At the Center for Student Achievement Solutions, we help school leaders create strategies to improve student achievement. If you’re familiar with the achievement gap (also known as the equity gap), it may not surprise you to learn that students with disabilities often have far lower test scores than students without disabilities. One of the most effective strategies your school or district can use to improve overall student achievement is to provide differentiated and intervention support that special education students may need to improve their individual achievement. After all, a rising tide lifts all boats.
How COVID-19 Related School Closures Have Widened the Achievement/Equity Gap
When schools unexpectedly closed in the spring, special education students were disproportionately impacted by the sudden lack of services and resources. Many of these students experienced up to six months without individualized instruction or the supports required by their Individualized Education Programs (IEPs).
When schools began to close in March, news outlets like NPR reported on the challenges schools and districts faced as they tried to determine how they should continue serving special education students. Due to a lack of clarity about how the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) should be interpreted, school leaders were often left on their own to figure out how to provide equitable education and supports for students with special needs.
In a recent article, we offer recommendations about how to offer support as your special education students transition back into the school environment.
Students with Disabilities Test Scores Compared with Scores from Students Without Disabilities
Every other year, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) provides us with The Nation’s Report Card to demonstrate student achievement among various student populations. The most recent test results from 2017 show a distinct gap between math and reading scores for students with disabilities compared to those students without disabilities:
- Fourth-grade NAEP math scores for students with disabilities averaged 29 points lower than the scores of students without disabilities.
- In eighth grade, students with disabilities scored about 41 points lower in math than students without disabilities.
- Reading scores for fourth-grade students with disabilities averaged 40 points lower than the scores of those without disabilities.
- In eighth grade, students with disabilities earned scores 39 points lower in reading than their peers without disabilities.
5 Questions to Ask About Your Students
With this achievement/equity gap in mind, consider the following questions about your student body:
- How do special education students’ test scores measure up to those of the overall student body?
- What do these numbers tell you about your special education students, the instruction they receive, and the additional supports they need?
- Are your teachers providing standards-based instruction to all students?
- Are your teachers providing differentiation to address the diverse learning needs of special education students, including “invisible” needs?
- How did school closures in the spring impact your special education students’ learning and knowledge?
How to Promote Equity and Excellence for Special Education Students Moving Forward
As you make decisions about how to support teachers with continuing professional development this year, you must consider the unique needs of special education students in your school or district. We also recommend creating a backup plan in case your school must close again, and in case special education students need to quarantine at some point this year. This way, students with IEPs will have the support and resources they need through distance learning.
More broadly, our nation’s education system needs a paradigm shift. We must look at our goals and aspirations for education, which are summed up in phrases like “No Child Left Behind,” “Every Student Succeeds, and “All Means All.” We must build a system that has the capacity to deliver on the promise of equity and excellence in education for all of our students.
In a way, the coronavirus pandemic has been our equity check and call to action. The virus has reminded us of the inequities in our education system and the students most vulnerable when physical school buildings close. We now have the opportunity to reframe our idea of delivering an equitable education to all students, and we can’t overlook this opportunity in a misguided rush to restore the status quo.
Resources for Developing an Instructional Strategy Which Supports Students with Disabilities
Check out our selection of resources to help you craft an instructional strategy which promotes excellence for all students:
- CSAS offers expert support to help guide your planning. We develop customized professional development plans based on your students’ test data, your perceived needs, and your school or district’s distinct culture. Schedule a free call with us today to talk about how we can partner with your leadership team to support equity and excellence at your school.
- Educating All Learners — Educating All Learners has compiled a resource library to help your school develop lessons which are accessible for all students during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Council for Exceptional Children — The CEC also has compiled a library of resources to help you decide the best means to provide services to your students.
- Our blog — Every week, we post a new article to help your school or district close the equity gap.