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If you reflect on these strategies, you may realize that they may sometimes create issues about fairness. If a student with a disability demonstrates competence one way but other students demonstrate it another, should they be given similar credit? On the other hand, is it fair for one student to get a lower mark because the student lacks an ability—such as normal hearing—that teachers cannot, in principle, ever teach? These ethical issues are legitimate and important, and I therefore return to them in [link] Chapters 11 and [link] 12, which discuss assessment in much more detail.

Least restrictive environment

The IDEA legislation calls for placing students with disabilities in the least restrictive environment (or LRE ), defined as the combination of settings that involve the student with regular classrooms and school programs as much as possible. The precise combination is determined by the circumstances of a particular school and of the student. A kindergarten child with a mild cognitive disability, for example, may spend the majority of time in a regular kindergarten class, working alongside and playing with non-disabled classmates and relying on a teacher assistant for help where needed. An individual with a similar disability in high school, however, might be assigned primarily to classes specially intended for slow learners, but nonetheless participate in some school-wide activities alongside non-disabled students. The difference in LREs might reflect teachers’ perceptions of how difficult it is to modify the curriculum in each case; rightly or wrongly, teachers are apt to regard adaptation as more challenging at “higher” grade levels. By the same token, a student with a disability that is strictly physical might spend virtually all his or her time in regular classes throughout the student’s school career; in this case, adjustment of the curriculum would not be an issue.

For you, the policy favoring the least restrictive environment means that if you continue teaching long enough, you will very likely encounter a student with a disability in one or more of your classes, or at least have one in a school-related activity for which you are responsible. It also means that the special educational needs of these students will most often be the “mildest”. Statistically, the most frequent forms of special needs are learning disabilities, which are impairments in specific aspects of learning, and especially of reading. Learning disabilities account for about half of all special educational needs—as much as all other types put together. Somewhat less common are speech and language disorders, cognitive disabilities, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorders (or ADHD) . Because of their frequency and of the likelihood that you will meet students for whom these labels have been considered, I describe them more fully later in this chapter, along with other disability conditions that you will encounter much less frequently.

Individual educational plan

The third way that IDEA legislation and current educational approaches affect teachers is by requiring teachers and other professional staff to develop an annual individual educational plan (or IEP ) for each student with a disability. The plan is created by a team of individuals who know the student’s strengths and needs; at a minimum it includes one or more classroom teachers, a “resource” or special education teacher, and the student’s parents or guardians. Sometimes, too, the team includes a school administrator (like a vice-principal) or other professionals from outside the school (like a psychologist or physician), depending on the nature of the child’s disability. An IEP can take many forms, but it always describes a student’s current social and academic strengths as well as the student’s social or academic needs. It also specifies educational goals or objectives for the coming year, lists special services to be provided, and describes how progress toward the goals will be assessed at the end of the year. Exhibit 1 shows a simple, imaginary IEP. (But keep in mind that the actual visual formats of IEP plans vary widely among states, provinces, and school jurisdictions.) This particular plan is for a student named Sean, a boy having difficulties with reading. IEPs, like the one in the figure, originally served mainly students in the younger grades, but more recently they have been extended and modified to serve transition planning for adolescents with disabilities who are approaching the end of their public schooling (West, et al., 1999). For these students, the goals of the plan often include activities (like finding employment) to extend beyond schooling. See below.

A sample individual educational plan. (note that actual visual formats of iep plans vary.)

Student: Sean Cortinez Birth Date: 26 May 2002 Period Covered by IEP: September 20xx – July 20xy
Address: Phone:
School: Grant Park Middle School Grade Level: 3 Teacher(s): G. Eidse

Support Team

List specialists (educational, medical, or other) involved in assisting the student:

Resource teacher, instructional aide (part time):

Special Curriculum Needs to be Addressed:

List general needs here; use separate sheet(s) for specific, short-term objectives as appropriate:

Sean can read short, familiar words singly, but cannot read connected text even when familiar. Needs help especially with decoding and other “word attack” skills. Some trouble focusing on reading tasks. Sean speaks clearly and often listens well when the topic interests him.

Special Materials or Equipment Needed:

Modified test procedures and reading materials as required.


Parent or guardian: K. Cortinez

Teacher(s): G. Eidse

Principal: L. Stauffer

Date of IEP Meeting: 26 October 20xx

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If you have a student with an IEP, you can expect two consequences for teaching. The first is that you should expect to make definite, clear plans for the student, and to put the plans in writing. This consequence does not, of course, prevent you from taking advantage of unexpected or spontaneous classroom events as well in order to enrich the curriculum. But it does mean that an educational program for a student with a disability cannot consist only of the unexpected or spontaneous. The second consequence is that you should not expect to construct an educational plan alone, as is commonly done when planning regular classroom programs. When it comes to students with disabilities, expect instead to plan as part of a team. Working with others ensures that everyone who is concerned about the student has a voice. It also makes it possible to improve the quality of IEPs by pooling ideas from many sources—even if, as you might suspect, it also challenges professionals to communicate clearly and cooperate respectfully with team members in order to serve a student as well as possible.

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Source:  OpenStax, Educational psychology. OpenStax CNX. May 11, 2011 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11302/1.2
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