Profiling the Quality of Educational Programs for Adolescents with Disabilities

By Brasseur, Irma; Gildroy, Pat et al. | Teaching Exceptional Children, November/December 2004 | Go to article overview

Profiling the Quality of Educational Programs for Adolescents with Disabilities


Brasseur, Irma, Gildroy, Pat, Schumaker, Jean, Deshler, Don, et al., Teaching Exceptional Children


Preparing secondary students with disabilities to succeed in rigorous general education classes and to meet adequate yearly progress (AYP) standards as called for in the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act is an exceedingly challenging assignment for all teachers and administrators. The magnitude of this challenge is even greater for adolescents with disabilities who are working toward graduation and the receipt of a standard high school diploma. Not only are the outcome standards that students are expected to meet demanding, but the stipulations of NCLB require that the education of all students be grounded in "scientifically based practices." The importance of educators using scientifically based practices is underscored by the fact that the term (i.e., scientifically based practices) is used 111 times in the Act.

Because of the relatively short amount of instructional time remaining for secondary students and the significant gap that many adolescents with disabilities exhibit between the skills/strategies they possess and the demands of the curriculum they are expected to meet, educational programs must be designed to ensure that what these students are taught and how their instruction is provided reflects best practice (Deshler et al., 2001). Some recent data on secondary school programming for adolescents with disabilities indicates, however, that these students are often taught with instructional programs that are not research based and that the commonly used instructional procedures are not necessarily grounded in research (e.g., Schumaker, Deshler, Bulgren, Davis, Lenz, & Grossen, 2002).

In light of these realities, instructional programs need to be designed and evaluated on an ongoing basis to ensure that they embody the very best of what is known about quality instruction for students with disabilities. Thus, the staff of the Institute for Academic Access designed a program assessment tool, called A Rubric for Educating Adolescents With Disabilities (READ) to assist those who are responsible for providing a quality education to students with disabilities. This tool can be used to build a profile of the educational program currently in place and to determine areas of strength and targeted areas for improvement. It can also be used as a framework around which new programs can be structured. In short, the purpose of the READ is to provide school districts, administrators, directors of special education, and individual special and general education teachers with a tool for enhancing the development, implementation, and sustainability of research-based programming for students with disabilities in secondary settings. This tool is designed to profile instructional programs for students with disabilities who are expected to earn standard high school diplomas in their districts.

An Overview of fhe Rubric

The rubric is organized into five major domains. The Program Design Domain provides a profile of major attributes that define a special education program at the school level such as: the presence of a shared program vision; the method of decision making; alignment and compliance with federal, state, and district guidelines; continuous assessment of the program; and systemic capacity building through continuous staff development. The Staff Skills Domain provides a profile of the degree to which special and general education staff who work with students with disabilities use effective planning methods and instructional practices. These instructional practices included those used in required general education subject-area courses as well as support classes. The Basic Learning Skills Domain provides a profile of which basic learning skills are taught to secondary students with disabilities, how they are taught, and how their instruction is coordinated. The skills profiled are: basic decoding skills, basic spelling skills, basic vocabulary skills, basic reading comprehension skills, basic writing skills, basic math concepts and facts, basic technology skills, and basic social skills.

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Profiling the Quality of Educational Programs for Adolescents with Disabilities
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