So often the primary reason that students end up in self-contained classes with low expectations is that their IEP includes goals that bear little resemblance to anything that is going on in a general education setting. The IEP team then claims that the goals need to be implemented someplace other than the general education classroom which is doing something markedly different. This is one of my biggest pet peeves: IEP goals that are extremely self-limiting or worse, that encourage a worksheet curriculum or a flashcard program. While students with such goals may be operating at a level significantly below grade level, there is no reason that their goals need to be so limited. One of the most significant changes that I believe is critical in looking at inclusive-forward educational opportunities is aligning IEP goals for inclusive settings.
It turns out that IEP goals are supposed to be “aligned” to the general education curriculum, but this concept is one that is “in the eye of the beholder”. I was involved in a case last year with a 12th grade student with an intellectual impairment and Autism whose present levels suggested she was at a very primer level in math skills. Her one math goal for her senior year was to count coins. The District “aligned” that standard to the general education curriculum by noting a code to designate that the goal came from the 2nd grade standards. And that is correct; the second grade “data and measurement” math standard includes learning about money. So, what is the problem? There is no “data and measurement” 12th grade standard for money and when we suggest that goals are to be aligned with the general education curriculum, they should be aligned with the grade level general education curriculum. When I asked the District’s witness about this during the hearing, he claimed it was a mistake – and he should have aligned the goal to a 12th grade standard so that they could be in compliance with their “plan” to graduate this student the following May (and deprive her of years of transition services to which she was legally entitled).
The problem demonstrated by this example is how the “alignment” requirement can be manipulated to serve a purpose – such as to graduate a student by claiming the he or she received an education that was fully aligned with the general curriculum (a requirement to “earn” a regular diploma and be exited from special education). This is seen every year in Arizona – a practice I find unconscionable. By arbitrarily pulling any 12th grade standard and “aligning” it to a limited “counting coins” goal (or dollar up, or making change, or whatever money goal is taught in a “low” self contained special education classroom), a district can also readily support a segregated setting because, after all, “how can we implement the goal in a 12th grade general education classroom that does NOT teach about money?” This sounds pretty reasonable, but it isn’t how it needs to be done. Just as the District’s expert claimed that he could align any goal to a 12th grade standard, it is just as easy to differentiate instruction in any grade to meet the individual needs for any student.
Math is sequential. As such, you learn to count first, then learn 1:1 correspondence, then add and subtract, and multiply and divide, etc. etc. But those skills are just one part of math instruction. Under the standards (Common Core or other similar state standards), these are “operations” type goals, sometimes referred to as “number sense” or “cardinality” or a host of other names but there are state standards for all 12 years in this area of math. There are geometry standards for every grade and data and measurement. Teachers can and do differentiate instruction for lower and higher learners. There is no reason that a student with an intellectual disability MUST be removed for math instruction, particularly at the elementary grades.
Think about this. If the teacher is teaching multiplication of single digits, that is just addition on steroids. A problem of 3 x 2 is the same as 3 + 3 (two sets of three) and any multiplication problem can be differentiated lower by making it addition. If you add visuals to the problem (dots below each number), you can turn the problem into a counting opportunity. So, if the IEP team is proposing a goal to “count to 10”, there is no reason why that goal can not be implemented in a gen ed setting. And it can be implemented authentically – ask the student to count out 10 pencils, or “go get 10 pencils” or count the number of students in row one. If the student needs a sensory break, he can bounce a ball 10 times or jump on a trampoline 10 times. There is nothing magic about a counting to 10 goal that requires it to be implemented in an SDC class.
But why limit the instruction of the student to counting? If the student is at that level of instruction based on assessment, you will see an IEP that has a goal for counting, and number recognition and maybe writing numbers. Three goals on one standard. There is no goal for geometry. No goal for measurement and data. No one is going to teach the student about fractions either. In fact, there is no goal for any of the other math standards. So, they pull the student out and he spends his entire year working on one standard and at a very low level, often doing TouchMath worksheets and counting and/or adding dots. Under this scenario, he or she will be so far behind, the district will forever make the same argument to segregate as was made initially – “we don’t teach at the level he or she is performing so ‘go directly to a self-contained class’”. My question is simple: Why wouldn’t we want the student to be exposed to all of the math standards albeit at his or her instructional level.
Consider this goal:
After being instructed on grade level math standards, adapted to his instructional level, Student will solve problems at 70% accuracy using any preferred manner of demonstration (manipulatives, multiple choice, writing the answer, with technology) for each unit of instruction as measured by daily work samples, homework, and teacher created probes/assessment.
When I first offered this goal, staff looked flummoxed. They didn’t “get it”. They wanted a counting and writing numbers goal. I said, “he will count and write numbers every day but he should participate in the gen ed instruction”. They thought the goal was immeasurable – how would they report out on his areas of need. I reminded them that a general education report card often did not report out on all standards every quarter– if the math book lesson on geometry was second semester, the first semester report card would say “NI” for geometry (not introduced). So, just as with general education, staff would report out on the areas of instruction being taught each quarter and report out the progress at the student’s instructional level.
If the student is in 2nd grade and is just learning to count to 10, when the general education class gets get to measurement and data in 2nd grade, they will introduce time (to the quarter hour) and money. He can participate in the time lesson and count the numbers but, at the same time, he is learning what a clock is, and that there are numbers on a clock. Had this goal been implemented all along, he would have been introduced to a clock in kindergarten as they learn time to the hour under most state standards in kindergarten. But if he is a second grader and just being exposed to a clock, he can be introduced to the “data and measurement” unit by accessing the time and measurement Kindergarten standards and “scaffolding back” to fill in what the student missed the prior two years. His peers may be telling time to the quarter hour or minute; he can learn to tell time to the hour, focusing on number recognition which is his level. At the progress reporting period for that semester, the teacher would report out that “We introduced data and measurement standards. He was learning to tell time to the hour and to recognize the numbers to 12. On teacher probes, he scored 70% on 4/5 trials in identifying what number the big hand was pointing to. That is the same thing they would do in an SDC class, right? They will be shown 4 numbers and asked: “point to 1”. Why can’t they learn that same thing during the measurement and data unit with a clock in the second-grade general education classroom and thus participate with their non-disabled peers?
Measurement and data standards include using graphs, counting objects and categorizing them on data charts, etc. All of that is working on number sense. If you think about these concepts, you can readily see how math can be differentiated. In 6th grade, students are taught to solve for area and perimeter and volume. A perimeter formula is just addition (length plus width plus length plus width). Any perimeter problem can be used with single digits to allow a student who is at the primer level in counting to participate. Area is about counting squares (conceptually). While 6th grade students learn a short cut (a length times width (L x W) formula), a visual can be given with squares and a student at a primer math level can just count the squares. So, at each standard, the teacher can adapt the lesson so that an included student is accessing the standard at his or her instructional level.
And the good news is that there is an app/website that does this already. IXL math has differentiated problems for each standard, each grade. You can click on the kindergarten standard and if the student has mastered that, go to the first-grade standard. Any teacher at any grade can see where to access the standard and then use that as a guide to support differentiation…. If there is a goal that would require it. If you limit an IEP to a counting goal, the student will just count and be placed in a class where he will get Touch Math worksheets designed to allow him to work on counting. If you have a goal to “expose Student to all grade level standards at his or her instructional level”, they will also be counting but will be exposed to all the other things we believe students should learn in math class. A broad math goal would be a great starting point to advocate for inclusion.
ELA is much easier. Any “text” can be simplified to a lower readability level. There are websites that have adapted classics such as “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Charlotte’s Web” (see Paul Sherlock Center for Disabilities - http://www.ric.edu/sherlockcenter/wwslist.html ). Mary Pope Osborn who wrote the Magic Treehouse series also wrote two books about Odysseus’ adventures which aligns nicely to Homer’s classic – The Odyssey. So, if the teacher is reading Charlotte’s Web to her class, an adapted version can be provided to an included student. He or she can decode the words in the text that are at his or her level (e.g. CVC words, sight words) and can listen to the story with peers and then can re-read the text (or have a peer buddy read to him) using the adapted text (lower readability level). As students are then tasked with a writing assignment - to write a summary about the story - an included student can access that assignment at his or her level. It is a written expression assignment. What is his present level for written expression? Is it writing sentences? Is it writing words? An included student can write a sentence about a story as his or her peers are writing a paragraph. A worksheet with pictures can be made to facilitate the writing instruction. A word bank can be provided. The student can use a device to type; writing apps can be accessed that help to write sentences (e.g. Abitalk.com, Clicker Connect for iPad or Chrome). The student can have picture cards to help form sentences. Whatever level the student is at can be accessed in a general ed setting with general ed curriculum if adapted to the instructional level of the student.
I was observing in a 2d grade class recently and the teacher had read a nonfiction book about amphibians. There were pictures in it of toads and frogs and the students were learning facts about each. They then went to their tables and had a packet to fill out where they answered questions about amphibians, drew a picture, and then had to identify 3 facts about a frog or toad, etc. The included student was working with an instructional assistant who first reviewed the book with him. She did NOT re-read the book – just went page by page and using the pictures, stated simple sentences about each picture (e.g. “Frogs live in water. Frogs also live on land”). After reviewing the pictures, she then helped the student with the worksheet. His writing and reading goal related to sight words – reading and writing them. So, she asked him targeted questions: “Where do frogs live”? He answered “Water”. She then said, “Where else do frogs live”? When he looked confused, she opened the book to the picture of the frog on land and he said “Land”. She said, “That’s right – Frogs live in water and on land”. Let’s write that. She then gave him a sentence frame: “Frogs live __ water ___ land”. He then filled in the blanks with “in” and “and”. I would have liked to see the sentence frames created in advance and word card/options provided so that he could work independently or with a peer but the point here is that this student had an intellectual disability. He speaks in 1-2 word utterances. His present levels were much lower than 2nd grade but he accessed that curriculum and activity with support of an aide for the independent work time. And if the class shared with each other after the activity was done, he would be able to share by reading the portions he wrote (with the teacher/aide reading the rest).
ELA goals are readily adaptable for decoding, comprehension, spelling, and writing. Consider these:
Reading Comprehension: By annual review, after listening to a variety of texts at his instruction level or adapted/grade level texts (including modified/adopted literature/core curriculum), Student will [use any preferred mode of communication to ] demonstrate his comprehension by answering a variety of questions (prediction, multiple choice, fill in the blank, verbal retell) with visual supports/cues as needed (including reviewing the text/pictures), with 80% accuracy on 4/5 trials as measured by teacher/staff records/student wok samples.
Reading/Decoding/Fluency: By annual review, Student will read letters/CVC/CVCC/CVCE [select/include where student is based on instructional level or multisyllabic words] and sight words from general education grade level text adapted to his instructional level with 80% accuracy on a cold read as measured by teacher/staff records [Dibels/running reading records – choose if applicable] [Once student breaks code, goal can include baseline for fluency and assigned progress – e.g. “will improve reading fluency to ____CWPM on a cold read in 4/5 trials as measured by running reading records/DIBELS; once the student decodes well enough, speed usually is not the focus – may be relevant if School has computer based curriculum that measures speed]
Vocabulary: By annual review, with visual supports as needed, Student will demonstrate comprehension of new vocabulary added to his individualized electronic [e.g. google doc/ipad] vocabulary notebook on a weekly basis from readings at his instructional level or adapted/grade level texts (including modified/adapted literature/core curriculum) with 80% accuracy as demonstrated by correct use of the word in a sentence, selecting the definition from a field of three, or matching the definition to the word/picture in teacher made assessments.
Written Expression: By annual review, after reading/listening to an assigned text at his instructional level, adapted/grade level texts (including modified/adapted literature/core curriculum), or outside leisure reading (e.g. early reading/chapter/picture book) and, with the use of a graphic organizer and visual supports as needed (including word cards to sequence or a word bank if needed), Student will compose (write, type or dictate) a _____[insert number] sentence summary of the key elements of the text (what happened, informational facts learned) using complete sentences (Subject/Verb/Object), with 80% accuracy for [content, mechanics and spelling] [choose appropriate elements based on functional ability of student] on 4/5 trials as measured by teacher/staff records/student work samples.
Listening and speaking: After researching/studying a topic adapted from grade level core curriculum, or given an assigned topic for oral presentation (e.g. show and tell, share, content presentation) and with rehearsal and the use of assistive technology and visual support as necessary, _____ will compose and deliver an oral presentation including at least _________ [insert number] [facts/ideas/sentences] [choose appropriate level] as measured by student work samples. [if appropriate, can include complete sentences, syntax, grammar, depending upon student level] [Can add adult facilitation or support if needed]
All of the above goals are more inclusive and capable of being implemented with general education curriculum, adaptions at the student’s instructional level, and in a general education setting. None requires the “flash card” curriculum, or work-sheets but, if the general education class is doing a worksheet, the included student can do a worksheet on the same standard but adapted to his or her instructional level and implementing his goals (such as the amphibian example above which was adapted on the spot to implement a goal to read and spell sight words). With a global math goal, and the above ELA goals, any student can be included from a curriculum and instruction standpoint. There may be other reasons why a student should not be included (behavior, anxiety), but if the student is capable of being included, their goals can and should be “inclusion forward” to allow full implementation throughout the day. These goals can grow with the student annually – by identifying the new baseline based on informal assessment, probes or other types of assessment tools (Dibels, iReady, Maps) and the goal output level can be upped as appropriate (2 sentences upped the following year to 3 sentences upped the next year to a paragraph, etc. etc). If the present level is reading and writing CVC or sight words, that level can be implemented all day long as there are CVC and sight words in all general education curriculum. If the present level is counting numbers, there are authentic opportunities all day long to count. The point here is that there is no reason that a student who is performing many years below grade level can’t be included in whatever the general education classroom is doing curricularly as the starting point.
There may be other reasons why a student would benefit from different curriculum (e.g. intensive intervention reading curriculum) but all students should have the same rights to the same standards that the State has determined are relevant and appropriate. In many self-contained classes, there is no real science or social studies instruction, no literacy instruction, and the academic instruction is often limited to what is termed “functional” or “life skills” (e.g. counting, money, safety). The focus on some of these skills is often misplaced as some of these students will be conserved and not have access to money anyway. Students have eligibility to age 21 or 22 (depending on the state) and there is plenty of time to focus on money. But the time to focus on earthquakes and plate techtonics is 6th grade with general education peers. The time to focus on the planets is 3rd grade with general education peers. The time to read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is in 4th grade with general education peers. Most IEP goals can be implement inside the general education classroom to allow students with disabilities to be educated with their non-disabled peers, using the same standards based curriculum adopted for general education students. The first place to start to help with that goal is with the goals on an IEP. Think inclusively!