At the June 20 School Board meeting, District 65 administrators, together with a panel of teachers,  gave a progress report on the implementation of the District’s Inclusion Plan. The goal is to increase the amount of time students with a disability spend in the general education classroom, and to place more students who traditionally would have been placed in self-contained classrooms into the general education classroom with supports.

 While there have been some bumps along the way, administrators and teachers say more students with a disability are being served in the general education classroom, and achievement has trended upwards.

Board members thanked administrators and teachers for their dedicated work in implementing the plan.  They asked questions about the amount of co-teaching that will take place next year, the amount of common planning time that teachers will have to coordinate their co-teaching, and the development of a consistent program to increase disability awareness for parents, teachers and students.

Rolling Up the Plan

The District began to implement its inclusion model at the pre-K level in the 2008-09 school year, with the idea it would acculturate students to learn beside their peers at an early age.

The District rolled up the inclusion model to kindergarten in 2009-10, and to first grade in 2010-11. Last year the District also moved some students who had previously been served in self-contained classrooms for students with disabilities into the general education classroom.

 “Plans are now underway to prepare for second-grade inclusion, “said Mike Robey, assistant superintendent.

The District uses co-teaching as a primary way of meeting the needs of students with a disability in the general classroom.  Under the co-teaching model, special education inclusion teachers and general education teachers co-teach a class to address the learning needs of all students, including those with a disability.

 “It’s really important to get inclusion right, because when a child has an appropriate placement and appropriate resources, inclusion works for everybody,” said Board member Richard Rykhus. “When that child might not have everything that works, it actually has an impact on the entire general education classroom population. For the times we’ve gotten it right, it’s something really worth celebrating. And for the times we need to work on it, we have to redouble our efforts to do so.”

Progress on Inclusion and Achievement

In the last two years, students with a disability have been spending more time in the general education classroom. Last year, excluding Rice and Park schools, about 90 students spent less than 40% of their time in a general education setting, says the District’s goal report.

Mr. Robey also presented data showing that students with a disability (IEP students) were making academic progress. For the first cohort of kindergarten students, substantially higher percentages of students with a disability scored above the 50th percentile on the ISEL test at the end of first grade than when they entered kindergarten. 

Mr. Robey also presented data showing that all student groups  – both IEP students and non-IEP students – made academic progress last year. The accompanying table shows, on a composite basis, that higher percentages of third- through eighth-graders scored above the 50th percentile on MAP at the end of the 2010-11 school year than when they started the year. The table also breaks out this data for students with an IEP according to the time spent in the general education classroom, and it also provides the data for non-IEP students.

 “We believe that our students are growing overall from a general perspective academically, socially and emotionally” said Mr. Robey.  “We think we’re making some really good progress with our students. It’s not perfect. We still have some work to do. It’s still a work in process.”

Co-Teaching and Common Planning Time

An important way in which the District meets the needs of students with an IEP in the general education classroom is by using co-teachers in the classroom. To be effective, teachers need common planning time to plan their instruction.

In the first year the inclusion program rolled out, the District had full time co-teachers in each kindergarten class. Last year, when the program rolled up to first grade, there was roughly one co-teacher for every kindergarten and first-grade inclusion class. Mr. Rykhus asked, “What does the third year look like?”

Mr. Robey responded, “I think the third year looks like serving the child with whatever needs they have.” He explained that in the first year of the roll-out, the District “overstaffed” with two people in the classroom to make sure “we had the greatest level of success.”  He added, “But what we’ve attempted to do from that point forward is look at the needs that the child has or look at the needs that the group of children in a classroom have and staff that appropriately based on whatever it says in their IEP. There’s really no one-third, one-half, one-fourth. It’s whatever they need.”

When Mr. Rykhus pressed for the percent of time there would be co-teaching, Mr. Robey said, “I think it varies tremendously from school to school, from grade level to grade level.  It depends what the needs are.”

Margie Lenoir-Davis, director of special services, said last year some special education teachers who co-taught were assigned to three to four different grade levels. She said that in most schools next year there will be three special education teachers (not counting those assigned to a self-contained classroom), and they will be assigned to only two grade levels. This will enable them to more readily learn the curriculum for those grades and allow greater flexibility to schedule common planning time, she said.

Board member Tracy Quattrocki raised a question about common planning time, noting that last year many teachers said it was a major issue. One teacher said that teachers in their second year with the inclusion program were using creative ways to find time to collaborate, but it was still a major concern for first-year teachers.  A teacher at Kingsley said finding time to co-plan became more difficult last year because special education teachers were not assigned to a single classroom but were stretched between classrooms.

Dr. Murphy said, “I think we’re sensitive to [the issue], but we realize that the problem is really not solved yet.”

Board members Jerome Summers and Kim Weaver raised questions about how the inclusion program would roll out in the future to higher grade levels and into the middle schools.  Assistant Superintendent Susan Shultz said, “We’re building the foundation. We’re providing push-in.  As it rolls into the middle school we hope to see the benefits of that in the middle schools. We continue to work with our middle-school teachers as well.”

The Bridges Program

The administration proposed the addition of the “Bridges Program,” which will be a small classroom setting for students in K-2 grade levels who are not ready for full inclusion in the general education setting.  “The Bridge program will focus on school readiness while addressing the individual needs of this small group (five to nine) of students with the goal of transitioning these students into the general education setting.”

Cari Levin, founding director of Evanston Citizens for Appropriate Special Education, told School Board members she worked with or counseled seven families whose children were in kindergarten last year, and the primary problem was their children were not ready to be in a large general education environment all day. As a result, she said, “They were not truly included. They were often removed from allied arts, gym, lunch/recess or other special activities due to their inability to manage their behavior or as a consequence for non-compliance.”

She said she supported implementing the  Bridges Program, and suggested it be available in every “cluster” – defined as the attendance area schools that feed into a middle school – so  students could at least stay in the home school clusters. “We think we’re making some really good progress with our students. It’s not perfect. We still have some work we’re making some really good progress with our students. It’s not perfect. We still have some work to do. It’s still a work in process.” – Assistant        Superintendent Mike Robey

Ms. Levin also said, “Middle school children with emotional disabilities are having a hard time accessing their education.” She suggested that these students would benefit from a “home base” model, where they could go to the home base for processing emotional challenges as they arise in the day.

Mr. Robey said the District needs one self-contained setting in each middle school for each cluster. “One of the pieces we learned is we tried to move a little too fast and pushed students out a little more quickly than we probably should have.”

Parent Satisfaction/Teacher Reactions

Mr. Rykhus asked questions about a survey of parents, which reflected that 80% of the 41 parents who responded to the survey agreed there was an “overall benefit from inclusion.” However, the percent of parents who agreed that their child was making progress toward goals and that appropriate services were being delivered dropped from 91% to 72% last year. Mr. Rykhus asked why.

Mr. Robey said the written comments provided by parents were not adequate to provide a definitive answer and it may be necessary to conduct focus groups.

Teachers who provided general comments on the program were positive. Ashlie Greenlees, a teacher at Kingsley School, said, “The trend I’ve seen in my classroom the last few years is truly the success of the kids. … to watch these kids gain so much, both the general education kids and the special needs kids, has been really amazing.

Karen Bradley, principal at Dawes School, said, “At Dawes we’ve had a lot of challenges, but the past two years have been incredibly exciting for us in terms of our kids’ achievements. But for me, as principal, one of the most exciting things has been the growth of my teachers as they work together, as they form different relationships with each other to support the kids, to be creative and to problem-solve. We’ve had a lot of happy moments. We’ve had tears. But we all really worked together for the success of kids.”

                Reading                   Fall ’10    Spring’11

IEP in Gen.Ed. > 79%             27%           38%
IEP in Gen.Ed 40-79%             8                 9
IEP in Gen.Ed. <40%                9                21
Non-IEP                                 72               79

Math

IEP in Gen.Ed. >79%              34               44
IEP in Gen.Ed. 40-79%            8                 9
IEP in Gen.Ed. <40%              19               27
Non-IEP                                 72               79