Access to the General Education Curriculum for Students with Disabilities
The ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education (ERIC EC)
ERIC EC Digest #E615
Author: Pat Beckman
A new goal is challenging teachers: All students, with or without disabilities, including English language learners and students who are "falling between the cracks," are to achieve in the general education curriculum. For students with disabilities, access to the general education curriculum is mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments of 1997 (IDEA '97).
Successful student access to the curriculum comes about through the implementation of validated programs and procedures. It calls for a paradigm shift that is required in the law: the student (if appropriate), special and general education teachers, parents, a district representative, and representatives of other agencies necessary to best serve the student's needs are required to take part in the student's educational planning, with improved learning in the general education curriculum as a goal. This digest discusses changes needed to bring about successful student access to the curriculum-changes in attitudes and belief systems, parent involvement, pre-service training, and ongoing professional development, as well as increased support from districts and state legislators. Within this background of support from a larger educational community, teachers must work together to apply well-founded, research-based instructional practices in their classrooms.
Attitudes and Belief Systems
Improved student learning requires teachers, schools, and districts to give up unproductive traditions and beliefs, replacing them with validated practices and a full understanding of the intent of the law. Successful student access to the general education curriculum is most likely when there is general acceptance of the following principles:
IDEA '97 mandates that parents be participants in the educational planning for their children. These mandates support the idea that an inclusive school creates a society of learners that involves parents and the school's community in meaningful contributions to the education of its students.
The following activities lead to productive collaboration between the parent and the school:
IDEA '97 made federal funds available for in- and pre-service training to states that qualify for a State Improvement Grant (SIG). These grants are awarded to states that have developed a plan to improve educational outcomes for students with disabilities.
Ensuring that all students gain access to the general education curriculum not only requires teacher commitment, but necessitates that districts support individual schools' efforts to improve teacher skills. Each school has its own set of unique circumstances. When staff identify and address their own training needs, they become better able to tackle the challenges they face in the classroom. In accordance with the principles of inclusion, a growing number of schools are assuming greater control over professional development activities, often moving from traditional training models to more participatory or job-embedded forms of learning.
Gaining District and Informed Legislative Support
State legislators need relevant and accurate information for making appropriate decisions regarding education statutes and funding. For example, implementing change usually requires additional teacher time and resources. In some states, legislatures and districts are allocating monies to provide for additional teacher-paid training days. States are also considering the idea of offering teachers varied contract options. For example, teachers interested in developing instructional plans and activities would be on an 11-month contract, using non-teaching days to accomplish this. Their products would address the state curriculum standards as well as the diverse instructional and assessment needs of students. Through these efforts, data banks of curricular plans, activities, suggested materials, and additional resources can be made available on-line as well as in print.
Schools with successful inclusion programs have faculties that work together. It is recognized that all teachers are specialists who bring their areas of expertise to the table when planning and making decisions about students. Classroom teachers are specialists in curriculum; special education teachers, including related service personnel, are specialists in the unique learning and behavior needs of students. Each specialist learns skills from the others with all students being the ultimate beneficiaries.
Effectively bringing all of this expertise to the classroom requires adhering to organizational principles designed to help all students learn, and yet allowing for their individual variations. Classroom instruction should be tied to state and district curriculum standards and objectives, which should at some level be appropriate for all students. The following teaching strategies help students learn the curriculum and develop independent learning skills:
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ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education