The purpose of this memo is to clarify and highlight how special education and regular education intersect within the general education curriculum. Regular education teachers are viewed, in both federal and state laws as "experts" in the general education curriculum. Regular education teachers are expected to assist IEP teams in understanding the intricacies of that curriculum. Clarifying the intersection of special and regular education is best accomplished by examining three key issues:
- The Least Restrictive Environment;
- The Wisconsin Student Assessment System (WSAS) and the student with disabilities;
- The role of the regular education teacher at the IEP meeting.
IThe Least Restrictive Environment
What is the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)? (adapted, in part, from DPI publications)
The IEP team makes two separate determinations: what the child should be learning and where the child should learn. These decisions determine that particular child's least restrictive environment.
Some examples of the least restrictive environment include:
- a regular education classroom with the general education curriculum, with or without supplementary aids and services;
- a regular education classroom with a modified curriculum for some or all of the classes;
- a pull-out special education classroom with the general curriculum for part of the day with the remainder of the day being spent in theregular classroom or in activities with students who do not have disabilities
- a pull-out special education classroom with modified curriculum for part of the day with the remainder of the day being spent in the regular classroom or in activities with students who do not have disabilities;
- a separate school specializing in a certain type of disability.
Thus, one child's least restrictive environment may be very different from another child's. The IEP team identifies the LRE for each child based upon the child's individual needs.
Who decides the LRE for the child?
The IEP team makes least restrictive environment decisions, including the specific determinations of appropriate educational services, location, and building or facility.
The IEP team must include a special education teacher, a regular education teacher (if the child is, or may be, participating in the regular education environment), an LEA representative authorized to commit agency resources, the parents, an individual who can interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results, the child (if appropriate) and, at the discretion of the parent or the agency, other individuals who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the child.
How is the LRE determined for an individual child?
The IEP team is responsible for determining the curriculum and other educational programming, services, location of services, and building to meet an individual child's educational needs. "Location" is the type of environment that is the appropriate place for the provision of special education and related services (e.g., a regular education classroom, a resource room). The decisions must be made on a case-by-case basis. To the maximum extent appropriate, the child must participate with non-disabled peers.
Under IDEA 1997, and the new federal regulations, public schools must provide special education and related services in addition to, and in conjunction with, the general education curriculum, not separate from it. The general curriculum is defined as the curriculum provided to the same-aged non-disabled children. Accordingly, the IEP team must focus on the accommodations and adjustments necessary to enable children with disabilities to participate in the general curriculum to the maximum extent appropriate. This focus is reflected in several places on the IEP forms: the present levels of performance (PLOP); the annual goals and short-term objectives; the description of special education and related services; and the supplementary aids and services to be provided to each child.
The PLOP must now include a statement of how the child's disability affects the child's involvement and progress in the general curriculum (or for preschool children, as appropriate, how the child's disability affects the child's participation in age-appropriate activities). This requirement is important because it provides the basis for determining what accommodations the child needs in order to participate in the general curriculum to the maximum extent appropriate. Thus, the programming and services for each individual child can be tailored to address the child's unique needs that impede the child's ability to make meaningful progress in the general curriculum.
The annual goals and short-term objectives are statements that are designed to enable the child to be involved in and progress in the general curriculum.
Though not mandated, IDEA presumes that the first location considered for each child with a disability is the regular education classroom (in the school that the student would attend if not disabled), with appropriate supplementary aids and services to facilitate the provision of special education in that location.
The full range of supplementary aids and services must be considered before an IEP team determines that special education and related services should be provided outside of the regular education classroom. "Supplementary aids and services" means aids, services, and other supports that are provided in regular education classes or other education-related settings to enable children with disabilities to be educated with non-disabled children to the maximum extent appropriate. Some supplementary aids and services that special education teachers have used successfully include:
- Providing a special seating arrangement for a child;
- Raising the level of a child's desk;
- Allowing the child more time to complete a given assignment;
- Working with the parents to help the child at home;
- Providing extra help to the child before, during, or after the school day;
- Providing a particular assistive technology device for the child, modifying the child's desk in some manner that facilitates the child's ability to write or hold books, etc.
- Consulting with regular education teachers re. curriculum modification, behavior, etc.
When determining the location of services, the IEP team should consider the educational and non-academic benefits to the child with a disability. The IEP team should also consider, if applicable, the degree of disruption to the education of other students. In determining the location in which a child with behavioral problems will be educated, the IEP team must consider strategies to address the child's behavior including positive behavioral interventions and supports. However, if a student with a disability has behavioral problems that are so disruptive in a regular classroom that, even with the use of supplementary aids and services, the education of other students is significantly impaired, the regular education classroom is not appropriate to meet the student's needs.
After developing the IEP, the IEP team must choose the building or facility in which to implement the child's IEP in a manner consistent with the IEP. Unless a child's IEP requires some other arrangement, the child must attend the school that he or she would attend if not disabled.
IIThe Wisconsin Student Assessment System (WSAS) and the student with disabilities.
What are the legal requirements for participation?
Federal and Wisconsin laws require school districts to include children with disabilities in state and district-wide assessments with appropriate accommodations where necessary.
For those children who cannot participate in these state and district-wide assessments, alternate assessment must be provided.
What options are available for Participation in Statewide Assessments?
The IEP team goes through a process of determining how the student will participate in the state or district-wide assessment.
Participation in statewide assessment for students with disabilities is not an all or nothing decision. Options for participation include:
- Participation without accommodations;
- Participation in all or portions (some of the content areas) of assessment with appropriate accommodations as needed;
- Participation in portions (some of the content areas) of the assessment with accommodations as needed; participation in alternate assessment for remaining portions (content areas);
- alternate assessment for all portions (content areas)
(NOTE: Since the WRCT (grade 3) is one test that measures reading comprehension, it is not possible for a student to take a "portion" of this test. Either the student takes the whole test with or without appropriate accommodations or is assessed by alternate means.)
For the WKCE, participation options must be considered for each content area of the test.
- The IEP team of an 8th grade student with learning disabilities determines that the student will take all portions of the WKCE except the reading test. An alternate assessment will be conducted in reading and the student will receive the accommodation of extra time on all other portions of the WCKT.
- The IEP team determines that a 3rd grade student with a cognitive disability will not take the WRCT because the student is a non-reader. An alternate assessment of pre-reading and functional reading skills will be conducted.
- The IEP team determines that a 4th grade student with an emotional disturbance has good skills and should take all portions of the WKCE, but will have the option of taking the test in the resource room where the student can receive additional encouragement and frequent breaks.
The only appropriate justification for a student not to participate in the WRCT or WKCE is when the IEP team decides that, even with accommodations, the student would be unable to demonstrate at least some of the knowledge and skills tested through the state or district-wide assessment.
What accommodations are permissible?
Testing accommodations are changes in the way a test is administered. Testing accommodations are intended to offset distortions in test scores caused by a disability without invalidating or changing what the test measures. Many different testing accommodations are allowable. The IEP team determines the appropriate testing accommodations for individual students with disabilities.
Accommodations are generally not allowed unless they are listed in a student's IEP. When accommodations are listed in the IEP, it is extremely important that they are permissible ones and do not invalidate test results.
Types of assessment accommodations include alterations to the:
- Presentation format (for example, providing a large print or Braille format;
- Response format (for example, allowing a student who can not write because of a physical disability to have access to a scribe);
- Timing/scheduling of the test (for example, allowing a student with a learning disability extra time to complete a test);
- Testing environment or setting (for example, allowing a student with an attention deficit disorder to take the test in a study carrel, or in a different quiet setting).
Accommodations that enable students to demonstrate the knowledge and skills tested and are consistent with the purposes of the assessment are allowable.
Accommodations that are inconsistent with the purposes of the assessment are not allowable.
- (With respect to the WRCT, strict adherence to the Test Administration Guide, including reading the script verbatim, is necessary, so to not change the construct being measured.)
Examples of permissible accommodations
- Reading instructions or items (except for reading tests)
- (For example, reading the science portion of the WKCE to a student with a significant reading disability would be allowable since the science test is intended to measure science knowledge, not reading skill. However, reading the WRCT to a student is never allowable.);
- More practice tests or examples;
- Small group or individual testing;
- Extra time, breaks during the test session, or multiple sessions;
- Any others that DO NOT compromise test validity.
Examples of accommodations that have the potential to invalidate the test
- Reading a reading test to the student, as we have already mentioned.
- Using a calculator on a mathematics test designed to measure mental computation
- Using spelling tools on writing tests that score the correctness of spelling.
- Using a dictionary when taking a reading comprehension or other test that measures vocabulary knowledge, such as the WCRT
- Paraphrasing that changes the meaning of the text.
(For example, providing definitions or synonyms for words
in a question or reading selection on the 3rd grade WRCT would invalidate
the test results since testing vocabulary comprehension is one of
the purposes of the test.)
IIIThe regular education teacher at the IEP meeting
Federal (IDEA) and state laws require that a regular education teacher, familiar with the child, be at the IEP meeting. This symbolizes that the meeting must focus first on the regular education classroom and the general education curriculum, and on what is needed to support the child in that setting. The regular education teacher is seen as the "expert" who should assist the IEP team in better understanding the intricacies of the general education curriculum.
The regular education teacher has a great deal to share with the IEP team. He or she might talk about:
- The general education curriculum in the regular classroom, and the changes to the educational program that will help the child learn and achieve;
- The strategies attempted to help the child with behavior, if behavior is an issue, including positive behavioral interventions;
- The type of consultations / supports for school staff that are needed so that the child can (a) advance toward his or her annual goals, (b) be involved and progress in the general curriculum, (c) participate in extracurricular and other activities, (d) be educated with other children, both with and without disabilities. Supports for school staff may include periodic consultations with special education teachers, and/or specific training/professional development.
Special Education Coordinators
School District Administrators