As a part of the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act requirement, Blair will expand the inclusion of special education students in general education classes beginning with next year's freshman class.
NCLB regulations require students to be taught by "high quality teachers" - defined as teachers who are certified by the state in the subject area they teach - according to Virginia Ross, supervisor of the MCPS Division of School Based Special Education Services for the Blair cluster. Ross explained that a number of special education teachers are only certified to teach special education and not the core subjects of math, English, science and social studies.
To assure that special education students receive instruction from high quality teachers, all of the classes in which they will be included will have two teachers: one content teacher and one special education teacher or specialist. These classes will be co-taught, where both teachers will conduct the class, explained Ross.
Ninth-grade English and history will be added to the inclusion program next year. Inclusion began this year in one section of Biology, two years ago for Algebra and four years ago for Geometry. Biology will be expanded to two sections next year, and each class will contain about six or seven special education students, according to Special Education department director Lisa Davisson.
Blair's inclusion program is part of a national trend that is emphasizing the integration of special education students with the rest of the school. Montgomery County was ranked as the fourth worst in the state for implementing the "least restrictive environment" for special education students, according to the Maryland State Department of Education. Special education advocate and parent of two special education students, Bob Astrove, attributed this to the size of the county as well as economic reasons, since it is less expensive to have self-contained classes than to correctly implement inclusion. However, within the high schools in Montgomery County, "Blair is leading the pack," said Davisson.
For decades, Blair special education students have been included in art, music and foreign language classes, and thus far, Davisson is pleased with the success of these classes.
The purpose of inclusion is to benefit special education students both academically and socially. Through integrated classrooms, special education students will have the opportunity to interact with a wider population, said Gwendolyn Mason, Director of the MCPS Division of School Based Special Education Services.
However, parents of special education students and activists stress that inclusion should be implemented on an individual basis because it does not benefit every kind of disabled student. "[The school] is forcing us with inclusion, and it is not open to accommodating," said Jeanne Taylor, parent of three elementary school special education students, one of whom is struggling with the program.
To ensure that inclusion is tailored to each individual student's needs, all students who are in special education have an annual review meeting where an Individualized Educational Plan is developed. At the meeting, the students' prospects of success in inclusion are carefully determined, including which classes they should take and what supports should be put in place so that they can be successful in the least restrictive environment, according to Davisson.
Teachers who will be co-teaching next year have begun training on teaching strategies. The training sessions, conducted by professionals in the field of co-teaching and from the county, focus on the needs of special education students. These strategies included methods of running the classroom; identifying when a student is not being successful; functioning with two adults in the room; and learning the needs of the students. Both special education students and the general population will benefit from co-teaching because the student-to-teacher ratio will decrease and two teachers will be constantly available to help the entire class, said Davisson.
Middle schools countywide have already begun the inclusion program. Isolating these students once they arrive in high school is a poor decision, said English resource teacher Vickie Adamson.
Kristi Chakrabarti. Kristi Chakrabarti is finally a Magnet senior who is obsessed with basketball and is a die-hard Wizards fan. When she is not religiously following the NBA, she enjoys playing tennis and reading. Her favorite TV shows are Friends and ER and her favorite food is … More »