.Nameplate February 2013 Issue
Sidebar                                                      Page 22


Clarifying Expectations to

Overcome Resistance 



Susan Martinez
Most of the resistance I’ve encountered to fully including students with disabilities comes from staff members. Classroom teachers will refer students for special education because it means they will go “somewhere else.” To suggest that students with disabilities need to be taught in general education classes is upsetting to educators already faced with large classes of diverse students and increasing demands to improve achievement.

Special educators often are the most resistant to inclusion because their role is the one that changes the most. They are expected to exchange the security of their own classroom where they have worked with a small number of students for a flexible schedule serving students in several classes.

To build a more inclusive environment, special education teachers must master some new skills. They will need to learn how to create access to the general education curriculum, while working with a larger array of students and collaborating effectively with other adults.

Murky Goals
In the San Diego Unified Schools, much of the staff resistance stemmed from the lack of a clear expectation at the state or district level that schools honor the mandate of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to provide students with disabilities access to general education curricula and to similar-age peers. When the special education division is the only voice calling for less segregation of students with individualized education programs, it takes longer to make positive changes in the system.

Early on, we learned we had to be specific when we talked about including students with disabilities. During the first three years of our change efforts, I often heard, “Well, this inclusion stuff isn’t working, but Susan Martinez said that every student has to be in general education!” While repeatedly clarifying that I never said that, we began to focus on the “I” in IEP. The guiding question for each school-based team became this: How do we look at this individual student’s strengths, accurately assess his or her needs, and think carefully about where those needs can best be met?

Throughout the process, we have asked schools not to talk about “full inclusion,” because in this system, full inclusion has meant taking students with disabilities out of fully segregated settings and throwing them into general education classes. In either situation, thoughtful, individual planning for students as defined by the IEP process was not happening.

One of the main reasons why it is difficult to create inclusive schools is that it’s very thoughtful work. Teachers and administrators have to commit to thinking collaboratively through the challenges.

Schoolwide Benefits
Most site administrators are fluent in using individual student data to improve outcomes for general education students. We have encouraged administrators to use data similarly to benefit students with disabilities on their campus. They can see when students are not making progress in segregated day classes. They can see how students who are proficient in English language arts and math are placed sometimes in segregated settings because of behavior. When a building administrator looks at the data for all students, it creates a sense of ownership for the administrator and takes the mystery out of working with even those students with the most significant disabilities.

For the last four years, achievement of students with disabilities in San Diego Unified has improved after being flat for more than five years. Last year, special education students’ scores on the state’s standardized testing program were higher than for our students in general education. Not much higher, but higher!

At one elementary school, test-score gains last year by students with disabilities moved the school out of program improvement status. Staff credited most of the improvement to becoming more inclusive. They learned to make sound instructional decisions for every student, not just those with individualized education programs.

Susan Martinez retired in November as executive director of the special education division of the San Diego Unified Schools in San Diego, Calif. E-mail: susankmartinez@yahoo.com


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