Spokane Public Schools is increasing efforts to make schools more inclusive for special education students.
On Wednesday night, the district will update school board members on its effort to improve performance in an area that was criticized four years ago by a national consulting firm.
The plan, part of the district’s Priority Plan for 2021-22, is to “prioritize resources and training to ensure high levels of inclusion for students with disabilities.”
The goal, with a target date of June 2024, is to have at least 80% of students receiving special education services to be included in some general education classes during at least 80% of the school week.
That’s harder than it sounds, but through better training, it’s possible.
“It’s important … to realize that special education students are first and foremost general education students,” said Becky Ramsey, director of special education for the district.
Ramsey said the district’s efforts will include fostering better communication between general and special education teachers.
According to a national study released this week by the Center for Reinventing Public Education, more than 45% of high school teachers and between 30 and 35% of middle and elementary school teachers said they had never collaborated on lesson planning.
That might have been because only about a third of general classroom teachers said they see themselves as primarily responsible for accommodating their special education students’ needs, despite the fact that these students are typically educated alongside their peers who aren’t receiving services
That collaboration, Ramsey believes, would have helped teachers gain important information about students and strategies on how to best meet their needs during the pandemic when special education students were struggling.
“All kids should have access to core content,” Ramsey said.
Spokane elementary schools were doing well – with a 77% inclusion average – even before the Urban Collaborative Report was shared with district officials in 2017.
Secondary schools were lagging, however, and still are. According to district documents, fewer than half of middle- and high-school special education students were in a “least restrictive environment” (LRE) for at least 80% of the school day.
Intentionality is important, said Ramsey, who noted that a few years ago, Chase Middle School had one of the worst LREs in the state at 25%.
“Now they’re up to 60%, but it takes a lot of work,” Ramsey said.
Even before the pandemic, only one in five teachers felt “very well prepared” to teach students with mild-to-moderate learning disabilities, according to a May 2019 survey of 1,350 teachers by the National Center for Learning Disabilities and Understood.org.
The issue is critical, according to national experts and studies, which show that children with special education needs who are in inclusive classes are absent less often. Moreover, they tend to develop stronger skills in reading and math, and are more likely to have jobs and pursue education after high school.