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District 65 administrators presented a new “Inclusion-Service Delivery Model” at the Board’s June 4 meeting. The new model appears to place less emphasis on co-teaching as the primary way to meet the needs of students with a disability in the general education classroom. It proposes to integrate related service staff – such as social workers, psychologists, speech/language therapists, occupational therapists, and physical therapists – in the delivery of classroom based-services.

The District’s Inclusion Program was implemented at the kindergarten level in the 2009-10 school year, rolled up to first grade in the 2010-11 school year and to second grade in the 2011-12 school year. Next year, “All classes are to be viewed as possible inclusion classrooms where students with a variety of needs may be served,” says the new model.

The goal of the Inclusion Program is to increase the amount of time students with a disability (e.g., those with an Individual Education Plan, IEP) 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.

One method of meeting the needs of students in the inclusion classrooms is to use co-teaching (i.e., a general education and a special education teacher in the same classroom).

In prior meetings, several Board members have questioned whether the Inclusion Program is adequately staffed as it rolls up to include additional grade levels, suggesting that additional teachers should be budgeted as the program expands.

On June 4, Joyce Bartz, interim director of special education, said, “We believe we are well-staffed for next year.” Several Board members questioned, however, how to reconcile that statement with teachers’ comments that they need additional resources.

The New Inclusion Model

When the inclusion program was adopted, co-teaching was touted as a primary way to support students in an inclusion classroom; and the initial Inclusion Plan called for increasing the amount of co-teaching as a key strategy. In 2009-10 one special education teacher was provided for every inclusion kindergarten classroom. As the program rolled-up to higher grade levels, special education teachers became required to devote time between two, three and sometimes four classrooms.

Ms. Bartz said that as part of the inclusion effort, the District has increased the number of special education teachers from 66 in 2009-10 to 89 in 2011-12, even though the number of students with an IEP has decreased about six percent. During the same period, she said, the number of teacher aides has increased from 87 to 111 (not including those at Park School). In addition, the number of self-contained classrooms has declined from 20 to 9, which frees up special education teachers formerly assigned to those classrooms.

Ms. Bartz added that, including Park School, the District has 13 psychologists, 21.1 speech therapists, 23.5 social workers, 3.5 external PBIS Coaches, 8 Occupational Therapists, 2 physical therapists, 2 adaptive PE teachers, and 1 vision teacher (including Park School). She said the District compares very favorably with surrounding schools in the ratio of students to these service providers.

Beginning in 2012-13, these related service-staff members “will begin assisting with the delivery of classroom-based services,” said Ms. Bartz. “This represents a shift away from relying almost exclusively on pull-out services from related service staff toward more use of classroom-integrated approaches. These related service staff will assist in the implementation of the student’s goals and services alongside the general education staff. This increases the number of personnel who will be providing inclusive services.”

“I feel it’s difficult in our position to try and reconcile hearing from teachers who say, ‘We don’t have enough resources,’ and then hearing in this case, from administrators, ‘We have enough resources.’”

“I think this will improve the services delivered to children and assist the general education staff in providing those interventions to our special needs students,” Ms. Bartz continued. “I see this as a far more comprehensive method of providing services to students and providing the general education teachers the supports and modeling and assistance in helping students achieve those goals that they should be having on their IEPs.

Some examples given on how a related service-staff member could assist are that a speech therapist could assist in a student’s language development; a social worker could assist in behavior management.

Ms. Bartz said advantages of the new model include it provides services to students with an IEP in a natural setting, it avoids pulling students out of the classroom for certain services, it may add another adult to the classroom, and it enhances collaboration between related services staff and teachers.

Ms. Bartz said students will continue to receive the services identified in their IEPs. She said related services would be delivered to a student in the general education classroom if that was the best setting, otherwise students would continue to receive the services in pull-out settings.

Adequate Staffing Or Not

Richard Rykhus presented a dilemma facing School Board members. “I feel it’s difficult in our position to try and reconcile hearing from teachers who say, ‘We don’t have enough resources,’ and then hearing in this case, from administrators, ‘We have enough resources.’ I don’t know how to reconcile that,” he said.

“When I ask the question about co-teaching,” Mr. Rykhus said, “it’s coming from that place of trying to reconcile, ‘Do we have adequate resources or do we need to make other investments, as a Board, to provide the resources that are going to address the needs of children?’”

Ellen Fogelberg, assistant superintendent, suggested that a new approach in how students with an IEP are assigned to classrooms may help. She said, “For some teachers, it’s been extremely challenging for them when they’ve got five or six kids in the classroom that are intense, and maybe it would be better if there were two in each room. I don’t want to say we aren’t going to cluster if that’s the appropriate thing to do – but in moving to the [new] model we might be able to use our resources more effectively and think about some of the people that are available to include in this model.”

Tracy Quattrocki said the idea of not clustering students with an IEP into the same classroom “makes sense,” but she expressed a concern that spreading students with an IEP into many classrooms may increase the need for co-teachers, which she said was “one of the most effective ways of handling a class.

“I know for the next couple of years we haven’t forecasted the need for any special additional education co-teachers and that concerns me – the idea that we’re going to be spreading out the co-teaching model all over and yet not increasing the number of co-teachers.”

Ms. Quattrocki also asked what administrators have heard from teachers about inclusion. Ms. Fogelberg said, “I’ve heard some of the classrooms have been challenging.” Ms. Bartz, said, “One of the greatest concerns we’ve talked about is co-planning and collaborating together.”

Jean Luft, president of the District Educators Council (DEC, the teachers union) said she thought there is “a great deal of promise and positive things that are going to come out with the push-in of related services,” and added that teachers were “deeply committed to making inclusion work.” She said, though, that teachers had identified some issues they thought were integral to a successful inclusion program. She said that:

• There needs to be a full continuum of services, including self-contained classrooms for students for whom a general education classroom is not the right fit.

• There needs to be consistency in support personnel for students with an IEP.

• In many cases, it was not the clustering of IEP students in a classroom that created an issue, but rather “there was not enough support and resources assigned to the classroom.”

• “Co-teaching is a fundamental of inclusion.” Currently, special education teachers are spread very thin and stretching them into more classrooms next year will reduce the amount of co-teaching for each classroom and make it more difficult to co-plan for instruction.

Next Steps

The Board did not vote any aspect of the proposed new plan.

Board President Katie Bailey suggested that two Board members serve on the ongoing inclusion committee so they could report back to the Board on new developments. She said the Board would be reviewing achievement data in October, which would include the first third-grade class that has gone through the inclusion program.

D65 IEP Students Achievement Data Shows

At the June 4 School Board meeting, District 65 administrators presented additional breakdowns of achievement data for students with an Individual Education Program (IEP), including data that showed achievement by grade level. School Board members asked for the data at an earlier meeting.

The accompanying table summarizes some of data presented on June 4. It shows the percentage of students at District 65 who scored above the 50th percentile on the 2008 and 2011 Illinois Standard Achievement Test (ISAT). The 50th percentile is often used as an indicator of “”grade level”” performance. The data shows that between 2008 and 2011, there has been a decline in the percentage of third- through fifth-graders who scored above the 50th percentile in reading, and a decline for third- through seventh-graders in math.

District administrators said one explanation for the difference in results may be the difference in the number of students from low-income households and the percentage of English Language Learners (ELL) in different classes. For example, in the third-grade class in 2008, 61% of the students were from low-income households and 17% were ELL students. In 2011, 67% of the third-graders were from low-income households and 25% were ELL students. Statistically, students from low-income households and ELL students score lower on achievement tests than other students.

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...