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Six Successes and Ten Strategies: Students on Alternate Assessments in Equity-Based Inclusive Education

As a follow-up to SWIFT’s April newsletter story about Cecil County’s districtwide team addressing how students who follow alternate assessment standards are experiencing success, we wanted to provide examples of these positive outcomes here in SWIFT Talk.  

The Cecil County team of committed educators are continually asking the question, “How do we promote membership, participation, and learning for all students in general education classrooms?”  We are seeing positive results by way of increased socialization, communication, decreases in behaviors, and evidence that students are accessing and learning grade-level curriculum!  Consider the following examples:

A first-grade student with autism (formerly on track for alternate assessment) is now doing grade-level work and the paraprofessional is supporting the class as a whole, rather than acting solely as a 1:1 support for this student.  What made the difference? Educators hold high expectations for the student and ensure she is a fully participating member in the general education instruction.

A breakthrough moment occurred for a sixth-grade student with challenging behavior when the teachers created alternative pathways to the regular curriculum instead of an alternate curriculum taught with different materials in a separate part of the room.  The student was treated as a full-time member and felt a sense of belonging, and the challenging behaviors decreased.

In a kindergarten class, a five-year-old who does not speak with his voice is in general education 100% of the time.  As a full-time member of the class, his peers provide support for him to participate in whole-group instruction, and he has moved from running around the room to participating in classroom routines without paraeducator support.

Another student in kindergarten who did not use her voice to communicate, and whose behaviors challenged the educators, is now fully included and using augmentative and alternative communication  with core vocabulary connected to the classroom curriculum and routines.  She is now also beginning to use her voice to express herself.

In fifth grade, an 11-year-old boy with significant disabilities who does not speak with his voice was in a general education class, but existed as an “island in the back of the room,” working on alternate activities.  Educators now adapt materials to grade-level standards and he is included in general education classroom routines. The special education teacher and general education teacher collaborate to address the student’s needs and the student is successfully learning grade level curriculum.

A third-grade student with autism was receiving all of his education—except science and social studies—outside of the classroom.  He moved from part-time participation in general education with expectations for alternative outcomes to full time-membership in the general education curriculum.  He is now following a general diploma track!

Cecil County strives to achieve membership, participation, and learning for students with significant disabilities in many ways. Here are ten strategies related to the student successes described above:

  • Students attend the school ordinarily attended by children in their local community.
  • Student are members of age-appropriate general education classrooms, which includes their names on class lists, job lists, and so forth.
  • The school delivers related services to the students primarily in general education classrooms and/or during times of the day that coincide with the emphasized skills.
  • Natural supports such as peers, classroom teachers, and other members of the school community are available to provide assistance, scaffold interactions, give encouragement, and develop social relationships/friendships.
  • Communication materials and instruction, including AAC devices, are provided to students who need them to communicate content and messages that are similar to their classmates’.
  • Students participate in the same instructional routines as their classmates: whole-class, small group, partners, one-on-one, etc.
  • In small group activities, students are supported to share information, take notes, and socialize. In whole-class discussions, students are supported to brainstorm, call out answers, take notes, and engage in social side talk.
  • Students transition between classes with other students, arriving and leaving at the same time.
  • Students are supported to complete assignments and other work products commensurate with their peers and aligned with the grade-level curriculum.
  • Students demonstrate classroom-based learning through a variety of methods monitored by the classroom teacher and based on high expectations of all class members.

These successes are the direct result of administrative support for equity-based inclusion, collaboration among educators, partnerships with the families, and attention to full-time membership, participation, and learning. 

-Michael McSheehan, SWIFT Technical Assistance Coordinator 

Michael McSheehan serves as the Coordinator of Technical Assistance for the School-wide Integrated Framework for Transformation (SWIFT) Center, which was established in 2012. He is a Project Director at the University of New Hampshire, Institute on Disability and National Center on Inclusive Education. Prior to working with the SWIFT Center, Michael led a variety of state and federally funded initiatives to advance research, policy, and practice in inclusive education, alternate assessment, collaborative teaming, and Response to Intervention (RtI). For example, he was a developer, researcher, and co-author of The Beyond Access Model, an intensive supports planning model for teams working with students with significant disabilities. Michael also helped lead a five-year, state-wide project to develop and implement a Response-to-Intervention model for academic and behavioral supports with seven elementary schools and five school districts in New Hampshire.