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Educating One and All: Students with Disabilities and Standards-Based Reform (1997)

Chapter:4 CONTENT STANDARDS, CURRICULUM, AND INSTRUCTION

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Suggested Citation:"4 CONTENT STANDARDS, CURRICULUM, AND INSTRUCTION." National Research Council. 1997. Educating One and All: Students with Disabilities and Standards-Based Reform. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5788.
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4
Content Standards, Curriculum, and Instruction

Curriculum and instruction are the meat of the educational process. Real change in education comes with changes in the content that teachers teach and students learn, and in the instructional methods that teachers use. Both curriculum and instruction in turn are shaped by expectations about the kinds of educational outcomes that students should manifest by the time they graduate from high school.

Standards-based reform has been built around a specific set of assumptions about curriculum and instruction, embodied in the content and performance standards that are central to the reforms. Special education, for its part, has been built around a set of assumptions about valued post-school outcomes, curricula, and instruction that reflect the diversity of students with disabilities and their educational needs. Whether students with disabilities will participate successfully in standards-based reform will depend largely on the degree of alignment between these two sets of assumptions.

This chapter provides an overview of post-school outcomes and curricular and instructional issues for students with disabilities and their relationships to standards. We first review the key assumptions of standards-based reform concerning outcomes, curriculum, and instruction as embodied in existing state content standards. We then examine how these standards interact with the educational outcomes and curricular and instructional experiences that are valued for students with disabilities. We compare key characteristics, derived from research, associated with effective instruction for special education with the instructional assumptions of standards-based reform. The chapter ends with a discussion of the implications of including students with disabilities in the expected outcomes, curriculum, and instruction of standards-based reform and with conclusions about the alignment between standards-based reform and special education in these important areas.

Suggested Citation:"4 CONTENT STANDARDS, CURRICULUM, AND INSTRUCTION." National Research Council. 1997. Educating One and All: Students with Disabilities and Standards-Based Reform. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5788.
×

CONTENT STANDARDS IN STANDARDS-BASED REFORM

As noted in Chapter 2, content standards are the main political tools of standards-based reform. They define the breadth and depth of valued knowledge that students are expected to learn, and they are intended to reduce the curriculum disparities existing across schools and school districts. For students with disabilities, the degree to which a set of content standards is relevant to their valued educational outcomes and consistent with proven instructional practices will determine how successfully they will participate in standards-based reform.

At the present time, 48 states and the District of Columbia have content standards or are in the process of developing them (Gandal, 1996). To provide a context for understanding the implications of these standards for the education of students with disabilities, this section examines the assumptions about post-school outcomes, curriculum, and instruction contained in current state content standards.

Purposes of Content Standards

As described in Chapter 2, content standards have three purposes, all intimately related to outcomes, curriculum, and instruction. First, they help frame the education reform debate by publicly identifying what is important for schools to teach and for students to be able to demonstrate (McLaughlin and Shepard, 1995). In a sense, then, content standards signal the outcomes that the public, policy makers, and educators consider valuable for students to exhibit at the end of their secondary schooling.

Second, content standards guide public school instruction, curriculum, and assessment in an organized and meaningful manner—essentially providing a map of where the curriculum should go and enabling schools and teachers to tailor their instruction to fit the needs of diverse learners. Finally—and ideally—they can guide the allocation of instructional resources by clarifying the goals of instruction and motivating districts to identify how to use their resources to achieve these goals (McLaughlin and Shepard, 1995).

Thus, content standards are not simply a list of important knowledge and skills. Rather, they are a ''vision of what … curriculum should include in terms of content priority and emphasis. Content standards should provide a coherent structure to guide curriculum and instruction" (McLaughlin and Shepard, 1995:20). The emphasis is on guiding, not constricting, teaching, and learning (Council for Basic Education, 1996).

Varied Characteristics of State Content Standards

As discussed in Chapter 2, states are taking various approaches to developing content standards; consequently, their standards tend to differ by level of

Suggested Citation:"4 CONTENT STANDARDS, CURRICULUM, AND INSTRUCTION." National Research Council. 1997. Educating One and All: Students with Disabilities and Standards-Based Reform. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5788.
×

specificity and format. Some state content frameworks focus on big ideas rather than specifics (Elmore and Fuhrman, 1994). In civics, for instance, the Oregon Department of Education has developed relatively broad general guidelines; one example calls on students to "understand and apply knowledge about governmental and political systems, and the rights and responsibilities of citizens" (Oregon Department of Education, 1996:16). By comparison, the Michigan Department of Education has developed more prescribed content standards for civics, such as: "All students will identify the purposes of national, state, and local governments in the United States, describe how citizens organize government to accomplish their purposes, and assess their effectiveness" (Michigan Department of Education, 1995:22). Some state content standards are so specific as to designate a particular piece of literature that must be covered at a certain grade. Some states attach specific standards to grade levels; other provide more general outcomes that must be met at the elementary, middle, and high school levels.

The degree of variation among the state content standards and their politically charged nature have led states to call their content standards by different names, including goals, standards, examples, benchmarks, guidelines, and frameworks (Council of Chief State School Officers, 1995). A term being introduced by numerous states is expectations . The Kentucky Department of Education's state standards are actually called Kentucky's Learning Goals and Academic Expectations and consist of broad goals to be achieved and demonstrated prior to graduation (Kentucky Department of Education, 1994). Colorado defines its model content standards as setting "high expectations in these areas for all students" (Colorado Department of Education, 1995:3).

It is difficult to capture the extent of state variation in content standards. Extant surveys of state standards are limited by both the criteria used for reporting and evaluating the standards and when the data were collected. Two areas that were of particular interest to the committee were the content domains addressed by the standards and the pedagogical implications. Although there have been several national surveys of state standards development, the most recent evidence pertaining to areas in which standards are developed is available from the Council of Great City Schools (1996). Based on information obtained from 48 states, this survey indicated that almost every state was developing or had completed standards in the four core areas of mathematics, science, social studies, and language arts. These findings are corroborated by a survey by the Council of Chief State School Officers (in press). Far fewer states are developing standards in the arts (n = 31), health (n = 29), vocational/technical education (n = 16), or practical living skills (n = 9). Furthermore, only the core academic areas are currently being assessed.

The only in-depth analysis of the pedagogical implications of standards was conducted in the areas of mathematics and science by the Council of Chief State School Officers (Blank and Pechman, 1995). The results of this review of state standards indicated that recently developed state standards frameworks link math

Suggested Citation:"4 CONTENT STANDARDS, CURRICULUM, AND INSTRUCTION." National Research Council. 1997. Educating One and All: Students with Disabilities and Standards-Based Reform. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5788.
×

and science content to classroom practices and require different methods of teaching, different materials, and more active roles for students.

Despite the variation in the specificity, level of application, and labels used for content standards across the nation, similarities do occur across many states. For example, most states require students to be able to write well, apply prior knowledge to understand texts, demonstrate an ability to organize information, work with others, relate different experiences, integrate English skills throughout the curriculum, and demonstrate cultural sensitivity (Council for Basic Education, 1996).

To obtain a richer picture of the types of standards being developed by states across content domains, the committee examined more closely the content standards documents developed by seven states that represent both early and more recent developers of content standards, as well a regional mix.1 We looked at standards documents to get a sense of whether they were strictly academic or more comprehensive. We then looked more closely at the standards documents in the areas of language arts/reading, mathematics, and social studies, to see whether they are generic or subject-matter-specific, what levels of knowledge they demand, and how explicit they are about pedagogy. The content standards we looked at include more than global statements of valued knowledge or skills; most are multilevel documents that begin with a goal statement, then further define the goals, sometimes through several levels of standards, expected performances, or sample demonstrations.

Our examination suggested that standards vary greatly across and within states in terms of organization and level of specificity. None of the standards documents seemed to provide the full scope and sequence required of a curriculum. Instead, all provide frameworks for defining the essential or enduring knowledge expected to be demonstrated by students at various stages in their education.

Mirroring the results of the state-by-state survey, the completed standards for the states we examined were predominantly academic. All seven states have completed math, science, and social studies standards as well as standards in areas of reading and writing or language arts. Three of these states have developed specific standards in the arts, health and/or physical education, and second languages. Two additional states embed the arts within other standards (e.g., communicating through music), and one state has specific content standards under development in the occupational and career areas.

Within the academic areas, the content standards seemed to range from a focus on basic knowledge and skills (e.g., arithmetic computation, use of phonics to recognize words) to more abstract applications of skills (e.g., problem solving; analyzing, interpreting, and evaluating ideas; writing to convey meaning). Most of the standards appeared to emphasize more abstract applications. For example,

1  

The states selected for review were Colorado, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New York, Oregon, and Vermont.

Suggested Citation:"4 CONTENT STANDARDS, CURRICULUM, AND INSTRUCTION." National Research Council. 1997. Educating One and All: Students with Disabilities and Standards-Based Reform. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5788.
×

reading standards commonly refer to reading for meaning, taking a critical stance, and interpreting texts. In only two states did reading standards include specific reference to basic literacy skills. One such standard, "Students read and understand a variety of materials," included the expectation that students will use comprehension skills (such as previewing, predicting, comparing and contrasting, re-reading, and self-monitoring) as well as word recognition skills (such as phonics, context clues, picture clues, word origins, and word order clues). In a second state, the standard, "Comprehend a variety of printed materials," included the ability to recognize, pronounce, and know the meaning of words using phonics skills, language structure, context clues, and visual skills. Across all seven states, social studies, history, and related standards included references to specific knowledge or skills, such as ''relate historical events of the 17th and 18th centuries in chronological order" or "use maps and globes to trace the migration of various groups during specific periods of time."

Instructional Implications

In our examination of standards in seven states, we also looked at their references to specific pedagogy. Although the references varied across the standards, the standards did suggest at least two implications for instruction. First, with respect to content, most of the standards call on students to be able to apply, demonstrate, or use some set of knowledge and skills, rather than just to know isolated facts or be able to perform basic computations or operations. Second, in terms of instructional format, the standards refer to group problem solving and cooperation, to specific projects or demonstrations students are expected to develop, and to specific materials, resources, and technology students are expected to use.

These pedagogical features noted by the committee in its examination of state standards appear to be part of a larger trend across national and state content standards. The review of math and science standards by the Council of Chief State School Officers (Blank and Pechman, 1995) indicated that within the 40 state standards frameworks reviewed, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (1989) standards, the AAAS benchmarks (1993), and the National Research Council's science education standards (1996) were represented. A total of 32 of the frameworks provided pedagogical guidance within the standard and 30 of them included pedagogical strategies that were considered as "constructive and active" lessons.

This pedagogical influence reflects recent cognitive research on such questions as how to present and sequence information, how to organize practice, how to motivate students, and how to assess learning. Findings from cognitive research have challenged the traditional view that most knowledge can be transferred more or less intact from teacher to learner. This research proposes that, in order for some kinds of learning to occur, students must play an active role in

Suggested Citation:"4 CONTENT STANDARDS, CURRICULUM, AND INSTRUCTION." National Research Council. 1997. Educating One and All: Students with Disabilities and Standards-Based Reform. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5788.
×

acquiring and organizing their own knowledge and skills (e.g., Resnick, 1987). This cognitive approach to instruction, called constructivism, asserts that the learner is the most important element in the teaching-learning situation—more important than materials, lessons, teachers, and other external factors.

The influential standards developed by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) exemplify how many of the new standards have embraced pedagogical principles such as constructivism: "This constructive, active view of the learning process must be reflected in the way much of mathematics is taught" (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 1989:10). The NCTM standards call for problem solving to become the basis of instruction. They also recommend increased attention to areas such as teaching students to develop a sense of what numbers signify, to understand the meaning behind mathematical operations, to develop strategies for learning basic facts, and to be able to justify their thinking (p. 20). Examples of areas to receive decreased attention include isolated treatment of paper-and-pencil computations, use of clue words to determine which math operations to use, an emphasis on one right answer and one correct method, and teaching by telling. Similar principles are evident in the national science standards, which reflect a more experiential approach to learning (National Research Council, 1996). It is important to note that the impacts of content standards on actual classroom curriculum and instruction are largely unknown at this time and are likely to be influenced by the extent to which the standards are mandated or voluntary and whether they are linked to assessment.

POST-SCHOOL OUTCOMES, CURRICULUM, AND INSTRUCTION IN SPECIAL EDUCATION

In order to consider the potential impact of participation in standards-based reform on students with disabilities, it is first necessary to understand the kinds of post-school outcomes, curriculum, and instruction that currently characterize special education. This section describes the post-school outcomes traditionally valued in special education for many students with disabilities and their instructional implications. It also provides an overview, drawn from empirical literature, of the characteristics of effective instruction for many students with disabilities.

Student Outcomes and Their Relationship to Curriculum

Historically, many of the outcomes expected of human service programs for people with disabilities were primarily oriented to protection and care. This philosophy resulted in services that often isolated the individual and provided physical care rather than preparation for life in a heterogeneous world. With the civil rights movement of the past two decades, one aspect of which focused on educating students with disabilities in public schools, traditional outcomes were reconceptualized to encompass: (1) employment, useful work, and activity valued

Suggested Citation:"4 CONTENT STANDARDS, CURRICULUM, AND INSTRUCTION." National Research Council. 1997. Educating One and All: Students with Disabilities and Standards-Based Reform. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5788.
×

by the community; (2) access to further education when desired and appropriate; (3) personal autonomy, independence, and adult status; (4) social interaction, community participation, leisure, and recreation; and (5) participation in the life of the family.

This broader set of outcomes aims to better prepare students with disabilities to become productive and independent adults. The importance of explicitly focusing the education of students with disabilities on the transition to adult life has been well documented (Rusch et al., 1992). The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) recognizes its importance by mandating the provision of transition services.2

The National Center on Educational Outcomes (NCEO), in consultation with state directors of special education, teachers, parents, policy groups, and local school administrators, has developed a model for conceptualizing the broad range of educational outcomes relevant to special education and the goal of productive adult status. The model has eight outcome domains: (1) presence and participation, (2) accommodation and adaptation, (3) physical health, (4) responsibility and independence, (5) contribution and citizenship, (6) academic and functional literacy, (7) personal and social adjustment, and (8) satisfaction. A set of indicators has been developed to measure progress toward attainment of the desired outcomes. This model suggests that these outcomes should be applicable to all students, not just those with disabilities (Ysseldyke et al., 1994).

A successful schooling experience will provide the student with the tools and skills necessary to make the transition effectively to the next stage of life. For some, this means going on to college or another educational experience. For others, it means entering the workforce. The NCEO outcomes takes into account the skills students need to succeed in each domain.

For students with severe disabilities, the "criterion of ultimate functioning" is often used to guide instructional and curricular planning (Brown et al., 1976). In this approach, each student's long-term outcomes (e.g., degree of independence, employment) are designated through the IEP process; instruction then focuses on building skills that will lead to these outcomes in age-appropriate natural settings. The premise is that effective instruction involves systematic planning to determine the kinds of skills to be taught and the most effective contexts in which to teach and apply them.

Based on the criterion of ultimate functioning, instruction for students with severe disabilities has evolved into an ecological approach, meaning that the student's learning needs and functioning level are considered in conjunction with

2  

The statutory meaning of the term transition services is "a coordinated set of activities for a student, designed within an outcome-oriented process, which promotes movement from school to post-school activities, including postsecondary education, vocational training, integrated employment (including supported employment), continuing education, adult services, independent living, or community participation" (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments, 1990, Section [A], 20 U.S.C. 1401 [A]).

Suggested Citation:"4 CONTENT STANDARDS, CURRICULUM, AND INSTRUCTION." National Research Council. 1997. Educating One and All: Students with Disabilities and Standards-Based Reform. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5788.
×

the demands of the environment; skills are never taught in isolation from actual performance demands. For elementary-school-age students, curricular priorities most often involve communication, socialization, self-help, motor skills, and functional academics (Fredericks, 1990; Fredericks and Brodsky, 1994; McDonnell et al., 1995; Snell and Brown, 1993). For secondary-school-age students, curricular priorities include employment preparation and placement, personal management, and leisure (McDonnell et al., 1991; Wehman, 1996).

For students with mild disabilities, a combination of academic, vocational, and functional outcomes is often selected with the specific mix of components dependent on individual student goals and needs. Although several researchers have suggested that students with mild disabilities, particularly those identified as having a learning disability, may well be able to achieve beyond their current performance levels in academic content areas (Carnine et al., 1990; Ellis et al., 1990; Zigmond and Miller, 1992), many of these students nevertheless encounter difficulties meeting the general education requirements (see Chapter 3). As students with mild disabilities enter junior and senior high school, they face an array of expectations similar to those of students without disabilities. In many schools, these students are expected to earn high school diplomas and to meet the same coursework requirements as students without disabilities.

Research has identified several important components of effective programming that can help high school students with mild disabilities meet these expectations. For those who intend to move on to postsecondary education, these elements include curricula that use a variety of approaches and instruction that teaches students "how to learn"; a system for coordinating the efforts of teachers, school administrators, parents, and community agencies; a transition component that teaches decision-making, problem-solving, and goal-setting skills; and an evaluation component that enables school personnel to systematically assess and refine the specific educational strategies being used for a student (Schumaker et al., 1986; Deshler et al., 1982, 1984; Tollefson et al., 1983; Levin et al., 1983).

For students whose primary option is to enter the work world immediately after school, the curriculum will focus more on the development and application of functional or compensatory skills. A growing body of research suggests that training in natural environments is an important instructional tool for the skill to be useful and maintained over time in community work settings (McDonnell et al., 1995; Snell and Brown, 1993; Gaylord-Ross and Holvoet, 1985; Horner et al., 1985; McDonnell et al., 1984; Brown et al., 1983; Coon et al., 1981; Hupp and Mervis, 1981).

There also has been considerable research during the past decade about strategies for improving the employment potential of students with disabilities. Research and demonstration programs have shown that many individuals can take their place in the community workforce if provided with comprehensive employment training. Results suggest that these training programs are best initiated while the student is still in school, so that valuable instructional time is not lost.

Suggested Citation:"4 CONTENT STANDARDS, CURRICULUM, AND INSTRUCTION." National Research Council. 1997. Educating One and All: Students with Disabilities and Standards-Based Reform. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5788.
×

Research has suggested that students with disabilities who were successful in obtaining and maintaining paid work in the community after they exited high school were those who received ongoing opportunities for direct training in community employment sites throughout their high school careers and obtained a paying job prior to graduation (Hasazi et al., 1985, 1989; Wehman et al., 1985). Research has indicated further that effective employment preparation programs for students with disabilities include: (1) a curriculum that reflects the job opportunities available in the local community, (2) training that takes place in actual job sites, (3) training that is designed to sample the individual's performance across a variety of economically viable alternatives, (4) training that provides opportunities for interaction with people without disabilities in a work setting, and (5) training that culminates in a specific job placement (McDonnell et al., 1992; Wehman, 1996; Hasazi et al., 1989; Hill et al., 1987).

Students with disabilities may find their employability affected by another issue above and beyond the actual skills that they have achieved—namely, whether they have received a high school diploma. States take various approaches to awarding high school diplomas or other school completion credentials to students with disabilities who do not meet traditional criteria. Some students, for example, receive a nonstandard diploma or certificate of attendance (see Chapter 3). This issue of credentialing is likely to assume greater importance in a climate of standards-based reform because some states are linking receipt of a diploma to attainment of state content and performance standards. Some students with disabilities who do not reach state standards, and thus do not meet high school diploma criteria, may find themselves disadvantaged in the job market regardless of the educational outcomes they can demonstrate (Box 4-1).

In sum, special education has long valued educational outcomes that are broader than the academically oriented outcomes exemplified in state content standards developed thus far. The emphasis on post-school outcomes has shaped the curricular and instructional experiences of many students with disabilities. Whether or not states will develop standards in vocational/career areas is an as yet unknown but important consideration in efforts to include students with disabilities in content standards.

Characteristics of Effective Special Education Instruction

Research provides a great deal of information about what constitutes an effective instructional environment for students with disabilities. We discuss three broad characteristics of effective instruction, each supported by research as important for enhancing learning among many students with disabilities: (1) a focus on the individual student as the unit for instructional decision making, (2) intensive instructional delivery, and (3) explicit contextualization of skills-based instruction.

Suggested Citation:"4 CONTENT STANDARDS, CURRICULUM, AND INSTRUCTION." National Research Council. 1997. Educating One and All: Students with Disabilities and Standards-Based Reform. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5788.
×

BOX 4-1 Credentialing, the High School Diploma, and Students with Disabilities

The credentialing issue is critical in standards-based reform because credentials are the means for communicating students' high school performance to the public. Since a high school diploma is the minimum requirement for a variety of employment opportunities, some educators are concerned about the impact standards-based reform could have on the high school credentialing process for a number of students, including some with disabilities.

Over the last several decades, as the proportion of high school students receiving a high school diploma has increased, not having a diploma is regarded as damning to one's job prospects. At the same time, having a diploma has seemed, for some time now, to be only minimally impressive to employers (Bishop, 1996; Hawkins, 1978; Pedulla and Reidy, 1979). Some argue that there is no substantive relationship between academic content and the awarding of a high school diploma (Bishop, 1989, 1994; Sedlak et al., 1986). They see the move to ratchet up standards required for a diploma as an attempt "to hold schools to standards that the lay public could easily measure and understand" (Sedlak et al., 1986:28). Raising standards in a credible way is thus a response to employer concerns about the devaluing of a diploma, as well as to more general concerns about U.S. international competitiveness.

Some students with disabilities in certain states receive differentiated diplomas, which distinguish students following a rigorous academic track from those following a minimally academic or vocational track. The latter group receives certificates of attendance or other nonacademic diplomas (see Chapter 3). Thus, students with disabilities operate in a credentialing universe much more complex than their general education counterparts. Potential employers may face difficulty in putting an applicant's credential in the appropriate context, given the diversity in the credentialing of students with disabilities. This diversity makes it that much harder for students with disabilities to showcase their achievements and abilities.

A number of issues about credentialing for students with disabilities warrant attention. First, if standards for a high school diploma are increased, more students—including those with disabilities—may not receive diplomas and, more to the point, they will not easily be able to convey to potential employers what they have achieved in high school. Some students, including some with disabilities, who currently receive certificates of attendance face this problem. All students—whether they currently would receive a diploma, certificate of attendance, or no certification whatsoever—deserve to leave high school able to signal credibly

Suggested Citation:"4 CONTENT STANDARDS, CURRICULUM, AND INSTRUCTION." National Research Council. 1997. Educating One and All: Students with Disabilities and Standards-Based Reform. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5788.
×

to potential employers what they have achieved.* The students who do not attain a diploma may experience hardship, particularly in the short run. In the medium to long run, job requirements will presumably adjust to the new standards, although what form of readily ascertainable certification will replace the high school diploma is unclear.

Second, as one changes the nature of the credentialing process, whether by increasing standards or by requiring minimum competency tests, students must first be adequately prepared to meet the challenges posed by the new credentialing process. In other words, the K-12 curriculum ought to provide students with opportunities to learn the material required for the credential. This concept has proved controversial and subject to litigation (Debra P. v. Turlington 644 F. 2d 397, 1981), both for students with disabilities and for other disadvantaged groups (see Chapter 5 for further discussion). The issue is further complicated by the laws requiring accommodations for students with disabilities. Phillips (1993) and Vitello (1988) discuss issues relevant to this debate in more detail.

Third, it is important to recognize that employers are constantly looking for ways to lower costs. To the extent that the credentialing system makes it more, rather than less, costly for business to evaluate the capabilities of students with disabilities, the system makes the transition to employment harder. The importance of providing clear and credible evidence of what students have achieved and are capable of should not be underestimated.

*Such certification should be flexible enough to signify differential achievement to allow potential employers to distinguish among them. Bishop sees students having the opportunity to signal higher achievement to potential employers as providing an important incentive. Michigan, New York, and Tennessee have honors diplomas to acknowledge those whose achievements sufficiently surpass the basic requirements (Bond et al., 1996).

In considering the three characteristics of effective instruction, it is important to note six assumptions.

  • These characteristics apply to the large subset of students whose disabilities involve cognitive (rather than physical or sensory) impairments. We considered only students with cognitive disabilities because they represent the majority of students identified as having a disability. Among individuals with cognitive disabilities, the characteristics apply to the entire range of students, from those with mild to those with severe disabilities.

  • These characteristics represent broad principles that, in light of the heterogeneity of the population of students with cognitive disabilities, must be particularized to meet individual student needs.

Suggested Citation:"4 CONTENT STANDARDS, CURRICULUM, AND INSTRUCTION." National Research Council. 1997. Educating One and All: Students with Disabilities and Standards-Based Reform. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5788.
×
  • These characteristics are placement-neutral; that is, they describe how instruction occurs, not where instruction takes place.

  • Research on these characteristics is limited to how student acquire and use a range of relatively basic or middle-order skills, from functional personal management skills, to the achievement of literacy and numeracy, to the extraction of conceptual themes or "big ideas" (Carnine and Kameenui, 1992). Research has not been conducted to determine the extent to which these characteristics apply when students with cognitive disabilities learn content that requires high levels of abstraction or creativity.

  • Although research on positive educational interventions supports the effectiveness of these characteristics and demonstrates that they can be applied in actual school settings, a gap exists between what is known about effective special education instruction and the typical state of practice.

  • The characteristics we describe may apply, to varying extents, to students with and without disabilities alike.3

Individually Referenced Decision Making

Research shows that, in general education, teachers typically judge the success or failure of an instructional activity primarily by its capacity to maintain classroom flow, orderliness, and cooperation (Clark and Elmore, 1981; Yinger, 1979). At critical junctures, the teacher may determine whether reteaching is necessary for the entire class by assessing learning among a steering group of children who perform near the middle of the class (Clark and Elmore, 1981). Instructional adaptation to address individual learning problems, however, occurs rarely in the regular classroom and in minor ways (Baker and Zigmond, 1990; Kagan and Tippins, 1991; McIntosh et al., 1993; Peterson and Clark, 1978; Zigmond and Baker, 1995).

By contrast, effective practice in special education, as measured by teacher decision making about instructional modifications and student achievement in reading, math, and spelling, centers instructional decision making on the individual student (Fuchs and Fuchs, 1995). Research has specified methods for tracking student progress and for using the resulting database to formulate ambitious learning goals (Fuchs et al., 1989a) and to test alternative hypotheses about which instructional methods produce satisfactory growth rates (Fuchs et al., 1989b; Jones and Krouse, 1988; Stecker, in press; see Fuchs, 1995, for a review). Over time, the special educator empirically tests and develops an instructional

3  

Many low-achieving students do well with general classroom instruction that incorporates some elements of these principles. However, for many students with disabilities, the level or intensity of application that is necessary may exceed what can reasonably be provided through general education programming.

Suggested Citation:"4 CONTENT STANDARDS, CURRICULUM, AND INSTRUCTION." National Research Council. 1997. Educating One and All: Students with Disabilities and Standards-Based Reform. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5788.
×

program tailored to the individual student. This process is called individually referenced decision making.

Individually referenced decision making is perhaps the signature feature of effective special education practice, exemplifying a basic value and representing a core assumption of special educators' professional preparation. "Effective" is defined as statistically significant gains in specific skills. Individually referenced decision making requires teachers to reserve judgment about the efficacy of an instructional method for a student until the method proves effective for that individual and fosters high expectations of learning. It requires teachers to plan and make ongoing, major adjustments and revisions in response to an individual student's learning, and it requires knowledge of multiple ways to adapt curricula, modify instructional methods, and motivate students.

Corroborating evidence documents how individually referenced decision making enhances learning for students with cognitive disabilities. A meta-analysis of a number of studies summarized the efficacy of individually referenced decision making for students with cognitive disabilities (with an effect size of .70 standard deviation units; Fuchs and Fuchs, 1986). More recent studies in reading, spelling, and mathematics corroborate earlier evidence of positive effects (Fuchs et al., 1991a, 1991b, 1992). Stecker (in press), for example, sought to assess whether individually referenced decision making had benefits over and beyond the effects of less individualized methods for regularly revising instruction and routinely measuring student performance. Pairs of students with cognitive disabilities were matched. The performance of one randomly selected student in each pair was measured twice weekly, and the teacher formulated instructional decisions for both students in the pair based on the one student's assessment results. Moreover, half the matched students were also measured, but teachers had no access to their assessment profiles. Results showed that students whose instructional decisions were tailored to their own ongoing assessment results achieved consistently better than the other of their matched pais, and that measurement alone contributed little to student achievement.

Intensive Instruction

Intensive instruction refers to a broad set of instructional features that includes, but is not limited to, (a) high rates of active responding at appropriate levels, (b) careful matching of instruction with students' skill levels, (c) instructional cues, prompts, and fading to support approximations to correct responding, and (d) detailed, task-focused feedback—all features that may be incorporated into group lessons (see the work of Wolery and colleagues, e.g., Doyle et al., 1990; Lysakowski and Walberg, 1982).

Meta-analyses and narrative syntheses (Cohen et al., 1982; Glass et al., 1982; Wasik and Slavin, 1993) show that intensive instruction can result in impressive learning for students who otherwise would fail to achieve critical benchmarks

Suggested Citation:"4 CONTENT STANDARDS, CURRICULUM, AND INSTRUCTION." National Research Council. 1997. Educating One and All: Students with Disabilities and Standards-Based Reform. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5788.
×

(Glass et al., 1981). Torgesen (1996), for example, has studied students with phonological processing deficits, who had been predicted to experience serious problems in learning to read. Children were assigned randomly to four conditions: a conventional general education control group and one of three experimental conditions, which represented a range of methods but shared the feature of one-to-one tutoring that fostered intensive instruction. Preliminary results of this longitudinal study indicate that children in all three intensive instruction treatments had comparable achievement, significantly better than the control group.

Just as for students with mild disabilities, research indicates that one-to-one intensive instruction helps develop the skills of students with more severe cognitive disabilities, particularly in the area of personal management, including dressing, personal hygiene, money management, and sexual behavior (Billingsley et al., 1994). Researchers have demonstrated that teaching these skills in group settings often dilutes the intensity of the instruction and proves unsuccessful in terms of both acquiring and generalizing the skills (e.g., Reid and Favell, 1984; Alberto et al., 1980).

It is important to note that, although one-to-one tutoring may be necessary to achieve instructional intensity and promote learning within certain domains of functioning, such as reading acquisition and personal management, intensive instruction is not synonymous with one-to-one delivery. In fact, meaningful participation by students with cognitive disabilities among normal, age-appropriate peer groups for instructional activities can be critical for promoting social development and communicative competence (Haring and Ryndak, 1994; Nietupski and Hamre-Nietupski, 1987; Snell and Brown, 1993). As noted by Billingsley et al. (1994:89), group-based intensive instruction can "provide for a natural variance in the people with whom the skill is practiced and less opportunity for the learner to become overdependent on a single teacher or person—thus increasing the potential for successful generalization."

Explicit Contextualization of Skills-Based Instruction

Research demonstrates that many students with cognitive disabilities need extensive, structured, and explicit instruction to develop the processes and understandings that other children learn more easily and naturally (Bransford et al., 1995; Brown and Campione, 1990; Harris and Graham, 1995; Kronick, 1990). For example, in order to learn to read, many children with cognitive disabilities require explicit, structured instruction (Stanovich, 1995). Similarly, without explicit instruction, the language development of many children with cognitive disabilities suffers (Warren and Yoder, 1994). Parallel findings occur in other areas (see Harris and Graham, 1995).

As noted above, constructivism is an important philosophical influence in the current education reform movement. Three assumptions of constructivism are particularly relevant to this discussion of effective special education. First,

Suggested Citation:"4 CONTENT STANDARDS, CURRICULUM, AND INSTRUCTION." National Research Council. 1997. Educating One and All: Students with Disabilities and Standards-Based Reform. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5788.
×

constructivism assumes that the child is an active, self-regulated learner, and that the appropriate role of the teacher is to guide the construction of knowledge, rather than to provide direct explicit instruction (Tharpe and Gallimore, 1989). Second, constructivism holds that segmenting the curriculum into a hierarchy of discrete skills runs counter to how children learn (Harris and Graham, 1995). Third, in constructivism, success in basic skills is not necessarily a prerequisite to more advanced learning and higher-order thinking (Means and Knapp, 1991). As noted above, these assumptions are reflected in major general education reform initiatives and many content standards. But they contrast with special education practice that has maintained a strong focus on the explicit teaching of basic skills. Indeed, three empirical literatures question the tenability of constructivist principles for many students with disabilities.

First, the assumption that the appropriate role of the teacher is that of guide rather than provider of explicit instruction appears tenuous in light of research showing that many children with cognitive disabilities cannot be viewed as active, self-regulated learners. Studies demonstrate that students with persistent histories of learning failure experience negative feedback that interferes with their motivation, making them more likely to suffer the phenomenon of learned helplessness (Deci and Ryan, 1985, 1986; Garber and Seligman, 1980). These experiences can result in behavioral patterns characterized by challenge avoidance and low persistence, which necessitate more structured, teacher-directed approaches to learning (Dweck and Leggett, 1988).

The second tenet of constructivism that appears somewhat problematic for students with cognitive disabilities is the assumption that cognitive components should not be isolated or fractionated and that the curriculum should not be taught as a series of discrete skills. Research indicates that analyzing and teaching tasks in their component parts is effective and often necessary for many students with cognitive disabilities. The primary problem characterizing children with reading disabilities, for example, is a phonological processing deficit that impedes word learning and word recognition (Adams and Bruck, 1993; Gough and Tunmer, 1986; Perfetti, 1985; Siegel, 1993; Stanovich, 1986; Vellutino and Scanlon, 1987). To overcome this deficit, these students require explicit instruction in recognizing discrete speech-sound segments and recognizing words (Stanovich, 1995). Analogous research suggests the efficacy of related approaches that analyze and teach reading comprehension and written expression by teaching skills as components (Harris and Pressley, 1991).

Third, the assumption that mastery of basic skills is not a prerequisite for advanced learning appears tenuous for many students with cognitive disabilities. For many of them, there does appear to be a hierarchy of learning, whereby students do better if they first learn number concepts and then learn to apply them. When these students fail to acquire early mathematics proficiency, they do not succeed in an academic track (which requires high-order, problem-solving applications of earlier math content) or a basic track (which requires applications to

Suggested Citation:"4 CONTENT STANDARDS, CURRICULUM, AND INSTRUCTION." National Research Council. 1997. Educating One and All: Students with Disabilities and Standards-Based Reform. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5788.
×

real-world situations (Bryan et al., 1992). The failure to learn to read undoubtedly puts individuals at risk for poor outcomes in the middle and high school curricula, for which reading proficiency is assumed and required.

Despite some questions about the pertinence of constructivist assumptions to programs for some students with cognitive disabilities, constructivist philosophy nevertheless has influenced concepts of effective special education practice in substantial ways. The notion of isolated skills instruction has been replaced with more contextualized presentations, in which strategies for applying skills in generalized contexts are taught explicitly. Research documents the potential value of situating explicit skills instruction within structured, motivating, and authentic contexts to help students learn how to apply knowledge.

For example, Cunningham (1990) experimented with two approaches to help students develop phonemic awareness (i.e., to recognize speech-sound segments and blends). Phonemic awareness was chosen because there is a large body of research demonstrating its importance in helping students learn early word decoding skills (e.g., Adams and Bruck, 1993; Bradley and Bryant, 1985; Stanovich, 1992, 1993; Wagner and Torgesen, 1987). To teach phonemic awareness, the experiment contrasted a conventional ''skill-and-drill" approach, whereby students learn skills through drill and practice but not in an explicit context, with a "metalevel" approach, which teaches skills through learning experiences situated within particular contexts. In this latter approach, students were taught to reflect on the usefulness of phonemic awareness and were taught how to integrate the skill with other strategies. They explicitly discussed the goals and purposes of the training, observed teachers modeling the skill in hypothetical reading contexts, and had routine opportunities to apply the skill under the teacher's direction. Cunningham found that first graders in the metalevel phonemic awareness group displayed greater reading comprehension growth than their peers in the skill-and-drill treatment.

Consequently, for many students with cognitive disabilities, data-based arguments support a situated approach to teaching, which blends explicit teaching of skills with contextually rich learning experiences, a position that echoes important principles of constructivism. Nevertheless, it is clear that explicit teaching is fundamental even within this situated teaching approach: the teacher reveals or makes transparent the connections between knowledge acquisition and knowledge application, rather than leaving the student to discover those connections more incidentally.

The focus on situated context and explicit teaching for transfer is illustrated in the criterion of ultimate functioning, which, as noted earlier in this chapter, is a strategy commonly used to establish and teach valued outcomes for students with severe disabilities. Applying explicit, intensive instruction in a contextualized setting results in more meaningful participation and performance in normal, age-based routines for children with severe disabilities (Nietupski and Hamre-Nietupski, 1987; Snell and Brown, 1993) and helps them develop general social

Suggested Citation:"4 CONTENT STANDARDS, CURRICULUM, AND INSTRUCTION." National Research Council. 1997. Educating One and All: Students with Disabilities and Standards-Based Reform. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5788.
×

and communication skills that enhance their interactions with peers and adults in home, school, and community settings (Forest and Pearpoint, 1992; Gaylord-Ross et al., 1984; Haring and Lovinger, 1989; Haring and Ryndak, 1994).

Together, these three broad characteristics of effective special education instruction—individually referenced decision making, intensive instruction, and explicit contextualization of skills-based instruction—represent a potent set of practices, which have been demonstrated to enhance the learning for students with cognitive disabilities. Research on specific interventions that applied these three characteristics to teach students with cognitive disabilities documented positive effects ranging from .50 to over 1.5 standard deviations (Forness and Kavale, 1996; Swanson, 1996).

We note that these three instructional characteristics represent practices that often differ from those of general education. Model special education instruction focuses on the individual as the unit of analysis, whereas general education relies on the group. Students with cognitive disabilities require intensive instruction, whereas carefully designed nonintensive instruction appears to meet the needs of most students without disabilities. Model special education practice relies on skills-based instruction, making explicit the connections between knowledge acquisition and application; by contrast, some current content standards and curricular reforms have been influenced by a constructivist philosophy, which deemphasizes explicit instruction of discrete skills.

A discussion of effective instruction would be incomplete without mentioning the use of technology, which can produce dramatic educational benefits for many students with disabilities both as an assistive device and as an instructional tool (Box 4-2).

PARTICIPATION OF STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES IN CONTENT STANDARDS AND CURRICULUM

Increasing the participation of students with disabilities in standards-based reform will mean that they will be taught and held accountable for the new kinds of knowledge and skills reflected in state content standards. It is important to understand the extent to which many students with disabilities are already involved in the general education curriculum and thus will be held to new standards once they are put into place. It is also important to understand the extent to which students with disabilities have or have not been considered in the design of standards-based reforms, particularly content standards.

Participation in the General Education Curriculum

As noted in Chapter 3, nationally representative data are limited regarding how many and to what extent students with disabilities currently participate in the general education curriculum and instruction. Data are mostly confined to vari-

Suggested Citation:"4 CONTENT STANDARDS, CURRICULUM, AND INSTRUCTION." National Research Council. 1997. Educating One and All: Students with Disabilities and Standards-Based Reform. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5788.
×

BOX 4-2 The Promise of Technology

Technology is an extremely promising tool for improving the education of students with disabilities and is already an effective component of special education instruction in many classrooms. Advances in technologies that are useful for individuals with disabilities are being made continually. Unfortunately the training of teachers, therapists, and parents to use technology for students with disabilities lags far behind the advances that are being made. Nevertheless, much has been achieved and the future holds greater promise.

Clearly, technology can improve the quality of life for most individuals with disabilities. Historically, two kinds of relevant technologies have been developed: assistive and instructional. Assistive technology refers to mechanical, electrical, or computerized tools for enhancing the routine functioning and communication capabilities of people who have physical or sensory disabilities. Instructional technology refers to the use of computers and other related technologies to deliver and support instruction. It has been used traditionally with students who have milder disabilities (as well as with those without disabilities).

Some of the most successful examples of technology use for students with disabilities have occurred with assistive technology devices. Many of these applications can adapt information so that students with disabilities can understand it and/or so that they can supply it. Assistive technology includes both high-tech and low-tech devices. High-tech assistive technologies include sensory devices for individuals with hearing disabilities, voice output devices for individuals who are unable to speak for themselves, computer screen readers and braille printers for people with visual impairments, and even speech recognition systems and robotic devices for people with severe physical disabilities. Low-tech devices, which can also be extremely useful, include head pointers and key guards for use with standard computer keyboards, adaptive eating utensils, and even Velcro. Not only do these applications directly affect quality of life, but they also increase the individual's access to the environment, expanding the ability to gain maximally from such opportunities as education.

Over the years, the use of assistive devices has produced dramatic benefits for many individuals with disabilities. For example, positioning devices have allowed students with physical disabilities to join classmates at tables, on the floor, or in a standing position. Auditory trainers have allowed students with hearing disabilities to remain in classrooms with their nondisabled peers. Portable Kurtzweil reading devices have allowed individuals with visual impairments to independently access text information from libraries and other sources. In laboratories around the world, engineers and other researchers are looking for ways to make assistive devices faster, more intuitive, and easier to use.

Suggested Citation:"4 CONTENT STANDARDS, CURRICULUM, AND INSTRUCTION." National Research Council. 1997. Educating One and All: Students with Disabilities and Standards-Based Reform. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5788.
×

Although much has been done in the field of assistive technology, it is in instructional technology that most of the attention has been directed, especially for students with mild disabilities. Many advances have been made since the computer was first used in school classrooms for delivering simple instructional programs. Computers and related technologies are now used in a number of sophisticated ways for helping students achieve. These applications can help individualize instruction for students with disabilities by adjusting both the presentation mode and the time a student can spend working on any given task. Generally, the use of instructional technologies can be categorized in four ways:

Tutorial. Included under the category of tutorial is drill-and-practice software and other explicit instruction applications. Typically the tutorial application controls the presentation of information and the student responds in some way. Although newer models of technology use have been proposed recently, tutorial applications continue to be a predominant mode of technology use with special needs students.

Exploratory. The exploratory use of technology in special education has evolved more recently with the development of multimedia platforms and software. In an exploratory application, the student is free to roam through the application and search for information. Exploratory applications include electronic versions of encyclopedias, multimedia databases, and the World Wide Web. The exploratory use of technology differs from the tutorial in that the student navigates through the program and controls the learning that goes on.

Communication. Communication technologies are becoming more prevalent in special education settings. Access to the Internet provides students with opportunities to send and receive information, in a variety of forms, literally around the world. Other uses of communication technologies include interactive distance learning and more recently, electronic field trips.

Production. Production applications include the familiar word processor as well as multimedia development tools. With these applications, technology becomes a tool to facilitate the student synthesis and production of information in the form of multimedia presentations. These applications allow the learner to go from a passive recipient of information to an active producer of information.

The use of technology for delivering instruction to students with disabilities dates back to the 1960s, when mainframe computers at Stanford University were used to deliver mathematics instruction over phone lines to deaf students at Gallaudet University. Although much has been learned since that time about how to use technology for instructing students with disabilities, there is still much to learn.

Over the past decade a number of empirical studies have examined

Suggested Citation:"4 CONTENT STANDARDS, CURRICULUM, AND INSTRUCTION." National Research Council. 1997. Educating One and All: Students with Disabilities and Standards-Based Reform. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5788.
×

the effects of instructional technology on the learning of special needs students. The results of this research have been equivocal. Some studies have demonstrated that certain technology applications have had a positive effect on student learning in areas such as mathematics (Bottge and Hasselbring, 1993; Hasselbring et al., 1988); writing (Graham and MacArthur, 1988; Morocco and Neuman, 1986); and literacy (Higgins and Boone, 1990; Jones et al., 1987). However, other researchers have reported less positive results (Anderson-Inman, 1990; Higgins and Boone, 1991; van Daal and van der Leij, 1992). These equivocal findings should not be surprising. There is no reason to believe that simply putting technology in front of a student with disabilities should automatically make the student a better learner. Even though technologies have advanced over the past 30 years and have provided us with new and improved ways for delivering instruction, simply improving the delivery system does not guarantee instruction will be improved. To the contrary, improved learning is dependent on the quality of instruction and not on the medium with which it is delivered. Weak or poorly designed instructional programs are not improved simply because they are delivered using a computer or any other form of technology. Clark (1983:445) made this point quite clearly when he stated that instructional technologies are "mere vehicles that deliver instruction but do not influence student achievement any more than the truck that delivers our groceries causes changes in our nutrition." It is simply not enough to use technology for teaching students with special needs. Researchers and developers need to develop powerful instructional programs that can be delivered with technology, and the technology in turn needs to be used in appropriate ways. More research is needed in order to determine the most effective uses of assistive and instructional technologies for students

ables such as the amount of time in regular classrooms and course-taking patterns. Furthermore, data linking participation in the general education curriculum to academic achievement are largely absent due to the lack of representation of students with disabilities in large-scale national studies, such as the National Education Longitudinal Study (NELS) and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) (McGrew et al., 1993, 1995).

This lack of data is particularly pronounced at the elementary school level. Analyses conducted for the committee of the Prospects study (see Appendix C) provide information on third and fourth grade students. These data suggest that, for this nationally representative sample, students with disabilities were exposed to selected instructional practices (e.g., cooperative learning, mastery learning, whole language instruction) at approximately the same rates in both mathematics and language arts as general education students (see Table 4-1).

Suggested Citation:"4 CONTENT STANDARDS, CURRICULUM, AND INSTRUCTION." National Research Council. 1997. Educating One and All: Students with Disabilities and Standards-Based Reform. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5788.
×

TABLE 4-1 Percentage of Fourth Grade Students With and Without Disabilities Whose Teachers Report Using Various Instructional Methods in Reading and Mathematics

 

No Disability

All Disabilities

Emotional Disability

Learning Disability

Physical Disability

Speech Disability

Other Disability

1992 Regular Classroom Reading/English/Language Instructional Methods (weighted)

Madeline Hunter Methods

71.9%

67.7%

58.8%

63.5%

75.1%

75.6%

69.6%

Mastery Learning

41.6

30.5

21.7

25.8

38.2

27.0

39.2

Cooperative Learning

73.5

70.4

52.6

67.5

78.9

74.2

77.7

Phonetic Reading

16.4

19.3

25.8

22.8

7.3

17.9

18.8

Whole Language

63.3

63.3

48.7

67.7

64.3

62.1

68.4

Writing Process Methods

69.1

66.8

57.8

67.6

74.9

66.5

68.0

Individualized Instruction

26.3

30.3

24.7

36.7

35.5

23.2

26.6

Other Classroom Methods

10.4

11.1

18.6

9.2

11.4

5.8

17.5

Total N

2,440,590

274,078

29,207

114,789

38,554

73,968

64,692

1992 Regular Classroom Mathematics Instructional Methods (weighted)

Madeline Hunter Methods

71.1%

74.6%

63.1%

75.8%

78.0%

79.9%

74.0%

Mastery Learning

48.7

42.9

24.7

42.6

49.8

40.5

45.0

Cooperative Learning

79.2

73.5

59.2

76.0

81.4

80.4

69.8

Individualized Instruction

35.6

41.9

56.6

41.4

43.9

39.6

40.8

Other Classroom Methods

13.2

13.6

14.6

12.0

24.9

12.9

11.8

Total N

2,435,636

270,167

26,794

113,741

37,992

72,874

63,659

NOTE: Data from The Prospects Study Classroom Teacher Questionnaire. See Appendix C. Madeline Hunter methods emphasize anticipatory set, input and modeling, checking for understanding and other features; in mastery learning students who do not perform at preestablished levels (e.g., 80 percent correct on quizzes) receive corrective instruction while others receive enrichment; in cooperative learning students often work in small groups and are expected to help each other learn.

Suggested Citation:"4 CONTENT STANDARDS, CURRICULUM, AND INSTRUCTION." National Research Council. 1997. Educating One and All: Students with Disabilities and Standards-Based Reform. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5788.
×

Much of the available data regarding secondary school students comes from the National Longitudinal Transition Study (NLTS), a longitudinal study of students with disabilities (see Chapter 3 for a description of the study sample). The available data are briefly reviewed in the next section.

Time in General Education Courses in Secondary School

Data from the NLTS indicate that, across all disabilities, students in secondary school spend an average of 56 percent of their instructional time in general education courses. About 62 percent of students spend half or more of their instructional time in general education; this varies considerably by disability. The vast majority of youth with speech impairments (81 percent of that group), visual impairments (81 percent of that group), learning disabilities (73 percent), other health impairments (67 percent), hearing impairments (67 percent), and emotional disturbances (62 percent) spend at least half of their instructional time in general education courses. Those least likely to spend half or more time in general education include students with multiple disabilities (15 percent of that group) and mental retardation (29 percent of that group).

Students with disabilities received better grades in special education classes than they did in general education classes, but a number of students failed special education courses, too. Across all disability groups, students with emotional disturbances experienced the greatest difficulties in both special and general education courses. Nearly one-third of students with visual impairments and those with speech impairments spent 75 percent or more of their time in high school in general education courses and maintained a B average or better.

An examination of the relationship between performance and time in general education courses showed that, as time in academic general education went up, so did the student's likelihood of failing a course, especially early in secondary school. Students with more time in general education were less likely to be absent in ninth grade but more likely to be absent in twelfth grade. No relationship was found between time in general education and dropping out of school at any grade level (Wagner et al., 1993b:4–23).

Course-Taking in Secondary School

In recent years, educational reform efforts have focused on trying to raise academic standards for all students. In some instances, this has led to policies that increase academic credit requirements for high school graduation. Recent nationally representative data on secondary school course-taking patterns in 1987 and 1992 confirm that academic course-taking has increased (see Table 4-2). During this period the average number of credits earned by public high school graduates over four years increased from 22.8 to 23.8; this rise is almost entirely accounted for by increases in academic courses (from 15.6 to 17.3 credits). High

Suggested Citation:"4 CONTENT STANDARDS, CURRICULUM, AND INSTRUCTION." National Research Council. 1997. Educating One and All: Students with Disabilities and Standards-Based Reform. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5788.
×

school graduates decreased their average number of vocational credits from 4.4 to 3.8 (National Center for Education Statistics, 1996).

Students with disabilities tended to earn fewer academic credits and more vocational credits than their peers without disabilities at both points in time. However they show a similar increase over time in academic course-taking (from 12.6 to 14.2 credits), whereas vocational course-taking has remained level (See Table 4-2). Data from the NLTS indicate that students with disabilities who completed high school generally met the typical state requirements of 11 or 12 credits in English, social studies, mathematics, and science (Wagner, 1993:S-2).

Most students, with or without disabilities, take at least one vocational course during high school. However, data suggest that students with disabilities earn more credits in vocational education (5.6 versus 3.7). Similarly, students with disabilities are more likely to concentrate in a vocational program—defined as completing three or more courses in a single occupationally specific field—than are other students (National Center for Education Statistics, 1996:Table 3.7).

Data from the NLTS indicate that for many students with disabilities (68 percent) vocational course-taking began in the ninth grade. By twelfth grade, 89 percent of students with disabilities were taking at least one vocational education course (Wagner et al., 1993a:2–4). As students with disabilities progress through high school, there appears to be a general shift away from academic course-taking, toward a heavier concentration of vocational courses. For example, students in upper grades spent significantly less time in academic courses than did those in the lower grades. This trend is paralleled by a significant increase in the amount of time spent in vocational education courses by older students.

TABLE 4-2 Average Number of Credits Earned by Public High School Graduates in the Academic, Vocational, and Personal Use Curricula by Disability Status: 1987 and 1992.

 

Average Credits Earned in

 

 

Year of Graduation and Disability Status

Total

Academic

Vocational

Personal Use

1987

Total

22.8

15.6

4.4

2.7

Has Disability

21.9

12.6

6.0

3.3

No Disability

22.8

15.8

4.4

2.7

1992

Total

23.8

17.3

3.8

2.7

Has Disability

23.2

14.2

5.6

3.4

No Disability

23.8

17.4

3.7

2.7

NOTE: Average total credits may not sum exactly due to rounding.

SOURCE: 1987 High School Transcript Study, and National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 as summarized in National Center for Education Statistics, 1996, Table 2.5.

Suggested Citation:"4 CONTENT STANDARDS, CURRICULUM, AND INSTRUCTION." National Research Council. 1997. Educating One and All: Students with Disabilities and Standards-Based Reform. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5788.
×

Data from the NLTS suggest that vocational course-taking confers advantages for some youth with disabilities. For example, youth who took a concentration of four or more related classes in vocational education were less likely to drop out of school in either eleventh or twelfth grade (Wagner et al., 1993a:2–9). The authors speculate that "this holding power may have been due to the fact that youth not only experienced a different curriculum but also met with greater success there" (p. 2–9). Data from this study also suggest that eleventh and twelfth grade youth in work experience programs had a lower probability of dropping out.

As the data presented at the beginning of this discussion suggest, efforts to raise standards for all students appear to have already had the effect of increasing academic course-taking among all students, whether or not they have disabilities. Some observers have raised concerns that, as these efforts continue, "increases in credit requirements (may) force some students with disabilities to choose courses with an academic orientation that may not have been the most appropriate or relevant to their post-school goals" (Wagner, 1993). Any discussion of desired outcomes and standards relevant to all students will need to consider these important findings. In addition, data are needed regarding the extent to which elementary schoolchildren with disabilities participate successfully in the regular academic curriculum.

Rationale for Participation in Standards

The potential benefits of content standards on student achievement are largely unknown and empirical evidence in support of content standards is mainly inferential. However, there are a number of arguments to support the idea that students with disabilities will benefit from participation in general education curriculum and the accompanying challenging expectations and more stringent accountability for their achievement. Participation in standards-based curriculum could improve post-school outcomes by increasing opportunities to access a broader curriculum and raising expectations for the performance of students with disabilities. The need to improve outcomes derives in part from data documenting problematic post-school outcomes for students with disabilities (Edgar et al., 1986; Hasazi et al., 1985; Blackorby and Wagner, 1996; see Chapter 3). However, as these studies have demonstrated, post-school outcomes for many special education students are improved if they have access to strong vocational/career programs and other opportunities to develop important functional skills.

Some special educators and advocates are also concerned about what they perceive as low expectations and lack of learning opportunities provided to students with disabilities. Increased participation of these students in general education curriculum frameworks could mean upgraded expectations and opportunities. Research on IEPs has indicated a lack of focus on broad learner goals and an emphasis on discrete skills such as mathematical computation, phonics, and functional skills (Smith, 1990). For example, Shriner et al. (1993) examined the

Suggested Citation:"4 CONTENT STANDARDS, CURRICULUM, AND INSTRUCTION." National Research Council. 1997. Educating One and All: Students with Disabilities and Standards-Based Reform. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5788.
×

mathematics goals and objectives specified in the IEPs of 76 fourth and eighth grade students from two school districts and compared them to mathematics examination items taken from NAEP and to the mathematics curriculum in each district. Using an established taxonomy, these researchers found significant discrepancies between the IEP goals and both the NAEP items and the district curricula. For example, over 81 percent of the IEP objectives across grades addressed computation, whereas only 12 percent addressed applications or any form of problem solving—in contrast to what is expected in district curricula and NAEP items. The IEPs did not address essential elements of the NCTM standards such as estimation, algebraic equations, decimals, and fractions. This suggests that the special education provided to students with disabilities in the math content area does not reflect the knowledge standards of current mathematics curricula.

These documented problems with IEPs are particularly troublesome because of concerns that IEPs represent the entire curriculum in a specific subject matter for some students with disabilities (Pugach and Warger, 1993; Sands et al., 1995). Innovative and systematic procedures exist for writing and implementing IEPs that can set higher expectations than at present, and that hold promise for improving teaching and learning across the whole curriculum for students with disabilities (Deno, 1985). But in actual practice, most schools are not using these approaches.

Addressing Students with Disabilities in Standards

Students with disabilities have not been specifically referred to in voluntary national content standards (Shriner et al., 1993), although science standards include references to students with specific disabilities, such as those with physical or learning disabilities (National Research Council, 1996). Among the states, consideration of students with disabilities varies (Goertz and Friedman, 1996). Examples of state responsiveness to students with disabilities include assigning special educators to content standard-setting teams, seeking reviews of content standards from representatives of special populations, and identifying accommodations for specific content standards.

Some states, for example Kentucky and Vermont, have developed content standards within broad learner outcomes for students with disabilities and have explicitly considered students with even the most severe cognitive disabilities. Michigan has developed outcomes for seven types of students with disabilities at ages 10, 13, and 16 (Michigan Department of Education, 1995). Maryland is developing a set of alternate outcomes and content and performance standards for students with severe cognitive disabilities who participate in a functional curriculum. These state efforts are designed to provide greater consistency across students' programs in terms of the quality of educational experiences and instructional focus. In several of the states noted above, the standards also are aligned with performance assessments.

Suggested Citation:"4 CONTENT STANDARDS, CURRICULUM, AND INSTRUCTION." National Research Council. 1997. Educating One and All: Students with Disabilities and Standards-Based Reform. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5788.
×

A recent survey conducted by the Council of Chief State School Officers (in press) focused on state policies of applying content standards to students with disabilities. All 50 and 6 ''extra states" (e.g., District of Columbia and Puerto Rico) were asked whether any of their content standards being implemented or developed will apply to students with IEPs. Of the 48 states responding to this survey question, 35 reported that standards will apply to students with disabilities with IEPs; 9 states reported that their content standards will not apply; 4 states qualified this as follows: Iowa allows local school districts to decide whether state standards are applicable for students with IEPs. Maine and Pennsylvania reported that students with IEPs will be "required to accomplish all standards to [the] extent able." Alaska reported that application of standards to students with disabilities is voluntary (Rhim and McLaughlin, 1996).

Of the 35 states responding that their content standards will apply to special education students, 17 reported that all standards will apply to students with a mild disability; 17 states added the qualifier that the extent of participation in standards for those with a mild disability is an IEP decision. One state did not differentiate which standards would apply to students with mild and severe disabilities.

Of the 35 states responding that any of their standards will apply to students with disabilities, only 30 specified which would apply to students with severe disabilities. Of these 30, 12 reported that all of their content standards will apply to students with severe disabilities, and 18 reported that the decision about which standards will apply to students with a severe disability will depend on the IEP. States were not asked to specify how the content standards would apply or whether modifications or accommodations would be provided or expected.

Potential Impact of Content Standards on Learning

As described in Chapter 2, most studies of the impact of standards on classroom teaching and achievement in general education are still ongoing. Thus the effects of standards on learning have not yet been demonstrated. As a result, information about the specific effects of participation in new content standards on students with disabilities is largely anecdotal or derived from local case studies. Moreover, this information is limited to effects on instruction rather than achievement. Evidence of potential effects of content standards on the instruction provided to students with disabilities appears in a report of a national investigation of the national curriculum of England and Wales conducted by the National Foundation for Educational Research/Bishop Grosseteste College (Christophers et al., 1992). Under the 1988 Education Reform Act of the United Kingdom, all schools are required to provide the national curriculum to each student, regardless of special needs. The purpose of the national curriculum study was to investigate how both mainstream and special educational needs students coped with standard assessment tasks and how special education teachers perceived the national cur-

Suggested Citation:"4 CONTENT STANDARDS, CURRICULUM, AND INSTRUCTION." National Research Council. 1997. Educating One and All: Students with Disabilities and Standards-Based Reform. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5788.
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riculum. The study considered children with a wide range of special needs and used case studies of special schools, special units attached to mainstream schools, and mainstream schools along with questionnaires, interviews, and teachers' logs.

The report indicated that those who work in special education refer to two separate curricula, the national curriculum and the special education curriculum. For many teachers, the implementation of the national curriculum reportedly broadened the whole curriculum for students with disabilities, particularly by increasing the emphasis on science and technology. A contrasting opinion, however, was that the entire curriculum offered to students with disabilities was becoming too broad, which meant that schools could not offer any topics in depth because of the slow rate at which their students learned and the amount of reinforcement and repetition needed. Moreover, the study found variation in the amount of instructional time devoted to the national curriculum. For example, between 90 and 95 percent of instructional time in schools for the visually impaired was spent on the national curriculum; schools for students with emotional and behavior difficulties spent the least amount of time, an average 66 percent of available instructional time. Findings also corroborated the impression that teachers in special education tend to place greater emphasis on social skills, practical life skills, and cultural experiences than on fostering intellectual development of their students through the national curriculum (Wylie et al., 1995:289).

Similar findings are emerging from local cases studies completed in Colorado, Maryland, Nebraska, and Washington, states in which students with disabilities are being included in new general education curricula based on state or voluntary national content standards. 4 Interviews and classroom observations conducted by a team of researchers indicate that both general and special educators are experiencing the effects of new content standards in the form of expanded content as well as new pedagogical demands. General education teachers describe changes in math, science, and reading instruction that have been implemented in their districts during the past decade. In particular, they note an increased emphasis on experiential learning through projects, experiments, and other forms of active engagement. Special and general educators report that these changes have been positive for many students with disabilities because they provide greater flexibility to adjust assignments to meet student needs and still provide more cognitively demanding tasks. Special educators support the focus and breadth of learning goals the curriculum standards provide. However, they often express concern over the amount of time required to assist students with disabilities in the new content areas and the decreased attention to specialized skill development.

4  

Five local school districts were selected on the basis of multiple recommendations of the prominence of their reform efforts. The districts are demographically and geographically diverse. Case studies were developed through analyses of interview data, document reviews, and observations conducted during on-site visits (M.W. McLaughlin, unpublished data, 1997).

Suggested Citation:"4 CONTENT STANDARDS, CURRICULUM, AND INSTRUCTION." National Research Council. 1997. Educating One and All: Students with Disabilities and Standards-Based Reform. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5788.
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Educational and Legal Implications

Two important motives for standards-based reform are to inspire all students to perform at high levels and to prevent the self-fulfilling consequences of holding lower expectations for historically low-achieving groups, including many students with disabilities (McLaughlin and Shepard., 1995). But simply declaring that all students ought to meet high standards without providing them access to the knowledge, skills, and resources necessary to reach them victimizes those who fail to meet the standards (McLaughlin and Shepard, 1995).

Several key questions arise with respect to the participation of students with disabilities in standards-based curricula, instruction, and post-school outcomes. What are the legal and ethical responsibilities of educational agencies to ensure that students with disabilities are provided with the necessary opportunities to learn to high standards? What constitutes an appropriate education for students with disabilities in a standards-based educational environment? How can standards-based reform raise expectations specifically for students with disabilities and stimulate schools and districts to address their educational needs? How can the curriculum and instructional methods that work best for students with different disabilities be incorporated into a common standards-based curriculum? In which situations, if any, should standards and outcomes be altered for students with disabilities? How should key decisions be made about participation of these students in standards-based reform? This section examines some of these issues.

Requirements for an Appropriate Education

Efforts to include students with disabilities in standards-based reform need to be considered in relationship to the requirements in federal law to provide them with an appropriate education. As defined by the IDEA, this commitment requires the provision of a free and appropriate public education for students with disabilities (20 U.S.C. 1401[a][18]). In addition, for an education to be deemed appropriate, the package of special education and related services must be defined in an IEP, in conformity with the IDEA's procedural requirements, and must be reasonably calculated to allow the student to receive educational benefits (Board of Education of Hendrick Hudson Central School District v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176, 1982). Furthermore, both Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act require that government services provided to persons with disabilities be equally beneficial or equally effective as services provided to those without disabilities.

The implementation of common content and performance standards for all students directly affects efforts to ensure that students with disabilities receive an appropriate education. Introducing content and performance standards into the curricular goals of an educational system alters the expectations for all students. Although the precise legal requirements are not yet clear, the legal analysis con-

Suggested Citation:"4 CONTENT STANDARDS, CURRICULUM, AND INSTRUCTION." National Research Council. 1997. Educating One and All: Students with Disabilities and Standards-Based Reform. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5788.
×

ducted for the committee indicates that, once a state or local school system adopts a standards-based reform initiative for its students, this initiative is presumed to include students with disabilities, who are entitled to the benefit of standards-based reform along with all other students (Ordover et al., 1996:43).

State and federal disability laws are likely to require educational agencies to align the curriculum, instruction, and related services provided to students with disabilities with the general state standards for all students (Ordover et al., 1996). Thus, to meet the IDEA requirement for an appropriate education under a system of standards-based reform, special education and related services for students with disabilities will probably need to include specialized instruction and support services that are aligned with the common standards applicable to all students. When content and performance standards are part of the general curriculum, it can be further argued that the IEP team should address these standards when they make determinations about appropriate education and plan a curriculum and instruction for students with disabilities. In particular, legal analysis of the existing law suggests that IEP teams will need to pay specific attention to content and performance standards when they write or review the sections of the IEP addressing current levels of educational performance, annual goals, short-term objectives, extent of participation in general education programs, and use of objective criteria and evaluations (20 U.S.C. 1401[a][20]).

Adequate Opportunities to Learn

There is also a relationship between the legal requirements for an appropriate education described above and the concept of "opportunity to learn" (OTL), an issue that is relevant to all children, not just students with disabilities. As explained in Chapter 2, the concept of opportunity to learn holds that it is unfair to expect students to attain standards unless they have been provided with instructional practices, conditions, and resources of sufficient quality and quantity to enable them to learn the content in the standards. Political opposition has curbed efforts to develop and implement standards for evaluating opportunities to learn. Nevertheless, a basic question of equity remains as to whether all students, regardless of where they attend school or what their special needs are, will be provided with adequate instructional opportunities to learn the content for which they will be held accountable. As we discuss further in Chapter 5, the issue of opportunity to learn becomes especially important in the testing arena, when high-stakes consequences for individuals and institutions are attached to student performance as gauged by test results. In these instances, existing case law indicates that states and school districts have an obligation to provide students with adequate instructional opportunities to learn the material being tested and must ensure a sufficient relationship between what is tested and what is actually taught.

The three characteristics of effective instruction for students with cognitive disabilities—instruction that is individually referenced, intensive, and contex-

Suggested Citation:"4 CONTENT STANDARDS, CURRICULUM, AND INSTRUCTION." National Research Council. 1997. Educating One and All: Students with Disabilities and Standards-Based Reform. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5788.
×

tualized—could be said to define the OTL standards for the majority of students with disabilities. At the current time it is unknown, however, whether the necessary instructional characteristics can be delivered comprehensively enough to allow all students with disabilities to meet common content standards.

This proposition remains largely untested because research on students with disabilities to date has focused primarily on their acquisition of discrete functional skills and fundamental academic skills. The paucity of instructional research related to more complex tasks and knowledge means that it is uncertain how to deliver the promises of higher expectations and a standards-based curriculum to the large number of students with cognitive disabilities.

Resource Implications

Although it seems quite likely that educating all children to meet higher standards will require some additional resources, research sheds little, if any, light on how much this will cost. Although a few studies focus on the costs of specific education interventions (such as some early reading interventions), none looks systematically at what resources are required to bring all students to higher standards, what these resources cost, and where these resources will come from (new dollars or the reallocation of existing dollars). Furthermore there are almost no data about what it may cost to include students with disabilities in standards-based reform, above and beyond the general costs of implementing these reforms. The curricular and instructional issues raised in this chapter do, however, suggest a number of potential areas that will require additional resources.

Among the most important investments will be those required for professional development, inservice preparation, and ongoing technical assistance for teachers. Under standards-based reforms, both general and special education teachers will need to learn new content, new ways of teaching this content to students with a variety of educational needs and learning styles, and new approaches to assessing student learning. As more students with disabilities are included in the general education curricula, general educators must also develop knowledge of how to modify instruction and assessment to better meet the needs of these students. In addition, special education teachers, who are trained quite differently from general education teachers, will require inservice preparation and professional development to increase their understanding of common standards and the teaching and learning principles implied by them. Special educators will also need to learn effective methods for modifying the general curriculum for students with disabilities. In sum, standards-based reform holds considerable expectations for educators, and preparing them to meet these expectations is likely to require significant resources (Box 4-3).

Additional personnel may also be required to implement standards-based reforms effectively. The intensive instruction that will be necessary to help some students with disabilities meet new standards will require even more instructional

Suggested Citation:"4 CONTENT STANDARDS, CURRICULUM, AND INSTRUCTION." National Research Council. 1997. Educating One and All: Students with Disabilities and Standards-Based Reform. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5788.
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BOX 4-3 Implications of Standards-Based Reform for Teacher Education and Professional Development

A report by the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future (1996) concluded after a two-year study that the single most important strategy for achieving higher standards is to recruit, prepare, and support excellent teachers for every school. This report calls for changes in teacher preparation and recruitment, teacher professional development, teacher pay, and school structure. Many researchers concur that the traditional model of professional development, which focuses on improving and expanding teacher skills and classroom techniques, is inadequate to prepare teachers for the ambitious vision of teaching and learning that is driving current reform efforts (see, for example, Little, 1993). Instead of skills training, teachers need opportunities to learn, experiment, consult, and evaluate new practices. And time must be provided for collegial activities and teacher reflection. Promising alternatives to traditional professional development models include teacher collaboratives and other networks, subject matter associations, collaborations between schools and universities, professional development schools, and teachers as researchers (Corcoran, 1995; Little, 1993; National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, 1996; O'Day et al., 1995).

This new paradigm of professional development has been incorporated into national professional teaching standards (National Staff Development Council, 1994, 1995), as well as federal and state policy. For example, Goals 2000 encourages states and local school districts to develop and implement new forms of sustained professional development. Some states, for example Michigan, are revamping professional development around new professional standards and coordinating professional development funding and activities across several state and federal programs. Other states, including California, Maryland, Missouri, and Vermont, have established regional and statewide teacher networks and professional development centers (Goertz and Friedman, 1996).

We know little about the cost of new or current professional development practices. Neither states nor most local school districts have systems in place to account for these expenditures. The costs of implementing new professional development programs will depend on how they are structured and what they include. The components of these programs that need to be costed out include: (1) direct expenditures on formal professional development activities, (2) time for administrators and teachers who supervise the process of improving instruction, (3) costs associated with reduced instructional time if teachers are released from their classrooms, (4) increases in teachers' salaries that will occur as a result of enhanced qualifications, and (5) participants' own investments of uncompensated time and out-of-pocket expenses. Estimates of past ex-

Suggested Citation:"4 CONTENT STANDARDS, CURRICULUM, AND INSTRUCTION." National Research Council. 1997. Educating One and All: Students with Disabilities and Standards-Based Reform. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5788.
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penditures on professional development that included the first four components ranged from $1,000 to $1,700 per teacher in 1980 dollars, or 3.4 to 5.7 percent of district budgets. Other researchers found that teachers contributed 60 cents for every public dollar spent on professional development (Corcoran, 1995).

The National Commission on Teaching and America's Future (1996) has recommended that states allocate 1 percent of state and local funds for "more focused and effective professional development," in addition to providing matching grants to local school districts that increase their investments in professional development (p. 121). This investment would cost $2.75 billion a year.

It is difficult to imagine how students with disabilities will be included in standards-based reform without a significant investment in teacher preparation and teacher development. In fact, federal IDEA regulations require states to ensure that students with disabilities receive special education and related services from personnel who meet the highest possible professional standards. A set of personnel licensure standards, separate from those of regular education, has evolved from this requirement and has resulted in special educators learning distinctive kinds of skills and knowledge in their preparation and professional development programs. Concerns have been raised about whether, as a consequence, special educators have had less time to acquire knowledge related to content standards and core curriculum and instruction. Similar concerns have been raised about whether general classroom teachers are hampered by a lack of knowledge about how to effectively educate and individualize instruction for students with disabilities.

Amid these concerns, teacher licensure for special education and general education teachers has remained on separate tracks (Andrews, 1995). A 1995 survey by the Council of Chief State School Officers (in press) indicates that 22 states require some special education course-work for elementary school teachers, and 21 states have a similar requirement for secondary school teachers, but only 11 states require practical experience with students with disabilities.

Thus, additional professional development will be essential to help both general educators and special educators understand new content standards and their pedagogical implications and to prepare them to accommodate a range of learners. Maryland, Kentucky, Colorado, and other states are undertaking promising new approaches that draw from both categorical and general funding to support joint professional development for general and special educators. In these states, teachers of diverse students come together to develop thematic units and classroom performance assessments based on standards. These activities are supported by redirecting current professional development dollars and, in some cases, adding new dollars.

Suggested Citation:"4 CONTENT STANDARDS, CURRICULUM, AND INSTRUCTION." National Research Council. 1997. Educating One and All: Students with Disabilities and Standards-Based Reform. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5788.
×

support, but how much more is unknown. Current special education caseloads averaging 27 pupils per professional educator may need to be revised and more efficient use of special education staff may be necessary to allow implementation of this kind of intensive instruction.

New curricula and pedagogy call for changes in the types of instructional tools used in classrooms, so additional resources are likely to be needed for instructional materials and technology. Teachers are encouraged to supplement, if not replace, textbooks with primary and secondary source materials and literature. The new national standards in mathematics and science call for teachers and students to use manipulatives, hands-on science materials, and calculators. Yet many children do not have access to these materials.5

In addition, parents, educators, business, and the public all agree that students need to learn how to use computers in order to succeed in the 21st century. Computer technology has shown particular promise for the education of students with disabilities. Currently, however, too few schools have the infrastructure or the hardware required. In addition, schools will face the ongoing expense of computer maintenance, software purchases, and telephone charges for using the Internet.

Determining How Standards Apply

The complex educational and legal issues surrounding the participation of students with disabilities in standards-based reform suggest that it will be necessary to develop a defensible procedure that can be used to determine the appropriateness of the content standards for each student with a disability. A determination to alter the common standards in any way will need to be made systematically, individually, and deliberately. A defensible decision-making process will need to consider at least three issues:

  • Do the common content standards represent skills critical to the individual's success once he or she leaves school?

  • Do the common content standards represent critical skills appropriate for the particular age of the student?

  • Can the curriculum of the common content standards be fully taught to the student without jeopardizing his or her opportunity to master other critical, functional behaviors?

A negative response to any one of these questions may require alterations of the common standards for that student. The committee's overall recommendations

5  

For example, although the price of calculators has dropped significantly over the years, in 1992, 40 percent of the nation's fourth grade students and 28 percent of eighth graders were in classrooms that did not have school-owned calculators available for their use. Two-thirds of the eighth grade students did not use scientific calculators in their schoolwork (National Assessment of Educational Progress, 1993).

Suggested Citation:"4 CONTENT STANDARDS, CURRICULUM, AND INSTRUCTION." National Research Council. 1997. Educating One and All: Students with Disabilities and Standards-Based Reform. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5788.
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for a decision-making process are outlined in Chapter 6, but we discuss several key points regarding this process here.

First, the needs of each student ought to be considered individually, taking into account the nature, type, and level of each child's disability rather than his or her disability label or service delivery arrangement. For many students with sensory or motor impairments or other noncognitive disabilities, for example, the common content standards are likely to be highly appropriate, perhaps requiring accommodations only in instruction and assessment. It will be important, however, to allow educators the flexibility to teach students with disabilities using whichever of several instructional strategies are most effective to pursue the same learning goals. Standards-based reform ought not to preclude an instructional program built on effective approaches for students with disabilities.

For students with severe cognitive impairments, the conditions necessary to enable them to learn to common content standards are currently unknown. In addition, the common content standards may bear little resemblance to the skills and knowledge that most students with severe cognitive disabilities require for successful post-school adjustment. Allocating instructional time to such non-functional learning activities is likely to divert effort from more relevant instruction. Alternate standards in critical domains such as career/vocational and functional life skills may be needed for many students with severe cognitive disabilities. However, in keeping with the goals of standards-based reform, such alternate standards will need to be challenging and set high expectations for these students, and systems must be held accountable for student progress.

Decisions about common content standards and competing instructional goals may also be problematic for some students with milder cognitive disabilities—including students with learning disabilities, behavior disorders, and mild-to-moderate mental retardation, who together constitute the vast majority of students with cognitive disabilities. For many of these students, the state's content standards may be appropriate and related to intended post-school outcomes; for others, they may not. Many of these students may need additional, specially designed instruction beyond what is provided in the general curriculum. For example, some need intensive instruction in reading as well as time in nonacademic courses, such as vocational education. Others may need explicit instruction in behavioral or social areas. As with students with more severe cognitive disabilities, one must consider the potential trade-offs involved in diverting instruction toward achieving the content standards and away from other important employment, social adjustment, and personal management skills, as well as from such basic academic skills as decoding words on the written page.

As a second consideration, the decision to alter standards should be formulated on a domain-by-domain basis for each individual, so that for some students with disabilities, alternate standards will apply only to limited portions of the curriculum. For example, a secondary student with a learning disability might be included in the common standards for the vast majority of his or her program but

Suggested Citation:"4 CONTENT STANDARDS, CURRICULUM, AND INSTRUCTION." National Research Council. 1997. Educating One and All: Students with Disabilities and Standards-Based Reform. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5788.
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have alternate standards for English or language arts, if it is determined that the competing priority of learning to read is higher than studying American literature.

As a third consideration, decision makers are advised to give systematic and deliberate consideration to the implications of participation in alternate standards for a subset of the curriculum. For example, if a secondary student misses American literature and a science class while working intensively on learning to read, the system should not hold this individual accountable for meeting content standards if no opportunity to learn has been provided. It will be important to ensure a match between the individual student's curriculum/standards, especially if they have been altered, and the assessments given to evaluate that child's progress. This will be particularly important when there are consequences attached to individual student results, such as the awarding of a high school diploma.

Fourth, as key participants in the IEP process, parents (and the students themselves, as appropriate) need to be active participants in decisions concerning content standards and valued post-school outcomes. IEPs focus only on services directly related to a student's disability and on areas of the curriculum for which there is specifically designed instruction; therefore, IEP goals may not directly relate to all of the content embodied in the common curriculum. If students are expected to achieve common standards, parents will want to know about the relationship between the IEP goals and the content standards. Parents of children with disabilities will need to participate in decisions about altering standards and to understand the ramifications of these decisions—such as whether their children will be eligible for a standard high school diploma.

For parents to participate meaningfully in these decisions, they will need in depth knowledge of the various aspects of standards-based reform and the meaning of any decisions to alter content standards. Under standards-based reform, curriculum and instruction may become more abstract and more academic, and children may be taught in ways that are unfamiliar to parents. Thus, building parent understanding may entail a major information dissemination and training effort. Within this effort, particular attention must be paid to the needs of minority and economically disadvantaged parents of students with disabilities, who, as noted in Chapter 3, already face barriers to active participation in planning their child's individualized program.

Implications for the IEP Process

If common standards are altered in one or more domains, they will still need to ensure ambitious expectations, and this will require a revised and more rigorous IEP system. Some well-developed methods do exist for enhancing the IEP as a mechanism for accountability for student learning (e.g., Deno, 1985; Shapiro and Kratochwill, 1988).

Using these methods, the IEP identifies the broad outcomes that the student

Suggested Citation:"4 CONTENT STANDARDS, CURRICULUM, AND INSTRUCTION." National Research Council. 1997. Educating One and All: Students with Disabilities and Standards-Based Reform. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5788.
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is expected to perform by the end of the year, along with validated indicators of proficiency for each of those outcomes. Research demonstrates that such alternative frameworks can result in more ambitious goals for students with disabilities (e.g., Fuchs et al., 1989a) as well as stronger student learning (e.g., Fuchs et al., 1991b; Jones and Krouse, 1988; Wesson, 1991). Methods such as these for developing IEPs reorient practitioners toward a stronger focus on student outcomes and high expectations, but they also permit consideration of individual goals.

Nevertheless, technical problems remain in aggregating information across students within an individually oriented outcomes framework for the IEP. Furthermore, the individual performance goals may not align with a state or district assessment. Moreover, reorienting the IEP process to increase expectations and measure meaningful outcomes will require considerable professional development for special educators.

Finally, it should be noted that permitting alterations for some students within standards-based reform may be viewed as a capitulation to present inequalities in performance and could represent a political liability. Political problems notwithstanding, the provision of realistic alternatives for addressing the specific learning requirements of certain students with disabilities, acknowledging their skill requirements for successful post-school adjustments, and creating challenging but personalized standards seems to reflect the spirit of the standards-based reform movement. And such alternatives can be designed in a fair and rigorous manner, so that schools cannot use that system as an excuse to set low performance standards for students with disabilities or deny them access to participation in a challenging curriculum.

CONCLUSIONS

In this chapter we have reviewed evidence regarding what is known about curricular and instructional conditions for students with disabilities; in addition, we examined expectations for content and standards under standards-based reforms. As in other chapters of this report, we have been constrained by the fact that data are not yet available regarding the implementation of curriculum and instructional practice under standards-based reform. Many content standards are still in the developmental phase, and almost no data are available about their effects on classroom practice and student learning, let alone their specific impacts on students with disabilities.

The goals of standards-based reform to raise expectations, improve educational outcomes, and strengthen curriculum content are as important to students with disabilities as they are to children without disabilities. Our analyses have raised several concerns regarding the compatibility of common content standards with the curriculum and instruction required for at least some students with disabilities.

Setting educational goals for a number of students with disabilities has long

Suggested Citation:"4 CONTENT STANDARDS, CURRICULUM, AND INSTRUCTION." National Research Council. 1997. Educating One and All: Students with Disabilities and Standards-Based Reform. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5788.
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meant looking beyond academic goals to a broader set of outcomes. An educational focus on these broader outcomes improves the likelihood that children with disabilities will become productive, independent adults. The focus on a broad set of outcomes has meant that curricula for some students with disabilities, particularly at the secondary school level, include significant nonacademic components. At the secondary level, many aspects of the curriculum for students with disabilities explicitly focus on the transition to work and other aspects of adult life—a long-recognized need in special education.

In contrast, many of the standards developed thus far by states and national organizations are focused on academic content in core subjects, such as language arts, mathematics, science, and history. Less common are standards addressing vocational and workplace skills and other areas of learning, although some state standards refer to broad learning goals rather than to specific content to be learned. If it continues, this trend toward academic standards will have important implications for some students with disabilities who, as noted above, benefit from a strong focus on the school-to-work transition, vocational education, and functional skills, in addition to purely academic learning. For these students, allocating instructional time to nonfunctional learning activities may detract from more relevant information. In many places, there has not been specific consideration of the needs of all students with disabilities in the development of content standards. Therefore, questions exist about whether all common content standards are realistic and useful goals for some students with disabilities . As professionals who work with students with disabilities participate more in the design and development of standards, there may be increased compatibility of standards with the diverse learning needs of students. It is important that broader outcomes and school-to-work transition planning not be neglected in the move toward standards-based reform.

Research has identified three broad characteristics of effective instruction for students with cognitive disabilities (who constitute the majority of students with disabilities): individually referenced decision making that focuses on the individual student's needs, intensive methods of delivering instruction, and explicit contextualization of skills-based instruction Currently, it is not known whether these three characteristics of effective instruction can be delivered comprehensively enough to allow students with cognitive disabilities to meet common content standards.

Some content standards assume a constructivist view of teaching and learning that may not be fully compatible with these characteristics of effective instruction for students with cognitive disabilities . Constructivism emphasizes active, self-regulated learning, higher-order thinking skills, and synthesis of knowledge from various sources and content areas. Many content standards also stress more advanced skills, such as critical thinking and problem solving, over basic skills; at this time, it is unknown whether these broad characteristics of effective instruction work with more abstract and complex skills. Even so, it will

Suggested Citation:"4 CONTENT STANDARDS, CURRICULUM, AND INSTRUCTION." National Research Council. 1997. Educating One and All: Students with Disabilities and Standards-Based Reform. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5788.
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be difficult for some students with significant cognitive disabilities to attain these more advanced skills, regardless of instructional methods or the extent of their participation in standards-based reform. Research is needed that examines the interaction between specific special education interventions and the instructional methods called for in many content standards.

Participation of students with disabilities in common content standards raises a number of complex legal and educational issues. As a result, a defensible decision-making process will need to be developed to determine the appropriateness of common content standards and the conditions under which standards should be altered for individual students. A revised IEP system may be needed to ensure accountability for this process.

Although our analyses suggest that some of the specific aspects of standards-based reform may not be very well matched with the characteristics of effective special education for some students with disabilities, this does not mean that these students should be left out of standards-based reform. Rather, it suggests that the details of standards-based reform should be considered with input from people knowledgeable about special education. It is equally important that the nature of participation in standards-based reform for each child with disabilities be considered carefully and systematically.

Suggested Citation:"4 CONTENT STANDARDS, CURRICULUM, AND INSTRUCTION." National Research Council. 1997. Educating One and All: Students with Disabilities and Standards-Based Reform. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5788.
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Suggested Citation:"4 CONTENT STANDARDS, CURRICULUM, AND INSTRUCTION." National Research Council. 1997. Educating One and All: Students with Disabilities and Standards-Based Reform. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5788.
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Suggested Citation:"4 CONTENT STANDARDS, CURRICULUM, AND INSTRUCTION." National Research Council. 1997. Educating One and All: Students with Disabilities and Standards-Based Reform. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5788.
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Suggested Citation:"4 CONTENT STANDARDS, CURRICULUM, AND INSTRUCTION." National Research Council. 1997. Educating One and All: Students with Disabilities and Standards-Based Reform. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5788.
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Next: 5 ACCOUNTABILITY AND ASSESSMENT »
Educating One and All: Students with Disabilities and Standards-Based Reform Get This Book
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In the movement toward standards-based education, an important question stands out: How will this reform affect the 10% of school-aged children who have disabilities and thus qualify for special education?

In Educating One and All, an expert committee addresses how to reconcile common learning for all students with individualized education for "one"—the unique student. The book makes recommendations to states and communities that have adopted standards-based reform and that seek policies and practices to make reform consistent with the requirements of special education.

The committee explores the ideas, implementation issues, and legislative initiatives behind the tradition of special education for people with disabilities. It investigates the policy and practice implications of the current reform movement toward high educational standards for all students.

Educating One and All examines the curricula and expected outcomes of standards-based education and the educational experience of students with disabilities—and identifies points of alignment between the two areas. The volume documents the diverse population of students with disabilities and their school experiences. Because approaches to assessment and accountability are key to standards-based reforms, the committee analyzes how assessment systems currently address students with disabilities, including testing accommodations. The book addresses legal and resource implications, as well as parental participation in children's education.

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