performance when such placements are not well implemented. This article seeks to better understand the policies and practices implemented by districts that have special education performance that is substantially higher than predicted. It grows out of prior work done through the California Comprehensive Center at WestEd identifying highperforming, high-need schools. 1 The study also draws upon previous research that has examined effective practices leading to improved student achievement for students in special education (e.g., Cortiella & Burnette, 2008; McLaughlin & The Center for Policy Research, 1997). A study by the Donahue Institute at the University of Massachusetts (2004) is especially relevant to the current study. The purpose of the study was to identify district- and school-level practices supporting achievement among elementary and middle school students with special needs in urban public schools. Achievement data were used to identify urban districts with promising ELA and mathematics achievement among students with special needs. The research team visited 10 schools in five districts and interviewed over 140 school personnel and a small number of parents of students with special needs. From these data collection efforts, the researchers identified 11 practices that supported success with students in special education: An emphasis on curriculum alignment with curriculum frameworks; Effective systems to support curriculum alignment; Emphasis on inclusion and access to the curriculum; Culture and practices that support high standards and student achievement; A well-disciplined academic and social environment; Use of student assessment data to inform decisionmaking; Unified practice supported by targeted professional development; 1 Examples of high-performing, high-need school profiles from this prior work can be found at: htdocs/smu/ideas/schools.htm. Journal of Special Education Leadership 25(2) September

8 Effective Practices in High Performing Districts Figure 2. Percentage of students in special education in unified school districts meeting proficiency in English language arts, as a function of the percentage of these students spending 80% or more of their time in general education classrooms, (each district is represented by a circle proportional to its size and grouped by poverty quartile). Source: The California Standardized Testing (STAR) Program and California Special Education Management Information System (CASEMIS) data. Access to resources to support key initiatives; Effective staff recruitment, retention, and deployment; Flexible leaders and staff who work effectively in a dynamic environment; and Effective leadership. All of these practices, with the exception of emphasis on inclusion and access to the curriculum, are similar to the practices emphasized in the effective schools literature for general education (e.g., Fuller, Loeb, Arshan, Chen, & Yi, 2007; Perez et al., 2007; Parrish, Perez, Merickel, & Linquanti, 2006; Darling-Hammond, 1996; Levine & Lezotte, 1990). This overlap suggests that to improve academic results for students in special education, practices similar to those implemented for general education students, with an additional emphasis on inclusionary practices, may be effective. In the Donahue study, all of the case study districts expressed a commitment to inclusion and noted various ways in which they sought to be inclusive. A common strategy was the use of flexible groupings that integrated special needs students into 62 general education classrooms throughout the school day. However, no two districts implemented the same inclusion strategies, with practices ranging from full inclusion of all students identified for special education (with dual certification of all regular and special education teachers), to a more modest level of inclusion in which resource teachers supported students with disabilities in the general education classroom. District Selection for the Current Study Districts were selected for this study based on higherthan-predicted achievement for students with disabilities on statewide performance measures. Publicly available data from the California Academic Performance Index (API), AYP, California Standards Tests (CST), and California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) databases as well as district demographic data for ethnicity, poverty, the proportion of English learners (ELs), and the proportion of students with Journal of Special Education Leadership 25(2) September 2012

9 disability were included in these analyses, which included data from the through school years. 2 Researchers ran regressions on standardized CST and CAHSEE mathematics and ELA mean scale scores for the students-with-disabilities subgroup population, controlling for the district s percentage of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch; percentage of African American, Asian, and Hispanic students; 3 percentage of ELs; percentage of students with disabilities; and percentage of students within the various disability classifications (e.g., mental retardation, autism). 4 Thedifferencebetweentheactualandthe predictedstandardizedcstandcahsee mathematics and ELA scale scores were averaged for students with disabilities to produce districtlevel measures, by year, from through Then, these measures were averaged across the four years for each district to obtain a single academic performance measure for students with disabilities that would reflect sustained performance. Among 286 unified districts, these academic performance measures ranged from about 1.50 at the top to 1.00 at the bottom. The authors were seeking districts where the students in special education performed considerably better than predictedanddidsoconsistentlyovertime. Because this was a comparative analysis, it was important to control for the grade range of students served. Thus, our analysis was limited to unified school districts, which serve over 70% of California s students. To select districts to interview, small districts (those at or below the 30th percentile in terms of unified district enrollment) were screened out to ensure that the selected districts would not simply reflect circumstances associated with unusually small size. In addition, only districts serving a percentage of students with disabilities within one standard deviation of the state average for unified districts were selected. Last, only districts that were at or Effective Practices in High Performing Districts above the state average proficiency level on CST ELA and mathematics for students with disabilities and above the predicted academic performance for students with disabilities as estimated by our regression analysis were included. After applying these criteria, the remaining districts were ranked based on their above-predicted performance, as described above. Ultimately, researchers selected 8 districts from the top 20 to interview. These districts academic performance measures ranged from 0.98 to Because of our interest in interviewing districts with high levels of poverty, the authors first selected the 4 districts in the top 20 whose percentage of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch exceeded the state average, which is 50%. To also gain an understanding of how the practices reported by higher-poverty districts might compare with those with lower poverty, the remaining four districts were selected from among those that had 10% or more of their students eligible for free or reducedprice lunch. District Interviews and Analysis Between May and July 2010, researchers interviewed the special education directors from the eight selected districts to obtain descriptions of the policies and practices they considered most effective in improving and sustaining special education achievement in their districts. During a one-hour phone interview, instructional and management practices associated with the high performance of their students with disabilities were discussed. To guide the discussion, a semi-structured interview protocol was used that included questions related to the effective practices described above. Discussion was not limited to these practices; respondents were asked to initially describe the three most important factors that they attributed to special education performance in their districts without any suggestion of the literature cited above. 2 Scores on the California Modified Assessment (CMA) or the California Alternate Performance Assessment (CAPA) were not considered, as the majority of students in special education take the CST with or without accommodations. 3 Research has shown that racial minorities (e.g., African American students) are disproportionally identified for special education and that the achievement gap between minority and nonminority students found in general education also exist in special education (e.g., Skiba et al., 2008). Thus, we control for these and other demographic factors to ensure that these factors do not influence analysis results. 4 ote that student achievement data and student demographic data were included for all four years ( However, the disability classification data were only available for two years (2007 and 2008). Thus, the 2007 disability data were used for both 2006 and 2007 and the 2008 disability data were used for both 2008 and 2009 as controls in the regressions. Journal of Special Education Leadership 25(2) September

10 Effective Practices in High Performing Districts Table 1: District demographics, Source: The California Standardized Testing (STAR) Program When analyzing these interview data instances were sought where well-articulated strategies had been developed and implemented by the district for the explicit purpose of improving the education outcomes of its students in special education. Conversely, the authors sought to avoid instances where it appeared that external factors were affecting the observed high performance. Through this process, the initial eight districts were narrowed to four districts whose strategies seemed fully developed, could be clearly described, and would therefore be of potential interest to other districts. Sites were excluded with issues such as not meeting special education proficiency targets as well as those with possible issues with the types of students being identified for special education (e.g., one district respondent commented on the over-identification of ELs into special education). Once initial profiles were created for the remaining four districts, the respondents provided feedback regarding completeness and accuracy. District Backgrounds Listed alphabetically, the four districts featured in this article are Kerman, Sanger, Upland, and Val Verde. As shown in Table 1, the districts are located in either the southern part of the state (Upland and Val Verde) or in the Central Valley (Kerman and Sanger), and range in size from about 4400 to students. Three districts have a state-average percentage of students in special education (10%), while Sanger is below average at 8 percent. They have diverse student populations; three of the four districts (Kerman, Sanger, and Val Verde) have above-state-average student poverty, while Upland is slightly below the state average. Similarly, three districts have percentages of ELs above the state average, with one below. Table 2 shows the performance of each district s special education population on the CST. As shown, all four districts performed either at or above the state average in both mathematics and ELA and above districts with similar poverty levels in both subjects. Table 2: Percentages of students in special education proficient or above in mathematics and English language arts (ELA) on the California Standards Test, by district, compared with the state average and to districts with similar poverty levels, Source: The California Standardized Testing (STAR) Program 64 Journal of Special Education Leadership 25(2) September 2012

11 Overall, all the districts scored higher in mathematics than in ELA; Sanger s mathematics score (49% proficient) was much higher than both the state average (33%) and that of similar districts (28%). District Profiles Strategies implemented in the Kerman, Upland, and Val Verde districts will briefly be described; this information is based on one-hour interviews conducted with each special education director. Then, a more detailed description of the approach used in Sanger Unified is provided, based both on our interview and on an in-depth write-up provided by the director of pupil personnel services for the district; Sanger provides a striking example of the success a district can attain with special education students. After the district descriptions, the overarching strategies across the four districts are summarized and implications from the study are discussed. District Profile 1: Kerman Unified School District Located in Fresno County, Kerman Unified enrolls approximately 4400 students. Over three quarters (78%) of its students are eligible for free or reducedprice lunch, and almost one third (30%) are English learners. In the school year, 40% of Kerman s students in special education taking the CST scored proficient or above in mathematics; 37% scored proficient or above in ELA. The statewide averages for students in special education were 33 and 32%, and 28 and 26% in districts with comparable proportions of students in poverty (see Table 2). Robert Postler, Kerman s coordinator of special education, shared three factors he credited for the district s success: An inclusion philosophy, with support from resource teachers; Use of specific instructional and intervention strategies, including Read 180; Explicit Direct Instruction (EDI), supported by professional development; and Response to Intervention (RtI) strategies; and An emphasis on professional learning communities (PLCs), with collaboration between general and special education teachers. Mr. Postler described Kerman s inclusion philosophy as follows: It is my belief and the district s Effective Practices in High Performing Districts belief that special education is considered not to be a separate entity; [special education students] have the same rights and privileges as general education kids. At the elementary and middle schools, the district strives for full inclusion; most students identified for special education are fully integrated, with support from resource teachers. At the high school, students in special education receive support from four resource teachers within or outside general education classrooms depending on student needs. The district uses Read 180, a comprehensive intervention for students below grade level, for a large number of students with disabilities at the elementary and middle school levels. Mr. Postler cited the intervention as resulting in significant success. Specific teachers who are trained in the program work 90 minutes per day with students, who rotate among three stations: small group work with the teacher, computer work at the student s level, and individual reading. In addition, Kerman has utilized Explicit Direct Instruction (EDI) for the past four years, supported by ongoing staff development. EDI focuses on the use of (a) instructional grouping (using flexible skill grouping as opposed to tracking ), (b) increased instructional time (increasing academic learning time the time students are successfully engaged), and (c) continuous assessment (providing ongoing inprogram assessments to inform instructional practice). EDI is mostly used at the K 8 level, with weekly monitoring by school and district administrators to ensure consistent implementation.... The district uses Read 180, a comprehensive intervention for students below grade level, for a large number of students with disabilities at the elementary and middle school levels...resulting in significant success. Over the past year, the district formally implemented RtI through an implementation plan and staff training tailored to district needs. The district has also recently purchased Read Well, a reading intervention program for K 3, as well as DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills) Online, an assessment program that measures Journal of Special Education Leadership 25(2) September

12 Effective Practices in High Performing Districts students early literacy skills in five areas: phonemic awareness, alphabetic principle, accuracy and fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Finally, Kerman has emphasized the use of PLCs for several years, specifically including collaboration between general and special education teachers. Mr. Postler sees the district s efforts to fully incorporate students with disabilities into the core curriculum, and the programs and strategies described above, as the keys to their impressive academic success. District Profile 2: Upland Unified School District Upland Unified in San Bernardino County enrolls students, with 40% eligible for free or reduced-price lunch and 14% English learners (slightly below the statewide averages of 50% and 20%). In the school year, Upland s students in special education taking the CST scored above average in mathematics (40 vs. 33%) and English language arts (39 vs. 32%) compared with the state as a whole, and also scored higher than districts with comparable percentages of students in poverty (see Table 2). Upland s director of student services, Lori Thompson, cited three primary factors that have contributed to the district s success with its special education population: A blended program developed using curriculum mapping and common assessments, Collaboration and co-teaching, and Professional development (e.g., Guided Language Acquisition Design [GLAD] strategies). Special education in Upland continues to evolve, and is moving toward a blended program in which students and teachers associated with special education are integrated into general education, particularly at the junior high and high school levels. Five years ago, the district started de-tracking its high school. To allow all students to be on the same academic track, general and special education teachers developed common curriculum and assessments in all departments. All students now take college prep courses in mathematics, ELA, social science, and other subjects. Instead of being in a separate class, students identified for special education take college prep classes and receive specialized academic instruction from special 66 education teachers when needed. At the middle school level, students in special education get access to the core curriculum in classes where general and special education teachers work collaboratively.... In addition to collaborating and co-teaching when blending instruction, teachers engage in formalized transition planning for students in special education moving into junior high and high school. At the elementary level, while still using resource and special day class teachers, the district is implementing more blended instruction particularly in social studies and science, because these subjects are easier to blend than mathematics and ELA. Upland used to cluster special day classes at just a few schools, with a lot of busing. However, given the high cost of busing students and the goal of having them attend their neighborhood schools, they have now distributed their special day classes more evenly across the district. This makes blended instruction more viable because students in special education are no longer concentrated at a few school sites. In addition to collaborating and co-teaching when blending instruction, teachers engage in formalized transition planning for students in special education moving into junior high and high school. Sending and receiving teachers meet to discuss the students making these transitions. The goal is to maximize the degree to which they can be in blended classes and fully exposed to the core curriculum, with the levels of support needed to make them successful. Upland has emphasized professional development for teachers in meeting the needs of all learners. For instance, the district has coached teachers on GLAD (Guided Language Acquisition Design) strategies, which focus on literacy and visual strategies for learning seen as useful for students in special education. District Profile 3: Val Verde Unified District Val Verde Unified, located in Riverside County, is a relatively large district, with an enrollment of approximately students. About three quarters (74%) of the district s students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, and more than one quarter (26%) are ELs. In the school year, 37% of Val Journal of Special Education Leadership 25(2) September 2012

13 Verde s students in special education taking the CST scored proficient or above in mathematics; 33% scored proficient or above in ELA. The statewide averages for students in special education were 33 and 32%, and 28 and 26% in districts with comparable proportions of students in poverty (see Table 2). Val Verde s special education director, Vicki Butler, along with the middle and high school program specialist, Christine Counts, and the elementary school instructional coach, Jeff Mossa, credited these factors for Val Verde s strong performance with its students in special education: Equitable access to the core curriculum and assessments, Professional development for special education teachers, and Collaborative teaching and teamwork. First, the district explained that the students in special education are performing well partly because all students in the district are performing well. The philosophy in the district is that special education is not separate from general education; it is treated as part of the whole. Also, special education is deliberately located in the curriculum and instruction department as opposed to under student services to avoid silos and bridge the gap between general and special education. To this end, Val Verde uses a flexible model for students in special education; students are integrated into general education as much as possible, but also receive specialized academic instruction depending on their needs and Individualized Education Program goals. As Ms. Butler pointed out, These models are better than the old model that we used to have, where we separated kids out and isolated them. These are more entwined with the regular education program. The team also noted that through the use of RtI strategies, they have been able to identify and provide services for at-risk students to keep their special education population from increasing beyond 10%. Another important factor identified by the Val Verde team is their professional development for special education teachers. Two years ago, the district received a Special Education Teacher Professional Development Grant as part of the Reading First project. Special education teachers were trained in the ELA core curriculum (Houghton Mifflin), which is usually only offered to general education teachers. This training allowed special education teachers to Effective Practices in High Performing Districts better understand and use the core curriculum s different components and supplements. Teachers were also given training related to the district s writing program (Step Up to Writing), as well as training on GLAD strategies, co-teaching, and data analysis supports.... through the use of RtI strategies, they have been able to identify and provide services for at-risk students to keep their special education population from increasing beyond 10%. At the elementary level, Val Verde emphasizes collaborative teaching and teamwork through learning centers. The learning center is a place where students are taught through small group or targeted individualized instruction in a general education setting. Also, there is a special education teacher on each elementary school leadership team to ensure that special education is fully integrated with general education. In addition, each elementary school has an instructional coach who facilitates data meetings. At the middle and high school levels, there is a special education team that works with grade level teams. Students with disabilities are fully included in general education classes, with either instructional assistant or special education teacher assistance in their classes. There are also Basic Classes, which are smaller and designed for students with more intensive needs. ext year, the district will add instructional coaches to its secondary programs as well. According to Mr. Mossa, We have built the capacity of our special education teachers to have them bring value to the general education classroom for the special and general education students. District Profile 4: Sanger Unified School District Sanger Unified is in the heart of California s Central Valley, where the child poverty rate is two to three times the national average. Despite these demographic challenges, the district has made great academic strides. In 2004, seven of the district s schools were designated as Program Improvement (PI) sites under CLB. Today, four are State Distinguished Schools, and two have been recognized as ational Blue Ribbon Schools. In addition, Sanger Journal of Special Education Leadership 25(2) September

14 Effective Practices in High Performing Districts Unified employees have received local and national recognition, such as the ational Superintendent of the Year Award, the Bell Award for Outstanding School Leadership, and Fresno County Administrator and Teacher of the Year awards. The practices in Sanger have reduced the percentage of students requiring special education services to 8%, as compared to the statewide average of 10% and the nationwide average of over 13%. Despite the fact that its special education programs are serving students with the most severe needs, Sanger s students in special education perform substantially better than the state average and better than other districts with similar demographics. In the school year, 49% of Sanger s students in special education taking the CST scored proficient or above in mathematics and 38% did so in ELA, compared to 33 and 32% for students in special education statewide, and 28 and 26% in districts with comparable levels of students in poverty (see Table 2). According to the district, in the school year, Sanger was in a struggle with the teachers union, the school board, and the superintendent, and was at a point of total dysfunction. By 2004, Sanger had hit rock bottom, with substantial refocus long overdue. Ultimately, Sanger was able to turn the corner by adopting an approach focused on Response to Intervention (RtI), Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), and Explicit Direct Instruction (EDI). Sanger successfully implemented these components through a change in the administrative philosophy to one of loose/tight leadership. Loose/Tight Leadership. The tight component of this new approach to district governance was the message that all schools had to meet clearly established targets, which required the cooperation of all administrators and staff. The loose part of the model allowed each individual school to structure how to meet these expectations which methods they would use to implement these district-wide practices and objectives.... The loose part of the model allowed each individual school to structure how to meet expectations Implementation of RTI. Creation of this loose/tight leadership model led to all schools implementing 68 their own RtI approach. At each school, the general and special education staff joined together to implement the RtI approach and ensure its success. RtI allowed Sanger schools to begin addressing its special education needs and general education challenges. Challenges to the implementation of RtI included a large percentage of English learners and students qualifying for special services. Combined with everdecreasing budgets, district service providers were stretched to deal with the needs of an ever-increasing special population of students who were already far behind benchmark goals. In addition, general education and special education were not communicating to meet the unique needs of students across the district. RtI was pivotal in creating a connection with general education teachers as they needed special education support to meet the needs of students receiving additional interventions. Being proactive about addressing the needs of these students gave teachers a greater sense of purpose, and more ownership of and control over student outcomes. RtI provided the strategies to address these challenges and brought school site teams together for a common purpose. Professional Learning Communities. PLCs have played an important role in implementing the change needed to challenge students in their learning. Using the loose/tight approach, the district s charge to schools was to involve all levels of staff in PLC training, beginning with administrators and extending to school site teams. The tight component meant that all schools were required to implement PLCs, replacing more traditional staff meetings. The loose component meant that their approach to forming PLCs could vary as long as the school was benefitting from implementation. As a result of this training, the district focused on four key questions, all focused on student learning: 1. What do we want students to learn? 2. How do we know they learned it? 3. How will we respond when learning does not take place? 4. What do we do for those who already know it? The question What do we want students to learn? led to commonly agreed upon standards and objectives. How will we know they learned it? resulted in common assessments for every grade level team, bringing consistency to their instruction. Journal of Special Education Leadership 25(2) September 2012

15 Asking How will we respond when learning does not take place? led to common pacing guides, sharing and building lesson plans, and a flow of expertise and advice among staff regarding how to configure classes for better learning opportunities. The question of How will we respond for those who already know it? led to strategies to deepen understanding, expand rigor, and develop preassessments to differentiate instruction.... in Sanger they [school psychologists] function as quasi-vice principals, serving on leadership teams, conducting walkthroughs, dealing with student behavior issues, and serving as the backbone of the RtI process. School psychologists are part of the PLCs as well. Sanger uses psychologists differently from most districts. While school psychologists are often used almost exclusively to conduct special education assessments (to determine whether students qualify for service), in Sanger they function as quasi-vice principals, serving on leadership teams, conducting walkthroughs, dealing with student behavior issues, and serving as the backbone of the RtI process. Explicit Direct Instruction. When EDI began in Sanger, it started as a pilot project with Del Rey Elementary, one of the lowest-performing schools in the district. In partnership with a company called DataWorks, the district created structured EDI lessons that were highly correlated to state standards. After this, Del Rey experienced an increase in the state s API from 532 in 2002 to 818 in 2010, and became one of the most notable and frequently visited schools in the district. Beginning in 2004, all special education and general education teachers in the district were trained in EDI, which provided the framework for explicit skill development and conceptual understanding. Teachers replaced conversations about how students don t get it with discussions about what part of the lesson they didn t get. This allowed special and general educators to communicate with each other to meet the needs of all students. Conversations became focused on specific EDI components such as concept development, skill development, learning objectives, and guided practice. Once general education teachers identified the area(s) the student did not understand, the special education teacher could provide assistance regarding the best approach to learning, which led to greater inclusion of students with disabilities and a higher degree of collaboration between special and general education teachers. This shift created an interdependent relationship between special and general education; this relationship was necessary to fluidly react to students needs. The interconnection enabled all stakeholders to speak a common language, develop common outcomes, enhance common practices, and articulate common goals. The implementation of EDI, PLCs, and RtI moved all schools out of PI status and increased all schools API and AYP scores. In addition, the initiatives increased district administrator knowledge of student needs and increased the use of data by teachers to diagnose and meet the needs of individual students within the district, school, and grade level teams. In short, the combination of Sanger s commitment to fully include as many children as possible in the general education setting, its RtI approach to meet students exceptional needs outside special education through the use of EDI strategies, and collaboration through PLC teams have been a recipe for success. Overall District Themes Examining themes across all four of these districts, the following strategies emerged in support of special education performance: Inclusion and access to the core curriculum (four districts), Collaboration between special education and general education teachers (four districts), Continuous assessment and use of RtI (three districts), Targeted professional development (three Effective Practices in High Performing Districts districts), and Use of Explicit Direct Instruction (two districts). Inclusion and access to the core curriculum was the strategy most strongly credited by all four districts as having contributed to special education performance. However, as in the Donahue Institute study, inclusion efforts take different forms across these districts. In Kerman and Sanger, the strategy is to fully integrate as many students identified for special education as possible, with proper support from resource teachers depending on student needs. Upland, on the other hand, is moving toward a Journal of Special Education Leadership 25(2) September

16 Effective Practices in High Performing Districts blended program which started with the detracking of its high school and providing students in special education more access to college prep courses at the high school level and to the core curriculum at the middle and elementary levels. Similarly, Val Verde uses a flexible model in which students with disabilities are integrated into general education as much as possible but also receive specialized academic instruction when needed.... Teachers replaced conversations about how students don t get it with discussions about what part of the lesson they didn t get. All four districts indicated that, for inclusion to work, general and special education teachers need to collaborate. This strategy was consistently mentionedasawaytoimprovespecialeducation performance as well. In two of the districts (Kerman and Sanger), the collaboration takes place through PLCs, where special and general education teachers discuss student needs and plan instruction together. In Sanger, school psychologists are also part of the PLCs. In Upland and Val Verde, collaboration takes the form of blended instruction, transition planning, use of learning centers, and special education teacher participation on leadership teams to ensure integration of general and special education. Kerman, Sanger, and Val Verde cited continuous use of student assessment data and RtI strategies as a way to respond to student needs and limit the number of students referred to special education. Kerman, Upland, and Val Verde provide targeted professional development to meet the needs of all learners, emphasizing particular strategies (e.g., EDI, GLAD) or training special education teachers to better understand and use the core curriculum. Finally, Kerman and Sanger both use EDI as a way to structure lesson content and increase student engagement through the use of flexible groupings and ongoing assessments. Study Implications Education researchers, practitioners, and policymakers should give greater consideration to the 70 substantial variation observed in the academic results for students with disabilities in school districts across the state. Some districts are producing much higher educational outcomes for their students in special education. Given the magnitude of spending on special education services and all that is at stake for these children, a better understanding of what these districts are doing that might inform others should be gained. This study has begun this process. Through a rigorous selection process, a number of districts were found that substantially and consistently outperformed similar districts on state performance measures. The main themes that emerged across these districts are consistent with the research and literature on effective practices for students in special education: inclusion and access to the core curriculum (four districts), collaboration between special education and general education teachers (four districts), continuous assessment and use of RtI (three districts); targeted professional development (three districts), and use of EDI (two districts). All four districts were very clear about the need for students in special education to gain full access to the curriculum, which will only occur through strong general and special education collaboration. Districts emphasized the importance of creating a learning community unified in the belief that all children can learn. Aside from this overall philosophy, though, each district reported developing specific strategies that were unique. Further exploration could occur through more in depth data collection (including site visits to districts and schools) to document through interviews and observations how successful special education outcomes are produced at different sites. For example, on-site observations could document how professional development for and collaboration between general and special education teachers occur. Also, this study only examined performance on the California Standards Test (CST), which is the statewide assessment; one could explore the performance of students taking the California Modified Assessment (CMA) and the California Alternate Performance Assessment (CAPA) to understand best practices for the students in special education taking these assessments. For now, however, the authors believe these unified, diverse districts, and others like them, can Journal of Special Education Leadership 25(2) September 2012

17 serve as lighthouses for other districts struggling to fully incorporate their special education population and to give these students the best possible chance to succeed academically. Author ote This study was conducted as part of the California Comprehensive Center (CA CC) at WestEd, one of the 16 regional centers charged with building state capacity to implement the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, improve student achievement, and close achievement gaps. References Chaikind, S., & Fowler, W.J. (Eds.). (2001). Education finance in the new millennium. (Annual Yearbook of the American Education Finance Association). Larchmont, Y: Eye on Education. Cortiella, C., & Burnette, J. (2008). Challenging change: How schools and districts are improving the performance of special education students. ew York: ational Center for Learning Disabilities. Darling-Hammond, L. (1996). Restructuring schools for high performance. In S. Fuhrman, & J. O Day (Eds.), Rewards and reform (pp ). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Donahue Institute, The University of Massachusetts. (2004, October). A study of MCAS achievement and promising practices in urban special education. Hadley, MA: Author. Fuller, B., Loeb, S., Arshan,., Chen, A., & Yi, S. (2007). California principals resources: Acquisition, deployment, and barriers. Berkeley, CA: Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE). Hanushek, E.A., Kain, J.F., & Rivkin, S.G. (2002). Inferring program effects for special populations: Does special education raise achievement for students with disabilities? Review of Economics and Statistics, 84(4), Levine, D.U., & Lezotte, L.W. (1990). Unusually effective schools: A review and analysis of research and practice. Madison, WI: ational Center for Effective Schools Research and Development. McLaughlin, M.J., & The Center for Policy Research on the Impact of General and Special Education Reform. (1997, March). Reform for all? General and special education reforms in five local school districts. Washington, DC: Special Education Programs (ED/OSERS). CLB (o Chld Left Behind) Act of 2001, Pub. L. o , 1 115, Stat (2002). Parrish, T., Perez, M., Merickel, A., & Linquanti, R. (2006). Effects of the implementation of Proposition 227 on the education of English learners, K 12. Findings from a fiveyear evaluation: Final report. Palo Alto, CA: American Institutes for Research and WestEd. Perez, M., Anand, P., Speroni, C., Parrish, T., Esra, P., Socias, M., & Gubbins, P. (2007). Successful California schools in the context of educational adequacy. Palo Alto, CA: American Institutes for Research. President s Commission on Excellence in Special Education. (2002, July). A new era: Revitalizing special education for children and their families. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, A ew Era: Revitalizing Special Education for Children and Their Families, Washington, DC, Skiba, R.J., Simmons, A.B., Ritter, S., Gibb, A.C., Rausch, M.K., Cuadrado, J., & Chung, C.-G. (2008). Achieving Equity in Special Education: History, Status, and Current Challenges. Exceptional Children, 74(3), U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development. (2010). ESEA Blueprint for Reform. Washington, DC: Author. Wolf, P.J., & Hassal, B.C. (2001). Effectiveness and accountability (part 1): The compliance model. In C. Finn, Jr., A. Rotherham, & C. Hokanson, Jr. (Eds.), Rethinking special education for a new century (pp ). Washington, DC: Progressive Policy Institute and Fordham Foundation. About the Authors Effective Practices in High Performing Districts Mette Huberman, M.A., is a senior research analyst for the American Institutes for Research, 2800 Campus Drive, Suite 200, San Mateo, CA Matt avo, M.S., is the director of Pupil Personnel Services for the Sanger Unified School District, 1905 Seventh Street, Sanger CA Tom Parrish, Ed.D., is a managing research scientist for the American Institutes for Research, 2800 Campus Drive, Suite 200, San Mateo, CA Journal of Special Education Leadership 25(2) September

18 Leading the Way to Appropriate Selection, Implementation, and Evaluation of the Read-Aloud Accommodation Martha L. Thurlow, Ph.D., Sheryl S. Lazarus, Ph.D., and Jennifer R. Hodgson, M.A. University of Minnesota The read-aloud accommodation is one of the most frequently used accommodations. Many educators need training to more confidently select, implement, and evaluate the use of the readaloud accommodation. Planning by special education leaders can help ensure that test day goes smoothly for students who need the read-aloud accommodation. Reading skills are a challenge for many students with disabilities, yet so much of education is dependent on those skills. These skills are particularly important for students to have access to the curriculum and to be able to participate in state assessments of mathematics and reading. Special education leaders can support the selection, implementation, and evaluation of the read-aloud accommodation. By doing so, the validity of student results is likely to be improved beyond what it would be if attention had not been paid to this accommodation. Why Do Leaders eed to Care About the Read-Aloud Accommodation? Understanding mathematics texts and assessments is likely to be a major problem for students who have disabilities in the area of reading. Similar challenges exist for texts and assessments in the area of reading, although the challenges there are more complex. Of particular concern for reading assessments is the fact that these assessments often rely on the student s ability to decode the text, even when the targeted construct is to understand the text and not to demonstrate decoding skills. Some students with disabilities may need accommodations to prevent reading challenges from inhibiting academic success. The read-aloud accommodation is a primary accommodation used to provide access to the curriculum and to assessments. Read aloud refers to a variety of approaches to having curricular materials or assessments read to the student by someone (human reader) or something else (audio tape or speech-to-text software on a computer). Despite its popularity, this accommodation is not always the most appropriate accommodation, especially if it is provided to students who do not really need it or if the implementation of the accommodation is inappropriate.... Read aloud refers to a variety of approaches to having curricular materials or assessments read to the student by someone (human reader) or something else (audio tape or speech-to-text software on a computer). The read-aloud accommodation is sometimes defined in terms of what is read to the student. For The preparation of this article was funded with partial support from the Multi-state GSEG Toward a Defensible AA-MAS, a project supported by General Supervision Enhancement Grants (H373X070021) from the Research to Practice Division, Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education. Opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Education or Offices within it. 72 Journal of Special Education Leadership 25(2) September 2012

19 example, a common practice is to read directions aloud. Although a frequently occurring practice in the classroom, it is often considered to be an accommodation during large-scale assessments (Christensen, Braam, Scullin, & Thurlow, 2011). Read aloud also can refer to reading test item stems and sometimes answer choices. This is allowed somewhat less frequently than the reading of directions. Finally, read aloud can refer to the reading of test items themselves, which in some cases might include the passages in reading assessments. Thus, a simple term such as read-aloud accommodation has a variety of meanings. It also has many complexities that need to be thought about as decisions are made about accommodations in the classroom and during large-scale assessments and as the accommodation is implemented. Leaders can provide important support to ensure that decisions and implementation are appropriate and that systematic evaluation of the accommodation occurs. Current Practice and Challenges in Accommodations Decision Making It is now recognized that students may have a variety of physical, sensory, or cognitive challenges that prevent them from showing what they know and can do on assessments (Bolt & Roach, 2009). When used for assessments, accommodations remove obstacles immaterial to what the test is intended to measure (Thurlow, Lazarus, & Christensen, 2008, p. 17). Accepted practice is for assigned accommodations to be based on the student s individual needs (Thurlow, Elliott, & Ysseldyke, 2003), with data collected during instruction and assessment to ensure that the accommodation is working as intended (Elliott & Thurlow, 2006). Still, there are many challenges associated with accommodations, especially the read-aloud accommodation. Challenges associated with making decisions about accommodations are exacerbated by limited or contradictory research findings. The read-aloud is an example of an accommodation that has gathered mixed empirical support. Weston (2002) found that the read-aloud accommodation benefited students with disabilities more than students Read Aloud Accommodation without disabilities. Similarly, Helwig, Rozek- Tedesco, and Tindal (2002) found that when there washighlinguisticcomplexityinmathitems, students with disabilities were more likely to benefit from a read-aloud accommodation than were students without disabilities. Other studies (e.g., Elbaum, 2007) have shown that the read-aloud accommodation benefited students without disabilities more than it benefited students with disabilities. Focus Group Data on Using the Read Aloud Accommodation for Math Assessments There is limited evidence to guide the use of the read-aloud accommodation in practice, including its use for mathematics assessments (Tindal & Anderson, 2011). In an attempt to better understand the use of the read-aloud accommodation in practice and how decisions are made about various aspects of providing the accommodation, we conducted focus groups with test administrators in a Midwestern state. This state is one of the 37 states in the United States that allows use of the readaloud accommodation for mathematics assessments without restrictions (Christensen et al., 2011). In the focus groups, we targeted the use of the read-aloud accommodation for mathematics assessments by asking four questions: 1. What are appropriate practices in administration of the read-aloud accommodation? 2. How does the read-aloud accommodation benefit students? 3. What differences exist in the use of the readaloud accommodation in math versus other content areas (e.g., reading, science)? 4. What differences exist between the read-aloud accommodation and other accommodations for students? Twelve educators who administered the readaloud accommodation on statewide mathematics assessments participated in the focus groups. Ten participants were special educators and two were district-level special education administrators. Some of the participants had administered the read-aloud accommodation for other content areas (e.g., reading, science) as well as for mathematics. Journal of Special Education Leadership 25(2) September

20 Read Aloud Accommodation We highlight here the themes that emerged from the focus group conversations. They address considerations for selecting the read-aloud accommodation in math and for how to plan for the successful use of the read-aloud accommodation on mathematics assessments. We conclude by identifying some ways in which special education leaders can support the appropriate use of the readaloud accommodation in mathematics. A complete summary of our focus group research and related findings are detailed in a forthcoming report (see Hodgson, Lazarus, Price, Altman, & Thurlow, 2012) that may be accessed on the ational Center on Educational Outcomes website (www.nceo.info). Considerations for Using Read Aloud for Mathematics Assessments Our focus group discussions provided insight into how the read-aloud accommodation is selected for students. According to the educators who participated in the focus groups, students who were identified as needing the read-aloud accommodation shared several common characteristics. Both reading and behavioral difficulties were frequently mentioned. The educators also indicated that it was often challenging to use data appropriately to make decisions about the use of the read-aloud accommodation for math and that there were inconsistencies in the use of the read aloud across instruction and assessment. Characteristics and eeds of Students Who May Find This Accommodation Useful The read-aloud accommodation is intended to prevent the student s decoding skills from interfering with showing what he or she knows and is able to do (Thurlow, Moen, Lekwa, & Scullin, 2010). Given the intended purpose of the read-aloud accommodation, it is often assumed that students with limited reading skills, including some students with learning disabilities, would benefit from the read-aloud accommodation. This is consistent with the literature, which notes that reading classroom tests aloud is a commonly used accommodation for students with learning disabilities (ewman, 2006) and the finding that oral presentation and response is one of the five most commonly used testing accommodations for students with learning disabilities (Lindstrom, 2010) Student needs are barriers to learning that prevent the student from accessing classroom instruction or demonstrating knowledge on assessments. Educators who participated in the focus groups also reported that the read-aloud accommodation was effective for students with certain characteristics and needs. They noted that students who appeared to benefit from the read-aloud accommodation shared common characteristics, including poor reading skills, difficulty attending to academic tasks, and high anxiety. Students with poor reading skills were reported to have difficulties with mathematics terminology. One educator explained that students who were unable to decode some math terms (e.g., quotient, perpendicular) were more likely to guess on test items than they would if they were provided the read-aloud accommodation.... students who appeared to benefit from the readaloud accommodation shared common characteristics, including poor reading skills, difficulty attending to academic tasks, and high anxiety. Students who had difficulty attending to academic tasks also were reported to benefit from the read-aloud accommodation. The focus group participants suggested that the read-aloud accommodation may have promoted appropriate pacing of test content for these students. They noted that students who were provided the read-aloud accommodation were less likely to rush through the test. The educators said that physical proximity of the student and test administrator when the read-aloud accommodation was delivered was another important factor and that the read-aloud accommodation promoted the student s on-task behavior. Further, teachers reported that they considered highly anxious students, or those described as easily frustrated, as possible candidates for the read-aloud accommodation. Educators noted that when in a small group, highly anxious students appeared more confident compared with when they were in a large group test setting. Although Individualized Education Program (IEP) teams often consider the read-aloud Journal of Special Education Leadership 25(2) September 2012

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