General and special educators working together to improve students outcomes

High expectations, inclusion/collaborative teaching practices and frequent assessment of progress are known to improve student outcomes. 

With that in mind, the Maine DOE Office of Special Services conducted trainings and released its new Policy on Standards-Based Individual Education Program (IEP) Goals.  The policy reinforces the expectation that students with disabilities have access to the general education curriculum as appropriate based on their individualized needs. Specifically, in addition to basing the IEP on the student’s strengths, weaknesses, needs and present level of performance, the policy requires school administrative units (SAUs) to consider grade level standards when creating goals.  This age/grade cohort consideration honors the maximum age limit for eligibility to enroll in K-12 educational programs to anyone who has not reached 20 years of age before the start of the school year and reminds us of the importance of providing students the opportunity to learn and demonstrate proficiency in Maine learning standards (the Maine Learning Results content standards and Guiding Principles) at a pace that supports the student’s growth from present levels of performance to proficiency before the eligibility to enroll window closes.

An important consideration for SAUs as they align their curriculum with the Maine learning standards is that differentiated instruction and appropriate use of accommodations will help all students as rigor is increased.   “Accommodations mean changes in the manner in which instruction and assessment is delivered that does not alter the curriculum level expectation being measured or taught” (MUSER II.2). For example, if the standard required a student to write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence, a possible accommodation might be speech-to-text computer software.  Use of the principles of universal design built into the lesson for all students might be the use of a graphic organizer.  Collaboration between special and regular educators will increase student outcomes in the regular education setting.

Hundreds of special educators and directors attended the trainings offered by the Maine DOE Office of Special Services between October  and January. It is evident that the participants have taken the new knowledge from these trainings and applied it to their day-to-day work and have developed a new level of understanding that is being translated into to their practice.

Some participants indicated during these standards-based IEP goal trainings that they were already working hand-in-hand with curriculum leaders and general educators.  These educators are helping their SAUs transition to proficiency-based education systems by increasing the opportunity for students to learn and demonstrate proficiency in Maine’s learning standards through these educators’ collaborative efforts of sharing knowledge and evidence-based instructional strategies, ensuring that Response to Intervention systems are in place for all students, increasing co-teaching and applying Universal Design for Learning and other strategies to educate students,including those with IEPs, in the general education setting.

The Department would like to applaud the great work that districts and educators are putting into the transition to a proficiency-based educational system and will continue to support these efforts through continued professional development opportunities and ongoing guidance at the Getting to Proficiency website.