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Trends in special education

Sponsor: Spectrum K12 School Solutions

Christy Chambers is president of CASE, the Council of Administrators of Special Education. She is also superintendent of the Special Education District of McHenry County, Illinois.

How is the landscape of special education changing?

For 20 years, we've fought for access to the general education curriculum, getting kids included. And now with IDEA 2004 and particularly with NCLB, we've turned from access to accountability. Our kids count now. So we have a renewed emphasis on the general education curriculum and a new impetus to make sure that our students have more rigor in their program. That's a good thing, because the research shows that if you have higher expectations, the kids have higher outcomes.

Accountability and progress for special education students-is this what RTI, Response to Intervention, is all about?

'We have dire
shortages in special
education teaching
and administrator

RTI is huge because it showed up in the special education law, in IDEA 2004. RTI is an intervention process by which you use research-based scientifically proven interventions that work with certain kinds of kids in particular academic areas by monitoring progress and adjusting interventions accordingly. But this is an intervention model for all struggling learners, and not just for special education.

Is the rise in autism and other disabilities a concern to you?

The trend is to focus on children's needs and not labels. It's no longer, "You have autism so you're going to go here." What I'm seeing across the country is a shift to addressing the child's needs because children are very different. One child with autism compared to another child with autism, those two children can be very different.

What's happening with development and training?

Special education is all about data. Whether we're talking about progress monitoring or adequate yearly progress orreferrals to special needs programs of any sort, data is always the key. So staff development needs to be around data, how to collect meaningful data, how to chart meaningful data, how to interpret it, how to use it to monitor the progress of students.

Do you worry that data management tasks eat into teachers' instructional time?

Once teachers get the training and see how it's manageable and how to incorporate data into their daily instruction, they become data junkies. They absolutely love it because they can come to their weekly team meeting and have the rationale for why they're moving a student forward, or why an intervention is not working. Data management may sound overwhelming, but with the way it's being implemented and the way we're training teachers, they very quickly see the benefit of it and incorporate it into their day.

What lessons have you learned about reducing parent-school confrontations?

It's important to look for the person who has the best relationship with the parent, to get them to do some informal mediations first. If you haven't invested in that relationship and made that deposit in the checking account, so to speak, when there is an issue or a disagreement, then there's no reservoirof trust to draw upon to resolve it. Another area is team leadership training. I think superintendents need to pay attention to that, to help their administrators work together as effective teams and lead their teams in positive directions.

Is there a special education trend that concerns you?

Because of early retirement incentives and other factors, we have dire shortages in special education teaching and administrator positions. That is a huge challenge.

If you can peer into your crystal ball and look five years out, how might the landscape be changed?

I think we're heading to a seamless system of education where all kids have the benefits, the resources, and we as special educators are no longer competing for more resources or more support for special education, that everything is available to all kids. And if we approach it that way, I think we'll have better outcome for all kids.