Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Where Students with the Most Significant Cognitive Disabilities Are Taught: Implications for General Curriculum Access

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Where Students with the Most Significant Cognitive Disabilities Are Taught: Implications for General Curriculum Access

Article excerpt

Students with the most significant cognitive disabilities--those students for whom regular educational assessments, even with appropriate accommodations, are inappropriate measures of school achievement (Individuals With Disabilities Education Act [IDEA], 2006 34 C.F.R. [section] 300) account for an estimated 1% or less of all students (Kearns, Towles-Reeves, Kleinert, Kleinert, & Thomas, 2011; Kleinert, Quenemoen, & Thurlow, 2010; U.S. Department of Education, 2005). Students with the most significant disabilities have been characterized as requiring "extensive repeated individualized instruction and support that is not of a temporary or transient nature" and needing "substantially adapted materials and individualized methods of accessing information in alternative ways to acquire, maintain, generalize, demonstrate and transfer skills across multiple settings" (National Center and State Collaborative, 2012, p. 1).

Under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), students with the most significant cognitive disabilities are assessed on alternate achievement standards, which are, in turn, linked to grade-level academic content standards (U.S. Department of Education, 2004). Each state is charged with developing its own alternate assessment based on alternate achievement standards (AA-AAS) while ensuring clear links to grade-level academic content.

In addition to the NCLB requirements for yearly assessments in Grades 3 through 8 (and once in high school) of student performance on content linked to grade-level standards, IDEA mandates participation in the general curriculum for all students with disabilities. Yet, researchers and practitioners do not have a clear national picture of the extent to which students with the most significant cognitive disabilities have access to the general curriculum in the context of learning with their peers without disabilities. Although access to the general curriculum must be provided for all students, regardless of educational setting, there are at least two specific reasons for considering the extent to which students with the most significant cognitive disabilities are included in general education classes. First, the IDEA least restrictive environment (LRE) mandate specifically states that students are to be removed from general education classroom settings only when the severity of their disability is such that even with modifications, their needs cannot be met in a regular class (34 C.F.R. [section] 300.114[a][2][ii]). The presumption is that practitioners will first consider general education placement for all students, even students with the most significant cognitive disabilities. Second, apart from the LRE requirement, the general education classroom provides advantages not easily attained in special class settings, including the presence of a teacher with expertise in the academic core content subject, the use of learning materials and tools specific to that subject, and opportunities for learning alongside peers who can provide natural supports (Carter, Sisco, Brown, Brickham, Al-Khabbaz, 2009; Hunt, McDonnell, & Crockett, 2012; Jimenez, Browder, Spooner, & DiBiase, 2012; Ryndak, Jackson, & White, 2013).

As Jackson, Ryndak, and Wehmeyer (2008-2009) have noted, the general education classroom provides specific contextual factors, including "features of the physical setting, the activities, roles and contributions of the participants, the timing of events, and the interpersonal relationships" (p. 179) not often present or easily replicated in more segregated settings. Moreover, Jackson et al. have noted the increased opportunities for incidental and imitative learning available in general education settings as well as the inherent difficulties of providing general curriculum instruction explicitly linked to the grade-level academic content standards in self-contained settings, in which special education teachers typically have simultaneous teaching responsibilities for students across multiple grades or age levels. …

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