Rethink Ed Spotlight Paraprofessional of the Month: Clifton G. Jones III

Position: Paraprofessional Educator

District: Prince George’s County Public Schools (Maryland)

Mr. Jones Paraprofessional Educator at Prince George’s County Public Schools

Clifton G. Jones III is a Paraprofessional Educator at Prince George’s County Public Schools in Maryland. He has used Rethink Ed in his classroom for the last two years, and it has become part of the classroom’s daily schedule. He considers Rethink Ed as a “great resource for staff at the school.”

 

Mr. Jones uses Rethink Ed to help with Individual Education Plans (IEP) goals, objectives and data collection. For paraprofessionals, the program is helpful when working with special needs students because of its detailed information pertaining to goals and objectives which help in producing positive outcomes in students. Also, Rethink Ed improves the teaching of new skills. When one of Mr. Jones’ students was not progressing in a newly presented skill, he was able to compare his own lesson plans and materials to Rethink Ed’s materials and gain new ways to implement the lessons and support the student.

“(I would) just document the behavior, the setting, time of day and the frequency of the behavior,” Mr. Jones states of his tactics, before using Rethink Ed. Now, Mr. Jones documents all the same things as before but also focuses on what happens before and after the behavior, as well as the possible function for it. Understanding the problem behavior allows him to implement strategies to reduce it.

The Rethink Ed Basic and Advanced Training series is the most valuable aspect of the program for Mr. Jones and his classroom. The training series has helped him prepare for the Registered Behavior Technician Exam (RBT), and has taught him how to use the skill of reinforcing to motivate students and increase their instructional participation. Excited to pursue his RBT Certification, Mr. Jones believes, “the basic and advanced ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) training’s are great for professional growth and development.”

Mr. Jones with his Students

Rethink Ed has helped Mr. Jones realize the necessity of the RBT certification for his future career development. He trusts that the certification will help “paraprofessionals to articulate what we do in the classroom when working with our students with special needs and how we teach and help them to learn and progress with new skills.” Rethink Ed has also taught Mr. Jones the necessary terminology to help explain exactly how he supports his students in the classroom.

Rethink Ed has proven to assist Mr. Jones in his role as a paraprofessional, and it will continue to support him in the next stages of his career.

Marooned on Teacher Island

Using Professional Learning Communities to Foster Peer Support and Collaborative Practice Among Educators

By Katherine DeCotiis Wiedemann, M.A., BCBA

Being a teacher can sometimes feel a little bit like being stranded on the island in Lord of the Flies – wading through the endless chaos of high-energy kiddos with no other adults visible on the horizon. With class sizes on the rise, many teachers rarely get the chance to see their colleagues in action, and often feel overworked and under-informed. Sound familiar? You’re not alone. Luckily, there are ways to access help and input from colleagues, and they can be a lot easier than lighting signal flares with a piece of glass or writing “SOS” in the sand with a stick. How can teachers access peer support to boost morale, encourage new ideas and improve existing teaching practices?

In recent years, one of the most popular channels for fostering peer support among educators and promoting positive student outcomes has been the use of professional learning communities (PLC). Rather than conceptualizing this model as a “program” or specific kind of meeting, teachers should think of a PLC as an “ongoing process in which educators work collaboratively in recurring cycles of collective inquiry and action research to achieve better results for the students they serve” (DuFour 2006). A professional learning community focuses on students learning rather than just teachers teaching, working collaboratively and holding the group accountable to real results. Members of a PLC come together to consider three crucial questions: What do we want each student to learn? How will we know when each student has learned it? How will we respond when a student has trouble learning? Together, the members of a PLC set attainable, measurable goals related to specific issues or concerns facing the school. In a traditional school, teachers are dispersed in separate classrooms throughout the building, and are basically responsible for implementing the curriculum in their own way. In a school that uses PLC, however, there is a fundamental shift towards a team-based approach to learning, curriculum and school climate.

When schools begin to address their issues as an entity, they may identify individual inconsistencies and can create schoolwide, systematic approaches and strategies to address a wide range of issues with consistency. The implementation of professional learning communities can also establish and nurture a school-wide culture of collaboration, which serves as a great example to students of the importance of asking for and accepting help from others. This way of thinking takes the pressure off individuals to come up with the right answer on their own and instead fosters a more cooperative approach to education. Many in the field assert that there is now enough evidence and research to suggest that the implementation of professional learning communities in schools represents best practice.

The long-term benefits of PLCs are powerful and two-fold. On one side of the coin, teachers gain knowledge and access to new ideas through joint questioning and investigation, and feel less isolated and more committed to their profession. On the other side of the coin, when implemented effectively, PLCs can lead to higher levels of student achievement across the board.

If you’re stuck on Lonely Teacher Island and don’t want to end up like Piggy, put out the smoke signals and strike up a conversation with your colleagues about boosting peer support and collaborative learning in your school. How might you use Rethink to create or enhance existing professional learning communities?

For more information on PLCs, check out these resources:

http://www.the-cei.org/professional-learning-communities/

https://www.edutopia.org/professional-learning-communities-collaboration-how-to

REFERENCES

DuFour, R., DuFour, R., Eaker, R., & Many, T. (2006). Learning by doing: A handbook for professional learning communities at work. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.

Moore County Schools. (2012). Professional learning communities [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from https://www.ncmcs.org/cms/lib7/NC01001076/Centricity/Domain/16/Leadership/2012-13/PLC_Powerpoint.pdf.

Performance-Based Compensation for Teachers

Merit pay or performance-based compensation for teachers has long since been a topic of discussion in the education field. It is known as a system that rewards individual teachers with bonuses based on improvements in their performance. While some education critics argue that it is the key to improving student performance, it is at times discouraged by teachers – the very ones it was meant to serve.

In addition to criticism from school-based teachers, a merit pay compensation system can be very hard to implement in schools. This is because it is often time consuming and difficult for school boards and unions to change the current pay structure for hundreds or thousands of teachers. The process for collecting the performance-based data required to determine pay is widely considered arduous and daunting.

For those school districts that do take on the task, bonuses and salary increases based on student achievement are carefully considered. Districts that modify their current pay structure with the hopes of igniting teacher enthusiasm consider the ways paying for performance might attract creative, high-performing teachers and decrease retention. However, it can be argued that one of the benefits of merit pay is the ability to identify poor-performing teachers and remove them easily or assist them in improving their skills to meet the qualifications for performance-based compensation.

In many cases the average pay structure for school-based teachers gives districts exactly what they pay for – little to no teacher enthusiasm. Lackluster pay structures based on tenure, seniority and continuing teacher and leader education can seem as though there is no incentive for teachers to improve their performance and productivity over time if their salary schedules are already set in stone. This is extremely prevalent in industries that struggle to inspire staff that become stagnant.

Yet, the implications that come from using test scores and work time as an incentive for merit pay cannot be ignored. In fact, it can be alarming to teachers that pride themselves on leaving a lasting impact in their students’ lives by truly elevating a child’s educational experience. Many teachers must not only cater to testing techniques, but understand how to modify and adapt grade-level curriculum and improve individual learning outcomes for every child they serve. Paying teachers to work harder, instead of smarter does not ensure they will be effective in practicing the methods they research and learn. It also doesn’t ensure that their practices will improve the educational experience for their students. In schools and districts that take on a wide variety of roles and serve diverse student populations, more focus should be put on measures that impact individual student growth and their ability to access the curriculum. Teachers who prove effective in the classroom should be the ones to make more money, not teachers who simply put in more hours.

In a typical pay structure for an average school or district, performance is evaluated at the end of the year with an evaluation. These performance-based evaluations are often very subjective and only take small measures of a teacher’s performance into consideration. This is especially true for special education teachers who are evaluated by principals that may not have experience working in a special education classroom. So the question is: How can we accurately measure what good teachers do and use these statistics to set the bar for success?

Within any school, teachers take on a very tough task of educating students. Their overall performance has a number of factors that cannot be trivialized into a simple rubric that calculates time spent on the job, testing and student performance. Too often schools ignore the benefits of effectiveness, the lifespan of the knowledge imparted by teachers and the quality of teaching practices. Schools should seek to measure a more holistic view of a teacher’s role by using reviews such as the Period Service Review.

Designed by Dr. Gary W. LaVigna and his colleagues, the Periodic Service Review is a total quality assurance system and instrument that serves as a healthy alternative to conventional performance reviews in service industries. The system uses four integrated elements – performance standards, performance monitoring, performance feedback and systematic training – to mobilize others, maximize service and meet goals and objectives.

PSR was developed to ensure that service industries are able to measure and deliver high-quality services by setting defined criterion for each unique position or service. The criteria are set with unique and objective measures that are scored. Often times there must be a permanent product or direct observation of the measure for it to be scored. The criteria are scored individual teachers or a teaching team, with administrators on hand to complete fidelity checks to ensure accuracy within a pre-determined timeline or schedule.

The score of the PSR is then graphed for the visual analysis of progress over time. PSRs can be completed monthly and reviewed by principals or administrators quarterly to ensure there is growth in each defined measure. This allows for a clearer understanding of expectations by administrators and allows for staff to receive positive feedback when they are performing adequately. In addition, certain measures and outcomes can be weighed for emphasis and PSR scores for similar grade-level teachers can also be used to encourage teamwork among teachers. In this way, bonus pay or some variation of it can be built in to an existing pay structure gradually with feedback from teachers.

Grade-level teams can also use data and scores to help support each other and to encourage positive teaching practices in Professional Learning Communities. While performance-based compensation may be in the distant future for some, it is important for schools and districts start considering ways to meaningfully motivate teachers and continue developing their skills. Pay structures and systems should also work towards supporting all teachers, including those who are considered the most effective with new opportunities and room to grow.

Although new compensation systems are one way of doing this, education should be a field that provides and ample amount of opportunities for both educators and students regardless of the pay system in place. Data and improved measurements for performance are a part of the process and may play a greater role, but no school or educator is the same. Systems are dependent on the individual needs of those they serve and so all schools should evaluate the best systems for their staff and continue to refine and improve them over time.

Understanding the Danielson Framework in Special Education

Teaching is an incredibly complex profession. It requires teachers to maintain core skills and the necessary knowledge to help students succeed throughout their academic careers. While the teaching role is difficult and demanding from day to day, special education environments heighten the challenges some teachers face by requiring them to master additional skills. This includes differentiating instruction, implementing behavioral strategies and catering to individualized teaching practices to support students in attaining a certain level of advancement.

In these cases and others, it is vital for teachers to stay abreast of teaching techniques and continue to enhance their skills through ongoing professional development. To support teachers, every school and district should offer ongoing mentorship programs, teaching assistance and performance feedback to ensure teachers are meeting the needs of their students. One useful tool that helps is to make this possible is the Danielson Framework.

The Danielson Framework serves as a guide for coaching and mentoring in schools across the country. Originally developed by Charlotte Danielson in 1996, the framework for professional practice identifies aspects of a teacher’s responsibilities, which are supported by empirical studies and help to improve student learning. Danielson created the framework to capture “good teaching” in all of its complexity. The broad framework was also intentionally designed to capture effective teaching at every grade level and across a wide range of student populations.

Today it helps in different districts and states assist general and special education students and its usefulness in providing guidelines for proper support and adequate instruction is highly praised.

The 22-component framework has undergone several revisions over the years, including a revision in 2013 to respond to the instructional implications of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). In some cases – such as in New York City – certain components are used to measure effectiveness in teacher evaluations.

At the very basic level, the Danielson Framework provides a rubric for four levels of teaching (ranging from “Ineffective” to “Highly Effective”) across four domains. These domains include:

  • Planning and preparation
  • Classroom environment
  • Instruction
  • Professional responsibilities

The Danielson Group lists several resources to help teachers and evaluators make meaningful connections between the framework and its application in special education settings. The Danielson Group also outlines a set of scenarios for each component across all four levels of performance to assist those who use the framework.

Key concepts when utilizing the framework in a special education setting include incorporating Universal Design for Learning principles such as:

  • Utilizing data-driven instruction and behavior management strategies
  • Fostering active engagement with the entire educational community (e.g., co-teachers, therapists, counselors, and child study team members)
  • Fidelity of instructional and behavioral practices across team members
Danielson Infographic

In order for any teacher to master the art of pedagogy in a special education setting, it is intrinsically clear that they need to maintain a commitment to assessing student needs and providing highly individualized support for every student.

Teachers should also work closely with fellow team members and engage in ongoing professional development to keep up with current with best practices in their field. This is of course an incredibly dynamic and ongoing process, but it is helpful to know that the Danielson Framework is one tools that can be used for support. We encourage you to continuing learning more about the framework and its practical use as a tool for instruction.

Rethink Ed Spotlight Teacher of the Month: Colleen Washburn

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Position: Primary Autism Center Program Teacher
District: Denver Public Schools, Denver, CO

Colleen Washburn is a Primary Autism Center Program teacher in the Denver Public School District in Denver, Colorado. Denver Public Schools is the largest school district in Colorado and is one of the fastest growing districts in the nation.

One of the biggest challenges as a teacher is consistently tracking and understanding data, managing behavior, and collaborating with other paraprofessionals and teachers. However, Ms. Washburn has found that with Rethink Ed she is able to “keep up with extensive data collection and use this data to guide effective student behavioral interventions.” Over the past two years, Ms. Washburn has successfully used Rethink Ed in her classroom.

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Ms. Washburn’s Classroom

Daily, Ms. Washburn uses the Rethink Ed platform as her primary classroom autism center program. It has been incorporated in her daily behavior tracking routine for various students within the program. This data is used to create and supplement behavior plans, as well as guide the use of interventions. The data created through the Rethink Program has also allowed her to supplement IEP’s with easy to understand information for parents. This helps strengthen communication with parents because she is able to show them concrete data in the form of graphs and charts.

She began using the program with only a few select students however she quickly realized the benefits of the program like downloadable data charts and consistent data tracking on the Rethink Ed App. Now, she uses it for her entire teaching caseload and is able “to track the effectiveness of strategies, as well as determine a pattern for student behavior.” Over the past year Ms. Washburn has implemented several different Rethink Ed strategies for her students in order to find optimal behavior plans. She has even seen the beginning stages of positive changes in student’s behavior!

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Classroom Coffee Cart Business

Together, Ms. Washburn and her paraprofessionals utilize Rethink Ed to track behavioral data in the classroom. She says the ability to work with her paraprofessionals and track the effectiveness of behavioral interventions implemented in the classroom is the most valuable aspect of Rethink. Collaboration using the Rethink Ed platform allows data collection to be taken in various settings and by various individuals ensuring that students are appropriately generalizing skills. They do this by utilizing the Rethink Ed App on the iPad. The App allows them to easily collect data, continuously review data to see progress, and quickly see if an intervention is not supporting a student’s need. Rethink Ed has helped support student learning and engagement in the classroom.

Online training videos have taught Ms. Washburn and her paraprofessionals how to use, implement, and understand the program. Prior to Rethink Ed she and her paraprofessionals had difficulty organizing data and taking it with fidelity. The Rethink Ed App supports Ms. Washburn and her paraprofessionals with real-time data collection including numerous behaviors for several students. It allows them to take ownership of data collection and helps to provide a better picture of the students’ progress throughout the entire day. Rethink Ed resources and strategies continue to support Ms. Washburn and her classroom allowing her to focus more on what she loves—molding students’ lives.

United We Stand, Divided We Fall: Tips for Increasing Parental Engagement

Parental engagement in special education is crucial for student success both inside and outside of the classroom. However, barriers sometimes hinder parents from exercising their right to engage. The educational policy and laws surrounding special education can often be difficult for parents to understand and when not explained thoroughly, the assessment and Individualized Education Program process can be intimidating.

Some parents may also have to overcome negative experiences they’ve faced in their own academic career. In these cases, it is important for educators to provide parents with the right resources and support to become active participants in their child’s education. But like parents, educators too face engagement challenges. This is sometimes due to a lack of time for parent meetings or a lack of training on how to integrate parents into the school culture.

Parent engagement is an ongoing process and initial low levels of involvement may not necessarily mean that parents lack the will to be more engaged. Barriers to increased parent engagement often present an “Us vs. Them” mentality and result in an increase in stress and a decrease in student outcomes. In order for parents and educators to ensure that students are getting the most out of the special education process, they must find a common ground. So how do parents and educators overcome these barriers and work together?

The 3 Pillars of Success

1. Knowledge is power!

When parents go through the special education process with their child, it can sometimes feel like they are entering a new country or world. The culture and language is entirely new. This can be intimidating initially  and cause parents to shy away from engaging with the school. The more parents know about special education, the more likely they are to be involved in their child’s education.

2. Communication is key.

An open line of communication can help establish rapport between parents and educators. Just as educators share in student successes and challenges in the classroom, parents should be encouraged to share in their child’s successes and challenges at home. This will allow both parents and educators to see the full picture and help students strengthen weaknesses and enhance their skills. Educators can encourage an open line of communication by developing and maintaining a communication system. This can be accomplished by sending simple notes home to parents and encouraging parents to send their comments in as well. Parents and educators can also establish regular phone calls, or scheduling time to chat during parent-teacher meetings.

3. Consistency is crucial.

Students sometimes perform or behave differently at home than they do at school. For example, a student may be able to set the table at home, but not at school. Or a student may independently zip his coat at school, but fail to do so without assistance at home. In these instances, students struggle with the ability to generalize skills, which means they may not perform in the same way when our actions change.

Here are some examples of things that might change:

Following instructions: A student responds correctly to the question “What’s your address?” but not to the question “Where do you live?”

Identifying materials: A student is able to identify a plastic penny, but not an actual penny.

Responding to instructors: A student who learns to respond to a single person initially may not always comprehend how to respond to another instructor or approach that varies slightly. This is because different instructors may use different materials or phrase questions in different ways.

Applying skills in different locations: Initially, a student might learn to respond to instructions or a request in a single location. For example, the student may learn to line up in the classroom, but is unable to stand in line at a store. Different locations may also have different materials, expectations and instructors.

Following prompts: Parents and educators may prompt or assist students in different ways. For example, when teaching a student to complete a puzzle, a teacher might use hand-over-hand guidance to assist the student in placing a puzzle piece in a specific location, while mom might simply point to the puzzle piece.

Adjusting to expectations: Parents and educators may expect different results from students. For example, an educator may expect their child to zip his coat all the way with no assistance while a teacher expect a student to zip their coat part of the way with no assistance or all the way with some assistance.

Adhering to demands: The number of demands we place on a student might be different in different settings. For example, the student might be expected to complete multiple tasks in a row at school, but minimal tasks at home (or vice versa).

All of these differences may result in the student performing differently at home than he does at school. It is therefore crucial to keep things as consistent as possible. An open line of communication is a great way to ensure consistency across settings. Remember, parental engagement in special education is crucial to student success. When parents and educators work together, there is no limit to how much students can achieve.

Using Baseline Data to Inform Instruction

It’s no secret that data can be daunting. For some of us, the word “data” means pile-high clipboards and stacks of complex data sheets or binders of reports. Data can also feel like never-ending lists of impersonal statistics that are difficult to difficult to comprehend and cumbersome to analyze.

When we look at data through this lens, it becomes impossible to see how data can improve student performance and enhance holistic education practices, but it can. So let’s break it down.

In it’s simplest form, data is a collection of facts and statistics that can be used for planning or analysis. All educators are charged with ensuring they use data to inform instruction, so students benefit from evidence-based techniques and approaches to education. Data can also be helpful in monitoring student progress and identifying areas of need through assessments.

Pre-tests, homework, attendance, grades and test scores are all data sources that help inform classroom, school and district decisions.

What is baseline data and how is it collected?

Baseline data is a measurement that is collected prior to intervention or teaching starting. It can be collected through various measures including: percent accuracy, frequency, duration, rate and intervals. When selecting a measure of baseline data collection, it is important to consider how intervention or instructional data will be collected to ensure consistency.

Percent accuracy is collected by calculating the number of target responses divided by the total number of opportunities. Some examples of this measure of data collection include:

  • Percentage of spelling words spelled correctly
  • Percentage of correct math problems
  • Percentage of items correctly identified

You can record frequency by tracking the number of each instance of a behavior. Collect frequency data with counters, tallies or a similar technique. Some examples of this measure of data collection include:

  • Number of words read
  • Number of times a student gets out of their seat
  • Number of times students raise their hands

Duration is measured by tracking how long a behavior occurs. To record duration, start a timer when the behavior commences and stop the timer when the behavior ceases. Some examples of this measure of data collection include:

  • How long a child engages in tantrum behavior
  • How long a child engages in peer interactions
  • How long it takes to complete lesson plans for one week

Rate is calculated by recording the number of behaviors per unit of time. Some examples of this measure of data collection include:

  • Number of words read per minute
  • Number of math problems completed per minute
  • Number of tantrums per hour

Interval data can be used when tracking each occurrence of behavior is not possible, or when the start and end time of the behavior is not clear. You can also use interval data to obtain a sampling rather than an exact count. Also you can measure interval data by determining a preset time interval and then marking whether the behavior occurred during that interval. Some examples of this measure of data collection include:

  • The occurrence of body rocking
  • The occurrence of staying in an assigned area
  • The occurrence of off-task behavior

Why is baseline data important and when is it used?

Without baseline data, many educators run the risk of failing to show progress in a number of student populations, such as with at-risk students, English language learners or students with disabilities.

Baseline data should always serve as a starting point for instruction. It justifies the need for behavioral intervention plans and allows for shifts in instruction that help every student achieve progress. Also it aids in proper selection of skill acquisition activities and allows educators to determine appropriate interventions with a degree of accuracy that increases likelihood of student success.

With baseline data, educators can essentially create a roadmap for students to achieve their educational goals and gain the support they need to master skills, lessons and more. Despite growing needs and changes in the educational landscape in America, baseline data continues to be a useful tool for educators to track and analyze student progress across the country. When you use data to guide instruction, there’s no telling what you’ll discover.

But one thing’s certain: You’ll create a dynamic and individualized experience your classroom that will move your students and school forward.

The Importance of Systematic Instruction

Systematic instruction is an evidence-based method for teaching individuals with disabilities that spans more than 50 years. It incorporates the principles of applied behavior analysis and allows for educators to teach a wide range of skills, including everything from academic to functional living skills. Most importantly, systemic instruction is the process of breaking a skill down into individual components so for students and identify the appropriate teaching method or prompting strategy that allow for students to fully comprehend instruction about a new skill or learning objective.

Data collection also ensures that this method of teaching is effective and results are measureable. To better understand the importance of systematic instruction, let’s break it into steps:

Step 1: Define the instructional objective. It is wise to identify your objective first and then break it down in to a single step or a chain of steps to complete. You should also review students’ prior learning history, preferences, or prerequisites skills that might assist in obtaining the skill.

Step 2: Choose an appropriate teaching/prompting strategy and materials. This will allow students to complete the skills or steps in the chain.  If you know that a student is having difficulty with instruction in a particular lesson, as an educator, you should find a way to teach or prompt them through the process to eventually get to the instructional objective and complete the skill on their own.

Ask yourself: What instructional strategy might support me in prompting or teaching my student to complete this skill? You should also consider how you will fade out teaching prompts over time and support your student so they can become independent learners.

Step 3: Determine the data collection method. This will allow you to evaluate how well your students are doing over instructional trials and whether they are gaining independence over time.  You should make sure that the evaluation method is sensitive enough to pick up on how students are progressing in becoming independent and performing the skills necessary for their success.

Step 4: Implement the instructional strategy and collect data. This step ensures that educators are implementing strategies designed for success and that, even though variations are inevitable, all individuals teaching the skill are implementing them in a similar way. It is imperative that you also determine an appropriate reinforcement strategy.  So many students have a negative experience when it comes to learning. You can make learning fun by reinforcing the benefits of correct skill usage and support students along the way. After that, you should aim to fade prompts and scale back until students become independent.

Step 5: Evaluate your data. You should do this to find out whether the strategy you are using to teach a skill is effective and whether there is an increase in student comprehension or capability.  If there is a positive trend, then continue to implement the same instructional strategy. If the trend is flat or variable (meaning it jumps up and down) you should reevaluate the data to determine if the instructional method will be effective in the long term.

Step 6: Refine the process and make decisions based on data. You should always take the results you are seeing in your data into consideration when determining whether you should adjust your instructional strategies. If the instructional objectives were attained, then determine the next step of your instruction. If the instructional objective was not obtained, then you must determine what you need to change, any additional materials required and if there is an inconsistency in the implementation of the instructional strategy. Occasionally, you might discover the instructional method you’re using needs to be broken down into a simple steps or that you need to teach a prerequisite skill prior to teaching a learning objective.

Systematic instruction is a great way to show that any student can learn. Educators are also responsible for breaking skills down to help students learn, no matter their challenges. Discovering and utilizing the power of systematic instruction can ensure that educators everywhere are helping students at every grade and le

Raising the Bar for Students with Disabilities: Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District

The Supreme Court ruling in the Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District case is now raising the bar for special education for the first time in decades. The unanimous decision, issued in favor of Endrew on March 22, clearly establishes that “a student offered an educational program providing ‘merely more than de minimis’ progress from year to year, can hardly be said to have been offered an education at all.”

The ruling came after the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on behalf of Endrew F., a child with an autism spectrum disorder and an attention deficit/hyperactive disorder, who received annual Individualized Education Programs in the Douglas County School District in Colorado. According to the case, Endrew’s school never effectively addressed his behavioral issues and as a result, he made little to no progress from year to year. In fifth grade, his parents withdrew him from the school in Douglas County and enrolled him in a private school. They immediately developed a behavioral intervention plan and Endrew has since made significant progress.

This case is important to schools and individuals who serve students with disabilities because it addresses a very grey area in the Individuals with Disabilities Act. The act offers states federal funding to assist in educating children with disabilities. Along with that funding, states must comply with statutory requirements that obligate them to provide every child a “free appropriate public education.” Until now, that level of education was interpreted by a 1982, Board of Education v. Rowley case, in which the Supreme Court determined that free appropriate education meant states only had to provide “some educational benefit” to students with disabilities who meet grade-level expectations.

Today, that thought process has changed. The Supreme Court’s ruling is sending a message that it is necessary for schools across the country to help students progress, no matter their challenges. Quality instruction and intervention is the expectation for students with disabilities and therefore, we cannot ignore or dismiss the need for IEPs and interventions to be reasonably calculated to ensure children make progress in light of their circumstances or disabilities.

Over time, we’ve seen that students with disabilities can and do learn with quality programming. With the right support, they can also make progress throughout their educational career and integrate into society by acquiring jobs and living meaningful adult lives. One of the growing expectations to accomplish this in special education is the need to utilize evidence-based practices. Endrew was placed at a school that utilized Applied Behavior Analysis as the basis of its intervention practice. ABA is a well-established evidence-based practice in education. For students to have the greatest opportunity to succeed, their educational plan or program must be proven effective. Rethink is committed to all children and educators having access to the professional development tools and resources necessary to deliver effective interventions. The intervention strategies contained within Rethink are both highly effective and evidence-based. Like the program that Endrew attended, ABA is the foundation of Rethink.

Endrew prevailed in this case because he made significantly more progress in his alternative school after regressing in the previous public school he attended. This progress was demonstrated through his behavioral intervention plan and through his private school’s ability to track his progress with quality data collection and analysis tools. As a result of this case, schools must now be prepared to demonstrate that every student is making more than de minimis progress. Progress monitoring, although required by IDEA, is an aspect of special education service delivery that teachers are often not able to implement with a high degree of fidelity. Rethink supports teachers to develop, implement and monitor instructional programs. It also helps them to feel confident monitoring progress in instruction to ensure that children are not just learning, but growing in their abilities to meet their educational goals. Educators can also use Rethink to monitor progress and adapt their intervention plans and strategies to confirm students are making more than de minimis progress to meet the Supreme Court’s expectations. While more support is still necessary for schools to serve students with special needs adequately, this ruling is certainly a step in the right direction. With hope, education will rise to the challenge and R

RethinkEd Spotlight Teacher of the Month: Tracy Shellooe

Position: Special Education Teacher                                                                                    District: Denver Public Schools, Denver, CO

Tracy Shellooe is a Special Education Teacher at Oakland Elementary in the Denver Public Schools in Denver, CO.  Oakland is one of 93 elementary schools in the district and is a Title I school with about 400 students and is what Ms. Shellooe describes as “a great school” with a team of professionals who “all work really hard to get students and families involved.”

Ms. Shellooe started her education career as a paraprofessional about 8 years ago where she worked in a worked in a high school.  She “fell in love with it and decided to go back to school to get (her) Master’s.”  She has been working with children with autism for 5 years now and is teaching a 1st through 5th grade class with 11 students. She has quite the range of abilities and developmental levels in her classroom.  She is a passionate teacher who loves her students and is motivated to be a big part of “helping them to gain a voice, help the kids grow reach their potential.”

Teaching such a large class with such a range of skills has “been a big challenge” particularly at the beginning of the year when the children must adjust to each other and the new learning environment. During this initial phase the educational team must also identify the areas of need for each student.  Ms. Shellooe has been using RethinkEd for 5 years and she relies on it heavily for tracking data in her classroom.  She uses it for herself, her paraprofessionals, and parents to “see which interventions are working.”  The Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence (ABC) data is one of her favorite pieces of the RethinkEd tool.  She states that the “ABC graphs are really great for (her) staff” and that the data “are really clear” to look at.  She bases a lot of her goals for her students based on RethinkEd goals.  She feels that “the wording is nice, and it makes it more cohesive when working on goals.”

In her classroom, they use a lot of the RethinkEd lesson plans as well as the data sheets and materials.  One specific lesson plan that she has used recently is one for tying shoes.  She likes how RethinkEd demonstrates how to start with hand over hand and then fade out prompts.  To help her paraprofessionals implement RethinkEd lesson plans, she has them watch the RethinkEd training modules and this helps them to increase their independence and help make the classroom run smoothly.

In Ms. Shellooe’s class, she has “really great parents” who are involved and work with her as a team on their child’s goals.  She uses the data and graphs from RethinkEd to show parents the progress that their child is making and what they need to work on.  She thinks that RethinkEd is particularly valuable for “setting up behavior plans with parents and being able to show them the graphs.”  She states that “it’s so much more visual for them” and some parents even “use it with home providers” or use it when “other evaluations are being done.”

The most important part of RethinkEd to Ms. Shellooe is the value that it brings to the students.  She has the children work in centers throughout the day and uses RethinkEd for many of the lesson plans.  She also engages children in RethinkEd directly by having them complete online lessons in the RethinkEd A
ctivity Center.  She says that the students “love it” and that these online activities allow them to work independently and keeps them engaged.  She likes how data is automatically collected and how the students “get excited because the system cheers them on.”  She also really likes the resources, such as the token boards, which seem to work well to motivate many students.

The system that “easy to navigate” and the time it saves for Ms. Shellooe is important to her, but, even more important is the improved quality of instruction and data collection that she sees directly benefiting her paraprofessionals, students, and parents.  RethinkEd has been “very helpful” for her and she is looking forward to continuing to use it with her students.