Curriculum Reform in a Residential Treatment Program: Establishing High Academic Expectations for Students with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: The importance of high-quality academic instruction and high academic expectations for students with emotional and behavioral disorders (E/BD) is discussed. A sample language arts/history curriculum based on state curriculum standards was created and implemented in a classroom at a residential treatment program. Twenty-two students ranging in age from 11 to 16 participated in a 4-week pilot study designed to examine the effects of systematic instruction in story elements and narrative summary writing on student writing skills and academic engagement. Results suggest that students with E/BD who participated in the study's language arts/history curriculum showed improvements in both summary writing skills and academic engagement. Though data analysis and specifics of results are not the focus of this report, results highlight the importance of thoughtful, thorough instructional planning and the need for high levels of teacher instructional engagement when working with students with E/BD.

* Educational reform efforts at the national, state, and local levels are reforming our schools dramatically by instituting high academic standards. With the recent trend of establishing national education guidelines, most states have directed attention to the development of their own educational standards. Increased academic requirements for core curriculum areas of English, language arts, mathematics, history, and science are evident in the adopted statewide standards from California ("Content Standards for California Public Schools"), Massachusetts ("The Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks"), and Texas ("Essential Knowledge and Skills"). In addition, nearly every state has mandated statewide assessment for all students.

The trend of developing state standards and assessments raises questions about how these standards can be applied consistently to all students regardless of educational placement and academic needs. Can students in a residential treatment program, for example, use writing as a tool for learning across the curriculum? Can students with psychiatric challenges apply a continuous, self-adjusting study system to their classroom projects, as suggested by the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks for all middle school students? Can students with disruptive classroom behavior use prescribed criteria to evaluate their own oral, written, and visual work? Can they publish and present original work for school-- wide and community audiences? Can they edit their writing for all standard conventions? When examining the literature on the existing academic standards and curricula currently being implemented in programs for students with emotional and behavioral disorders (E/BD), serious questions arise regarding mandated state standards for all students.

Our research attempted to address questions of state standards and their application to all students, particularly students with E/BD who are placed in residential treatment settings. In collaboration with a residential treatment program in eastern Massachusetts, the first author created an integrated language arts/history curriculum that incorporated the Massachusetts education standards for English and language arts in the instructional design. While writing lessons for the curriculum, the first author collaborated with teachers from the residential program's day school so that teacher activity ideas and preference for content could be incorporated in instructional planning. For example, we selected a Civil War unit as the focus of the language arts/history curriculum due to the teachers' interest as well as their prior plans to teach a unit on the Civil War at the end of the academic year.

Collaborative efforts with the residential treatment program administrators focused on reevaluating academic standards in their education program. Although the residential treatment program personnel expressed satisfaction with the behavioral and therapeutic services provided to students, they acknowledged that changes needed to be made in their existing academic curriculum. …

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