The assignment looks simple for an 11th grader: Learn to use a weekly planner to write down homework assignments. But this special education class, dubbed “Strategies for Success,” may give its four students, at Cabrillo High School in Long Beach, California, as well as their peers in other classes, the boost they need to perform well on state tests—and earn high school diplomas.
What Teachers Think
85 % “strongly” or “somewhat” agree that including test results of students with disabilities in the accountability system will result in an inaccurate assessment of the job that schools and teachers are doing.
51 % of special ed teachers say that the curriculum for special ed students in their schools is more demanding than it was three years ago, compared with 36 percent of general educators.
98 % believe it is “very” or “somewhat” important that special ed teachers demonstrate competence in all academic subjects they teach their students .
73 % feel that IEPs help guide the instruction and learning of special ed students; 23 percent feel that they are largely a “paperwork process.”
Strategies for Success is part of a districtwide undertaking to help students with disabilities meet state standards, spend as much of the day as possible in general education classes, and perform at levels once thought to be unreachable. “We want a quality inclusion program, not just saying they’re going to be included,” explains Erin Reid, the 97,000-student district’s special ed curriculum leader.
Located on a former naval base in a blighted neighborhood, Cabrillo High is a medley of contemporary buildings scattered across a pristine 63-acre campus. It has served this neighborhood on the west side of Long Beach for only a few years, and at first, families were reluctant to have their children attend. Now Cabrillo High attracts not only new local students but also a handful from other schools drawn to the special ed services. Enrollment this academic year swelled to more than 3,200 students, a population that is predominantly Hispanic and African American.
The Strategies for Success classes were set up after district administrators looked at the state test scores of their students with disabilities and noticed that between 50 percent and 70 percent were failing even though they’d received extra instruction outside of class from special ed teachers. The problem, administrators discerned, was that the supplemental instruction did not match the curriculum taught in the general education classes, largely because of a lack of communication. Now, district officials say, special ed teachers are trained to reinforce their students’ coursework.
In Rick Lamprecht’s Strategies for Success classroom, assignments from his four students’ regular classes hang on bulletin boards. The juniors dutifully follow the teacher’s instructions to copy abbreviations for common terms, such as “algebra” and “paragraph,” into sample planners. Lamprecht stops to explain the crucial distinction between commas and dashes when using numbers. Doing problems “29, 42" is not the same as completing problems"29-42,” he notes.
“It’s the end of a class, and your teacher says, ‘Do the questions on page 203.’ How do you write that?” Lamprecht asks. “If a teacher doesn’t say, you have to assume it’s the whole page.”
The focus on classroom fundamentals helps students with disabilities learn more in their general education classes. Andrew Gilman, who has autism, is among them. One morning, he sits in a crowded geometry classroom and sketches out a crossword puzzle to learn some of the basic vocabulary and definitions. As he carefully traces the lines on grid paper, his teacher, Charma Adams, admits he’s had a hard time keeping up with his classmates. She doubts he’ll be able to pass the state math exam, but she thinks he’s grasped at least some of the foundations of the subject.
Andrew’s mother, Ginny Gilman, believes her son is learning more at Cabrillo than when he was in fully inclusive classes in elementary and middle schools. “The teachers are willing to modify assignments and assist the kids,” she says. “I’m very impressed with the attitude of the school and its willingness to adapt.”
—Joetta L. Sack