Volume:3, Issue: 1

Mar. 1, 2011

From Seclusion to Integration: One High School’s Journey
Howell, Erica [about] , Pierson, Melinda R. [about]

DESCRIPTORS:  inclusion, professional development, high school, special education, school reform, curriculum modifications.
SYNOPSIS:  This article focuses on one high school’s journey to include high school students with mild/moderate disabilities in all general education classes.  Professional development, student and teacher schedules, and modification of course content will be addressed which will hopefully lead to successful inclusion experiences for all students.

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One of the great things that any community can do is not teach tolerance, but live tolerance, not talk respect, but live inclusivity.   
Michael Pritchard, Speaker

Overview

A large high school in Southern California established in 1980 made a commitment to adopt inclusive practices two years ago.  With 2700+ students, 100+ teachers, and five administrators, focusing on including the 225+ students identified as students in need of special education services, reorganization of existing procedures such as student schedules, teacher assignments, and overall modification of current curricular guidelines was necessary.  A total of 13 classrooms had students identified as having mild/moderate disabilities and two classrooms were identified as having students with moderate/severe disabilities.  Research-based best practices in inclusion and co-teaching was the focus of the professional development for all teachers at the school site.

The guiding principles of this high school included creating productive citizens who were taught innovative technology, a challenging curriculum, and who had the opportunity to engage in a variety of co-curricular experiences.  Administrators were eager to improve the academic achievement of all students at the school and seek to support them in any way possible. One administrator was assigned as the leader of special education reform and sought to support all general education and special education teachers.  Therefore, the move to an inclusive high school was a goal that they felt was within reach.

The steps to facilitating the support of all students, but specifically those with disabilities, included professional development, adjusting the master schedule to include classes where teachers could collaborate, and creating curriculum maps, pacing guides, and modified common assessments to guide all instruction.  Teachers were given blocks of time once a week to work together to modify the subject-specific pacing guides, curriculum and common assessments.

Definitions

  • High school students – 9th -12th grade students in the United States, approximate ages 13-19 years old
  • Mild/moderate disabilities – learning disabilities, mild autism, mild cognitive delay, mild behavior disorders
  • Inclusion – placement in a general education classroom with the support of special education staff
  • Curriculum map – a guide to a specific course that includes course objectives, materials, and curriculum units
  • Pacing guide – a guide which indicates how long each subject specific unit will take and the course objectives that will be covered
  • Common assessment – assessment in a subject that is the same for all students who are enrolled in that subject
  • Paraprofessionals – teachers’ assistants who have an associate of art’s degree from a community college and receive training from the district on numerous topics.

The Benefits and Barriers of Inclusion

There are ample investigations detailing the benefits of inclusion for all students and research has demonstrated that when teachers are effectively prepared, students with disabilities can be successful in inclusive settings (Dukes and Lamar-Dukes, 2009; McLeskey & Waldron, 2007).  One study found that students placed in inclusive settings have shown a decrease in behavior problems and an increase in the appropriate social skills (Baker & Zigmond, 1995).  Stigma is reduced when the special education label is removed (Zigmond, 2003).  Most importantly, Murawski and Swanson (2001) reported that students with learning disabilities had better academic performance when educated in general education classrooms.

In contrast, staff buy-in, low expectations for students with disabilities, lack of money, and the focus on nonacademic curriculum for students with disabilities were all barriers to successful inclusion experienced at the school site used in the current study.  All of these issues were addressed in staff development trainings prior to beginning the reform efforts to create an inclusive high school.

Professional Development

Teacher Support and Mentoring

The inclusive process began with whole school meetings to discuss the principles of including students with disabilities. Although many teachers had taught for more than 20 years, most recognized the value of inclusion and were willing to learn how to successfully work with students with disabilities.  The principal met with individuals who were less willing to work inclusively and devised a plan where she would have another teacher mentor them on specific strategies of support.  Although many of these veteran teachers were not anxious to be “mentored” on inclusion, by the end of year one, five out of eight of them were working with the special education teachers to support all students placed in their classes.  Out of the remaining three teachers, two retired and one continued to resist the idea of inclusion, but received extensive support by the assistant principal responsible for the special education programs.

Seminars and Workshops

Sample professional development workshops included detailed trainings that occurred at the school site with support from an outside mentor after the training was complete to assist with the implementation in the classroom.  Topics that were covered were:

  • Special Education 101 – This was an introduction to special education training.
  • Inclusion – Beliefs and Expectations – Models of inclusion were presented while the most current research supporting inclusion was highlighted.
  • Models of Co-Teaching – Collaborative models such as lead/support (one teacher leads the class in a lesson while another teacher supports the lead teacher), alternative or pull aside groups (students that need additional support on a topic are brought to a side area where they are re-taught the content), team teaching (two teachers teach the same lesson together), parallel teaching (two teachers teach content side by side or in the same room – one may modify the material for students in need), and station teaching (students rotate from station to station to learn new chunks of information) were modeled and introduced.
  • Categories of Exceptionality – The disabilities as recognized by federal law in the United States were covered along with simple modifications for each category.
  • Collaboration of Paraprofessionals – Teachers participated in the Power of 2 videoseries by Dr. Marilyn Friend which is a comprehensive look at co-teaching as part of the foundation of an inclusive and collaborative school.  Six co-teaching models are presented and modeled for immediate implementation into a school setting.
  • Student Engagement Strategies – Specific strategies such as numbered heads, world café, and the Socratic seminar were practiced by all teachers in the school.  Numbered heads is a strategy where each student is held accountable by a small group for learning specific material and then sharing it with the group.  World Café is another cooperative grouping strategy which allows students to travel to small tables in a classroom and share their expertise on specific topics.  The Socratic seminar is a strategy that encourages open-ended thinking and students are able to generate questions related to specific topics.
  • Four Square Writing Strategy – Teachers who supported the students in special education in the general education classroom were trained on this specific writing strategy.
  • Study Skills Training – Specific curriculum was streamlined for all students who needed additional study skills support.
  • Social Skills Curriculum Development – Training on how to develop an appropriate social skills curriculum for students with mild/moderate disabilities.
  • Classroom Support Strategies for All Students – All teachers at the school were trained on specific strategies to support struggling learners in the high school setting.
  • Questioning Techniques – Appropriate ways to question students were covered to maximize student engagement and comfort levels.
  • Involvement Strategies – All teachers attended professional development training on whole class involvement and how to ensure student understanding of a lesson.
  • Successful Differentiation – Teachers were trained on how to create differentiated lessons for students with specific needs.

Materials

All teachers were provided with a small budget to purchase modified materials in order to meet the needs of students with mild/moderate disabilities.  Teachers were also given the opportunity to take the materials from each training in order to implement strategies in an effective manner.

Student and Teacher Assignment Adjustments

Teachers and their students were removed from segregated classrooms and placed in general education classrooms with special education teachers acting as collaborative partners with the general education teachers.  All teachers were then trained by the district consultants or mentor teachers on strategies to build strong collaborative partnerships.  In addition, paraprofessionals were trained to support the general education teachers.  A consultant worked with the paraprofessionals on each strategy that was also taught to the teachers.  For instance, the paraprofessionals were trained on a specific writing strategy that was adopted school-wide.  They were then able to support the teachers and students during content instruction. 

Course Content Modifications

The administrators at this school site were adamant that the students identified as needing special education services received the state-mandated content.  In order to meet this prerogative, all special education teachers created modifications to the content so that the students with disabilities could be successful in the general education classroom.  This included creating modified pacing guides which matched the ones created by the general education teachers in their departments.  Common assessments were also modified so the students in special education received shorter tests that contained all of the key content aligned with the state standards.

Emerging Practices

The teachers at this high school expressed their hope that the successes they had with their population of students will be adopted by other high schools. The successful outcomes associated with this examination have large implications for other school sites interested in including their students with disabilities. First, the number of students and teachers involved in this project was great, indicating that even a large amount of reorganization could still produce positive results. Schools with fewer numbers of students and teachers may not have to restructure current practices to the extent that the current site did, perhaps making the transition to inclusion easier. Second, some teachers resisted involvement in the inclusion process, but eventually the majority of this dissenting group became supportive of the project. This finding indicates that educators’ initial negative perceptions about inclusion were not reason to delay or deny inclusive practices at a school site. Third, a systems-wide approach was employed where school administrators, teachers, and paraprofessionals all received supports in order to make an effective transition to inclusion. Rather than mandating inclusion and expecting teachers to implement it, the school site provided the necessary tools to all educators involved in the process so that they were able to enact inclusion and continue receiving supports throughout implementation. Overall, if a large, urban school was able to experience successful outcomes, it seems reasonable that other institutions with lower student numbers, fewer staff members, and more philosophical cohesion toward inclusion would be able to experience similar results.

Conclusion

While it is difficult to find research in the area of high school reform that includes special education in the United States, many high schools are making important changes in their schools in order to include students identified with special needs into general education classrooms.  This article focuses on one high school which made a concentrated effort to improve the outcomes for students with disabilities.  Although the initial results appear positive, the impact on the students will be determined as inclusive practices are institutionalized, teachers continue to have buy-in, and students with disabilities continue to be motivated to improve and succeed in the general education environment.

References

Baker, J.M., & Zigmond, N.  (1995). The meaning and practices of inclusion for students with learning disabilities:  Implications from the five cases.  The Journal of Special Education,
29, 163-180.
Dukes, C., & Lamar-Dukes, P.  (2009). Inclusion by design:  Engineering inclusive practices in secondary schools. Teaching Exceptional Children, 41(3), 16-23.
McLeskey, J., & Waldron, N.L. (2007).  Comprehensive school reform and inclusive schools. Theory into Practice, 45, 269-278.
Muller, E., & Burdette, P.  (2007). High school reform:  Integration of special education.  In Forum, 1-9.
Murawski, & Swanson, L. (2001). A meta-analysis of co-teaching research.  Remedial and Special Education, 22(5), 258-267.
Zigmond, M.  (2003). Where should students with disabilities receive special education services?  Is one place better than another?  Journal of Special Education, 37, 193-199.

1 Erica J. Howell, Assistant Professor, and Melinda R. Pierson, Professor, Chair, Department of Special Education, California State University, Fullerton, Fullerton, CA.

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