Evaluating Special Education Reading Programs
By Lee Wilson
Two years ago, Miguel was an eighth-grade nonreader in the special education program of a large urban district in Florida. Historically, by the time they reached high school, students with intellectual disabilities like Miguel’s were channeled toward functional skills, while academic subjects such as reading became a lower priority.
One fundamental change No Child Left Behind (NCLB) introduced was to mandate accountability for teaching academics to students with special needs. Because these students are now tested and factored into Adequate Yearly Progress, schools have prioritized reading and math instruction in their special-needs classrooms.
At the same time, districts are not excused from covering functional living skills as part of students’ individualized education plans (IEPs). In a practical and legal sense, districts are obligated to provide academic and transition content for students like Miguel. The right solution is to teach academics using life skills as examples.
The great news is that many of these students can learn to read with the right approach and materials. Today, if you are lucky enough to meet Miguel on the street, or in the supermarket, he will show you the book he takes with him everywhere.
His success derives from three factors: the district’s commitment to teaching academic skills, the efforts of dedicated teachers and paraprofessionals, and a modern generation of reading programs designed for learners with intellectual disabilities.
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