Top Websites for Inclusive Classrooms

The demands upon teachers continue to grow, especially as they seek to accommodate all of their students’ learning needs.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act provides that students with disabilities are educated in the least restrictive environment, or that of their same-grade peers. According to the The U.S. Department of Education, 95 percent of 6- to 21-year-old students with disabilities were served in regular schools.

It is incumbent upon teachers, in an era of accountability and mandates set by the Every Student Succeeds Act, to prepare themselves to face the challenges in meeting the needs of students with exceptional learning needs. At the same time, student engagement is at an all-time low and decreases every year starting in the fifth grade; reaching its lowest point by eleventh grade.

Continuing to build classroom supports is essential to keep students encouraged to learn and hopeful for their future. The following websites offer teachers the opportunity, at no cost, to reinforce classroom knowledge and skills while giving students the opportunity to use technology to reinforce their learning.

Flocabulary

Flocabulary offers an engaging approach to K-12 vocabulary instruction aligned to the Common Core State Standards. It offers a free trial and discounts for school-wide subscriptions. Through the use of rap music, Flocabulary helps activate auditory processing and memory and reinforces concepts in all academic subjects including Life Skills and Current Events, necessary for students with exceptional learning needs. All videos have captions, include transcripts, and have variable speed controls to accommodate all learners.

Reading Educator

Students with disabilities must be explicitly taught how to use reading strategies because they do not automatically know how to use these strategies. Reading Educator assumes that every teacher is a reading teacher, and support in the general education classroom comes through the teaching of research-based strategies, which help students become more active in their learning. The website provides sample lesson plans and models of effective strategies such as active reading, vocabulary development, classroom discussion, and higher-order questioning. Additional resources include fun supplemental activities for parents to encourage reading at home.

Funbrain

Designed primarily for grades Pre–K through grade 8, funbrain includes a variety of educational games and videos including all traditional academic areas as well as memory challenges, strategy skills, patterns, logic, and sign language. These animated and interactive games disguise learning through video gaming modules.

Free Rice

Students with exceptional learning needs require review and practice of basic concepts and reinforcement of material previously learned. Based at the United Nations World Food Programme to end world hunger, Free Rice is a win-win website. Teachers are able to register their students to play as a group. As the students answer the questions correctly, a visual representation is shown of the grains of rice that will be donated. This website is appropriate for students at all grade levels. Subjects include: basic math operations, grammar, science, and geography, anatomy, chemistry, pre-algebra, and SAT preparation.

Bookshare

Accommodating the diverse learning needs in the classroom can be challenging and costly. Bookshare.org is an accessible online library for persons with a documented print disability. This website has over a half a million titles and many different options to read books. Students are able to listen to books using text-to-speech voices. Books are available in enlarged font, digital braille, and image description.

Quizlet

Quizlet is an interactive website which allows students the opportunity to practice material learned through digital flashcards that are created by both teachers and students. Study sets can be transformed into games and practice tests to promote application of the vocabulary terms. Students can search for previously created study sets that align with specific course content. Quizlet Live is another version of quizlet. In this feature, teachers can create teams throughout their classroom to play collaborative games to further reinforce vocabulary.

Guysread

Students with learning disabilities are reluctant readers and have motivational problems due to repeated reading failure and negative reading experiences (Melekoglu & Wilkerson, 2013). It’s based on the premise that when children and youth are given interesting material to read, they become more proficient and life-long readers. Guysread is a web-based literacy program for boys, who are more likely than girls to receive special education services and have markedly lower achievement in language arts from elementary through high school (2009). The website includes book recommendations by genre and age range. Interesting reading material on superheroes and supervillains, graphic novels, cars, mystery, fantasy, and sports can also be found.

With these resources, you will provide opportunities for students with disabilities to review and practice educational concepts with technology, all the while facilitating your engagement and motivation to learn.

 

Rachel is a senior undergraduate student at Flagler College and plans to attend graduate school in the fall. Her current interests include students with exceptional needs with focus on best practices in working with children with autism, and behavioral issues.

Cheryl has a Ph.D. in Special Education with expertise in Learning and Behavioral Disorders. She currently teaches in the Education Department at Flagler College.

Research from The Educational Forum: Orienting Schools Toward Equity

Today’s blogger is Rachel Garver, a doctoral candidate in Teaching and Learning at New York University. She writes here about her research on racial and economic inequality, school segregation, and policy implementation recently published in The Educational Forum.

For the last two decades, the United States has pursued educational equity by holding schools accountable for the comparative outcomes of student subgroups.  

Subgroup accountability, part of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) since its 2001 reauthorization, requires states to identify and intervene in schools where the progress of student subgroups based on race, economic disadvantage, or English proficiency is lagging. Cited schools must show improvement for the subgroups identified by the state or they will face a series of increasingly severe sanctions.

Research on subgroup accountability pressure is mixed. In some cases, the subgroups cited by the state show progress in subsequent years and in other cases there was no effect.

The promise of subgroup accountability pressure to promote equity relies on the process of policy implementation in schools. How school-based actors interpret and enact mandates determines the form in which policy interventions reach students and thereby impacts outcomes.

I utilize an ethnographic case study of Germaine Middle School (pseudonym) to explore the means through which subgroup accountability pressure oriented the school toward equity and, more specifically, toward the student subgroups cited by the state—if at all.

I find that subgroup accountability pressure encouraged Germaine to focus on their achievement gaps in general, but did not lead to targeted interventions for the state-identified student subgroups.

Why did the school’s citation hold little weight in the day-to-day practices at Germaine? A lack of transparency in the state’s calculations, a lack of faith in the state exams and test scores used to identify cited schools, and ethical concerns with using accountability data to inform instructional and curricular reforms delegitimized the state’s determinations in the eyes of Germaine’s staff members. School-based understandings of which student subgroups were most in need drove Germaine’s equity work, instead of subgroup accountability pressure. However, district administrators insisted that Germaine align its compliance practices with the state findings and measures, even if they were symbolic and irrelevant to classroom practice.

Since the Civil Rights Act of 1964, federal policy has played an important role in equalizing educational opportunity for marginalized student groups across the wide variance in state politics and practices. The promise of subgroup accountability to promote equity in schools is dependent on how it is received and implemented by state, district, and school actors. For subgroup accountability to fulfill its intentions, citations need to be delivered to schools with greater transparency. Moreover, districts, as intermediaries between the state and schools, must support schools in responding to citations in ways that prioritize equity over state compliance pressures.

Every Student Succeeds Act: Early Childhood Education

This is part of a series of blog posts by the KDP Public Policy Committee that examine the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 (ESSA), a law that outlines the federal government’s role in education. The purpose of the series is to educate KDP members about this important law and its impact on their work as educators.

The ESSA Act requires documentation of “the strategies that the school will be implementing to address school needs, including a description of how such strategies will . . . address the needs of all children in the school, but particularly the needs of those at risk of not meeting the challenging State academic standards, through activities which may include . . . strategies for assisting preschool children in the transition from early childhood education programs to local elementary school programs” (pp. 68–69).

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” –Benjamin Franklin

The Every Student Succeeds Act reaffirms the country’s commitment to young learners. Although some research indicates that the kindergarten readiness achievement gap is lessening between children from low- and high-income families, the importance of preparing preschoolers for kindergarten remains a top priority for teachers and parents across the nation. ESSA acknowledges the need for high-quality preschool programs, outlines funding allotments and guidelines, and highlights the benefit of a smooth transition for preschoolers into kindergarten. Read more about the Early Learning Initiatives here.

According to ESSA Section 1114, if Title I funds are used to support preschool programs, then the school district plans must include a description of how the funding is used, specifically addressing how the district supports the transition from preschool to kindergarten. Also, the preschool program and/or services must comply with the performance standards laid out in the Head Start Act.

Vertical Alignment and Collaboration

Vertical alignment is an idea that most educators are familiar with: First-grade teachers share expectations with kindergarten teachers, second-grade teachers discuss what students should know by August with first-grade teachers, and so on. ESSA requires communication and collaboration between preschool programs and the school district. The focus on improving kindergarten readiness and supporting the preschool to kindergarten transition is a key point of the legislation. The idea is multi-faceted and holds many potential benefits, including:

  • Identifying and minimizing gaps in student learning by increasing communication between preschool and kindergarten teachers.
  • Increasing parent involvement and advocacy for their child by helping them to understand the transition.
  • Supporting students’ academic, emotional, and social needs as they transition.

Kindergarten Transition

The transition into kindergarten can be a tough one for children, parents, and sometimes teachers. Students enter kindergarten with so many varied experiences—some have been in daycare and preschool their whole life, and some have never been separated from a parent or family member. Many enter with knowledge of the alphabet and numbers, but there are also children who have never had any instruction or exposure to academic subjects. Regardless of background experiences, even simply learning to line up and sit down when asked can be a struggle.

Here are some ways to support the transition for students into kindergarten:

  • Connect preschool families with free book programs (like Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library Program or visit Reading Rockets for more options) to engage kids with books.
  • Set up transition meetings with the preschool and kindergarten teachers, and support staff like counselors and nurses, to answer questions and establish expectations for families.
  • Establish a way for student preschool records to precede the student, giving the kindergarten teacher a running start at knowing academic (and sometimes social) needs before the school year begins.
  • Provide training for preschool teachers, kindergarten teachers, and support personnel on social and emotional needs specific to this transition.
  • Arrange kindergarten “play dates” over the summer for incoming kindergarteners and families to meet teachers, administration, support staff, and other kindergarteners.
  • Partner with local businesses and foundations to put together summer learning kits with crayons, paper, books, and other school supplies for the incoming kindergarteners to use over the summer.
  • Write and distribute a Tips for Families packet with helpful hints for parents and family members as they support their child through this transition.

Call to Action

Join this week’s ESSA discussion on KDP Global about these questions:

  • What do you or your district staff do to support the preschool to kindergarten transition?
  • In your experience, what are other potential benefits of supporting this transition?

Resources

Bassok, D., Finch, J. E., Lee, R., Reardon, S. F., & Waldfogel, J. (2016). Socioeconomic gaps in early childhood experiences: 1998 to 2010. AERA Open, 2(3), 1–22.

Reardon, S. F., & Portilla, X. A. (2016). Recent trends in income, racial, and ethnic school readiness gaps at kindergarten entry. AERA Open, 2(3), 1–18.

Ridzi, F., Sylvia, M., Qiao, X., & Craig, J. (2017). The Imagination Library Program and kindergarten readiness: Evaluating the impact of monthly book distribution. Journal of Applied Social Science, 11(1), 11–24.

Dr. Caroline Courter, NBCT, is a Curriculum Specialist at Age of Learning, Inc. and an adjunct faculty member in the Watson College of Education at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. She is a member of the Kappa Delta Pi Policy Committee.

 

Every Student Succeeds Act: Deeper Learning, Personalized Learning

This is part of a series of blog posts by the KDP Public Policy Committee that examine the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 (ESSA), a law that outlines the federal government’s role in education. The purpose of the series is to educate KDP members about this important law and its impact on their work as educators.

This is the time of year when building principals begin determining their master schedules for the upcoming school year.

Jobs are posted, interviews are conducted, new teachers are hired, and teachers start to put plans in place for the next school year.

Teachers begin reflecting about what adjustments they want to make to set up for a new group of students.

Several days and hours will be spent rearranging classrooms, planning upcoming units, hanging posters and other inspirational items, and putting the final touches on beginning-of-the-school-year activities meant to build relationships and class culture.

Teachers are faced with the challenges of building relationships, teaching standards, and ensuring that the learning needs of each student are met.

Truly understanding the needs of each student is time consuming and requires sufficient and effective professional development opportunities for teachers to build their knowledge and skill set to address these needs.

ESSA and State Standards

ESSA requires states to have academic standards in reading, language arts, mathematics and science that “align with the entrance requirements for credit-bearing coursework in the state’s system of public higher education and with applicable state career and technical education standards.” In addition to these standards, states are required to continue standardized testing.

Teachers are faced with the challenge of teaching the higher-order thinking skills students need to meet the standards. Because each classroom and each school is different, getting to know students and their individual learning needs allows teachers to differentiate their content and lesson activities to help all student receive the education they need to meet or exceed standards. Ensuring each student has the tools needed to be college and career ready requires adequate assistance by teachers, school leaders, districts, and states.

ESSA and Deeper Learning

The energy at the beginning of the school year transforms as teachers start to know and understand their students. The excitement changes from initial anticipation activities to problem-solving tactics enlisting the collective power of teachers to predict, reform, and adjust their teaching practices to address the needs of students in their individual classrooms. The mindset of students also changes as they determine how the content is relevant to them and how they are going to meet the expectations their teachers have of them to be creative and think critically.

ESSA provides support for states and districts to promote deeper learning through several means, including personalized learning opportunities. Deeper learning consists of “the delivery of challenging academic standards to students in innovative ways that allow them to learn, and then apply what they have learned.”

One way to support deeper learning is through personalized learning, which “emphasizes (1) developing trusted and caring relationships between teachers and students; (2) connecting learning to the real world; (3) linking curriculum to students’ interests, strengths, and aspirations; (4) providing students individually targeted instruction, practice, and support where they are struggling; and (5) creating more flexible learning environments.”

The outcome of providing personalized learning to elevate deeper learning is building equity by preparing all students regardless of their race, gender, background, and socioeconomic status with the skills they need to be college and career ready by the time they graduate high school.

The support ESSA provides is through Title I and Title II funds. States can use up to 3% of their Title II funds to support building leaders and principals by “developing high quality professional development programs.” States can use up to 3% of their Title I funds for “direct student services” helping students receive personalized learning services advancing their coursework through a variety of means to prepare them to be college and career ready.

Call to Action

Join this week’s ESSA discussion on KDP Global about these questions:

  1. How are your schools and districts promoting deeper learning through innovative practices?
  2. In what ways can personalized learning opportunities help students grow as learners?

dr-john-helgesonDr. John Helgeson is a Secondary ELA Curriculum Specialist in the Northshore School District in Washington State. He is a member of KDP’s Public Policy Committee.

Every Student Succeeds Act: Homeless Students

This is part of a series of blog posts by the KDP Public Policy Committee that examine the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 (ESSA), a law that outlines the federal government’s role in education. The purpose of the series is to educate KDP members about this important law and its impact on their work as educators.

During the 2013–2014 school year, the U.S. Department of Education accounted for the enrollment of “more than 1.3 million homeless children and youth in public schools”—a number that has doubled since 2006–2007.

To continue to protect and ensure a growing number of homeless children and youth have equitable access to public education and needed services, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) reauthorized the Education for Homeless Children and Youths Program (Title VII-B of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act).

Under ESSA, McKinney-Vento includes a number of new provisions that expand schools’ obligations to homeless children and youth.

Among the many key changes, McKinney-Vento requires state and local levels to improve efforts to identify homeless students, remove barriers to enrollment (e.g., fees, proof of residency, health records), coordinate with other service providers (e.g., law enforcement, shelters), maintain school stability (local organizations must work to keep students in their school of origin), and ensure that homeless children have access to early education. These changes reflect a continued emphasis on state and local requirements “to review and undertake steps to revise laws, regulations, practices or policies that may act as barriers to the identification, enrollment, attendance, or success in school of homeless children and youths.”

Guidance at the State and Local Levels

State and local educational agencies were required to begin the implementation of new provisions in October 2016. To help with these efforts, the U.S. Department of Education published non-regulatory guidance on amendments to McKinney-Vento in July 2016. The purpose of the guidance is to introduce amendments to McKinney-Vento under ESSA and provide recommendations at the state and local levels for addressing new requirements. Key recommendations include how to identify homeless children and youth (e.g., local liaisons can work with shelters to identify preschool-age homeless children), how to remove barriers to enrollment (e.g., providing on-site immunization clinics), and how to remove barriers to attendance and success (e.g., identify transportation point person to make arrangements for students, establish a positive school climate for homeless students). Along with the non-regulatory guidance, the U.S. Department of Education also released A Fact Sheet & Tips for Teachers, Principals, School Leaders, Counselors, and Other School Staff as an additional resource.

Call to Action

The blogs written by the Public Policy Committee are intended to inform KDP members and invite them to act. You are encouraged to participate in a special discussion forum in KDP Global. By sharing your expertise and experiences, others can learn from you. In other words, your participation is a way to advocate for the teaching profession. Please answer this week’s questions:

  1. What questions do you have regarding ESSA and homeless children and youth?
  2. Do you find the U.S. Department of Education’s guidance, fact sheet, and tips helpful?

stich_amyDr. Amy Stich is Assistant Professor in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations at Northern Illinois University and a member of the Kappa Delta Pi Public Policy Committee.

Every Student Succeeds Act: Students With Disabilities

This is part of a series of blog posts by the KDP Public Policy Committee that examine the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 (ESSA), a law that outlines the federal government’s role in education. The purpose of the series is to educate KDP members about this important law and its impact on their work as educators.

The passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) gives more control over accountability to the states and districts. Let’s look at some highlights of ESSA related to special education and students with disabilities in the areas of standardized testing, universal design for learning (UDL), and accommodations for assessment, and how these impact states and districts.

Standardized Testing

ESSA allows students with the most significant cognitive disabilities to take alternate assessments aligned with alternate academic achievement standards. An alternate achievement standard sets an expectation of performance that differs in complexity from a grade-level achievement standard. ESSA places a cap of 1% of the total number of all students in the state that can be assessed using these standards (equal to about 10% of students with disabilities).

The key point to remember about this is that most students with an Individual Education Plan (IEP) take regular assessments aligned with the academic content standards and not the alternate academic achievement standards. States will now need to define criteria that IEPs use to determine which students will be in that 1%.

Universal Design for Learning

UDL is a framework for curriculum, instruction, and assessment that requires multiple means of engaging students, multiple means of providing students with information, and multiple means for students to interact with that information and demonstrate what they have learned. UDL removes barriers from our instruction and curriculum. ESSA specifies that all state assessments must be developed using principles of UDL. In keeping with this requirement, teachers can plan for different ways of engaging students in lessons and demonstrating mastery of the objectives to meet the needs of all students in the class.

When UDL is used to plan lessons, objectives, and assessments, teachers will not have to worry about providing those last-minute modifications and adaptations. ESSA provides grants for states and school districts to provide professional development for the incorporation of the principles of UDL in instruction and assessment. Here are some free UDL learning tools you might find useful as you incorporate the UDL framework into your lesson planning. Want to learn more about UDL? Check out these websites: www.cast.org or http://www.udlcenter.org.

Accommodations and Assistive Technology

Along with developing state assessments using the principles of UDL, states must provide accommodations for students who receive accommodations under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Students must have access to appropriate accommodations, such as the ability to use assistive technology for their statewide assessments and in the classroom. These accommodations should facilitate student access to high-quality assessments to measure a student’s achievement against challenging state academic content and achievement standards, or alternate academic achievement standards for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities.

ESSA provides grants for states and school districts to provide professional development on the use of accommodations in instruction and assessment. Related to the Americans with Disabilities Act, the U.S. Department of Justice provides a helpful resource on providing accessible accommodations for standardized assessments.

Highly Qualified No More?

With the changes brought about by ESSA, the question arises: Is it time to revise the Individuals with Disabilities Improvement Act (IDEIA, 2004)? Most policy observers doubt there will be much movement in this area, but the language in ESSA amends some portions of IDEIA. The last time IDEIA was revised, changes were implemented to align this law with No Child Left Behind (NCLB, 2001). Under NCLB and IDEIA, in addition to holding a bachelor’s degree and a license to teach special education, and passing the appropriate licensure examination, special education teachers were to be highly qualified in their content area (e.g., if a special education teacher taught algebra, then that teacher had to be highly qualified in algebra).

ESSA amended the IDEIA language and removed the “highly qualified” language. IDEIA now defines a special education teacher as one that holds a bachelor’s degree and a license to teach special education, passed the appropriate licensure examination, and has met the state requirements for full certification as a teacher. Special education teachers are no longer required to be “highly qualified” in a content area.

What Now?

While the new ESSA law may positively impact students with disabilities, there is still a need for general and special education teachers to be engaged in professional development as it relates to implementing UDL, providing appropriate accommodations, and understanding how to incorporate assistive technology. As always, parents, advocates, teachers, and those in the field of special education should make their voices heard by contacting their legislators at both the federal and state levels about special education issues.

image_smith-clintonClinton Smith is an Assistant Professor of Special Education in the College of Education, Health, and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Tennessee at Martin. He is a member of the KDP Executive Council and co-counselor for the UT Martin Alpha Epsilon Epsilon Chapter.

Every Student Succeeds Act: School Leadership Interventions

This is part of a series of blog posts by the KDP Public Policy Committee that examine the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 (ESSA), a law that outlines the federal government’s role in education. The purpose of the series is to educate KDP members about this important law and its impact on their work as educators.

The only thing that makes the leader special is that she or he is a better follower: better at articulating the purposes of the community; more passionate about them, more willing to take time to pursue them.Thomas Sergiovanni

In the wake of the growing school accountability movement, campus leaders are facing immense pressure to improve student achievement.

In response, the role of principal has moved beyond focusing merely on campus administration to serving as an instructional leader, a profession requiring expertise in assessment, instruction, curriculum, and data analysis. However, given the complexities of human interactions, intervention strategies, and student learning, boosting student achievement is not always a simple matter. Schools are unique places; relationships among school employees, students, and families more closely resemble those in a family or small community—and applying managerial principles to places characterized by crayons and e-books presents challenges not typically found in most organizations.

Why do administrators struggle with making strides in improving student achievement?

Perhaps part of the problem lies with graduate leadership programs in the preparation of future principals. While many graduate programs do concentrate on instructional strategies with an emphasis toward school leadership interventions, some unfortunately do not adequately prepare principals for today’s realities. As a result, campus leaders fall short in applying effective interventions when addressing the challenges of improving student achievement.

Whatever the cause, there is good news when it comes to the development and implementation of school leadership intervention programs—long recognized as a vital component of educational improvement. With the passage of ESSA, states and local education agencies now have added opportunities for funding evidence-based intervention programs that target school leadership.

Funding for school leadership intervention is available through several title programs in ESSA.

Not only can Title I funds be used to support school leadership initiatives, but under ESSA guidelines, states can also use up to 2% of their Title II funds to create or expand teacher-, principal-, or leadership-preparation programs for those serving in high-need schools. Moreover, an additional 3% of Title II funds can be earmarked for leadership development—including academies, training programs, or other support for school leaders—for a total of 5% set aside for initiatives to improve leader and teacher training.

While states have always been allowed to use Title II funds for principals and school leaders, resources dedicated to educator development have traditionally gone to teachers.

Not surprisingly, school leadership experts have commended this legislation “for recognizing the role principals and school leaders play in teacher and student success, for the clarity on the uses of funds, for including teacher-leaders and principal supervisors in the programs that could be funded under Title II, and for providing concrete examples of initiatives that states may consider.”

With states playing a pivotal role in the implementation of ESSA, our work as educators to respond to the new legislation is just in the beginning stages. We have seen the research and read countless stories pointing toward the positive effect principals can have on student achievement.

Given that ESSA puts a greater emphasis on program development at the state and local levels through increased federal funding, including on activities such as recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers and principals and the Student Support and Academic Enrichment program, it is now up to these agencies to collaborate with stakeholders, including parents and teachers, to fill in the gaps.

Call to Action

Join this week’s ESSA discussion on KDP Global about these questions:

  1. Who are the primary stakeholders that states and districts need to involve when selecting evidence-based school leadership activities? Why is their feedback important?
  2. Do you agree with the quote from Thomas Sergiovanni at the beginning of the blog post? Why or why not?

image_millerDr. Gary Miller is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership & Policy Studies at the University of Texas Tyler and a member of the Kappa Delta Pi Public Policy Committee.