Attending to Specialized Reading Instruction for Adolescents with Mild Disabilities

Article excerpt

Adolescents with mild disabilities whose goals on their individualized education programs (IEPs) indicate increasing their reading level and comprehension skills must receive that specialized instruction. However, special educators focused on students' success on the general education curriculum and progress on high-stakes assessments may perceive competing messages regarding their instructional focus. For example, when special and general educators are co-teaching mathematics, English, science, and social studies, when is the specialized reading instruction delivered? Research has identified effective reading methods for adolescents with mild disabilities; teachers need to be aware of cautions about and conditions for providing adolescents with disabilities the specialized reading instruction stipulated on their IEPs. Content can assist special educators in examining their school's programming and conditions so that they can attend to providing specialized reading instruction for adolescents with mild disabilities.

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) mandates that all students be included in states' test results. Consequently, there have been increased efforts to authentically and frequently include more students with disabilities in the same curricular opportunities afforded their peers without disabilities. NCLB seeks to promote equity in assessment for all students because it requires:

* Assessment of each student's progress.

* Public reporting of assessment results.

* Disaggregation of assessment data, enabling scrutiny of results from subgroups of students, including students with mild disabilities.

* Pedagogical actions responsive to students' data.

Students with mild disabilities (e.g., specific learning disability, emotional or behavioral disorders) benefit from NCLB requirements when schools and states use these students' assessment data to increase students' access to the general education curriculum. Prior to NCLB, many school systems and state assessments did not routinely include students with mild disabilities. As a result, these students* exposure to the general education curriculum was usually limited. The students would not be taking the tests; they were not counted. Now, far more attention focuses on students with mild disabilities learning and achieving the general education curriculum. Now, their scores count. The students' progress and performance count even more because their assessment scores influence the scores of both states and individual schools.

Although routinely including students with mild disabilities in assessments taken by their typical peers is a positive move, such participation must occur in a manner that provides students with challenging learning opportunities on the general education curriculum content (Deshler et al., 2004) - and so that students are not left behind in accomplishing goals on their IEPs. That is, students with mild disabilities must continue to receive the specialized services stipulated on their IEPs while also participating and progressing in the general education curriculum.

For example, researchers who examined the content of IEPs for high school students with reading disabilities found that, as students enter the middle and high school years, they were less likely to receive services based on significant reading deficits (Catone & Brady, 2005) . Consequently, students who were already struggling to read were likely to continue that struggle through high school. Archer, Gleason, and Vachon (2003) noted that many secondary students' reading levels range from 2.5 to 5.0 grade levels. Clearly, these secondary students would benefit from instruction that focused on increasing their reading levels. Reading level alone, however, does not sufficiently encompass many skills required for academic competence after elementary school. Shanahan and Shanahan (2008) noted that adolescents with strong basic reading skills still required reading instruction that taught them to decode the more complex and discipline-based vocabulary and comprehension representative of both secondary content courses and postsecondary careers. …