Programs for Special Education are on the Rise
With the rapid increase in programs and special education curriculum options now available, how do you find the best solution for you, your staff, and your students? In our on-demand webinar, How to Access Federal American Rescue Plan (ARP) Funds for Special Education,” Charlette McRay Green addresses this question. She highlights many of the challenges that accompany introducing a new special education program into one’s school or district. Green’s advice covers how to determine what you need from a special education curriculum, how to identify programs that meets those needs, and how to pre-test a program before you buy it.
Green serves as Executive Director of 504 and Special Education for the Cherokee County School District in Canton, Georgia. A former past president of the Georgia Council of Administrators of Special Education, Green has also worked for the Georgia Department of Education as an education program specialist. She is an ASHA Fellow and a Board-Certified Specialist in Child Language.
Know What You Need From a Special Education Curriculum
Green highlights four chronic challenges in special education: academic learning loss, student social-emotional needs, lack of time, and staff retention. Although these challenges are numerous, the COVID-19 federal stimulus funding can help support new programs and initiatives to address them.
The right special education curriculum can help address each of the chronic problems, Green explains. Learning loss, exacerbated over the past year by remote learning and disruption of services, is especially concerning for children with special needs. A portion of COVID-19 stimulus funding must be reserved for programs and interventions addressing learning loss. Especially in light of the stress caused by the pandemic, it’s essential to prioritize students’ social-emotional needs and basic mental health before challenging students academically. Teachers may require special training or materials for this purpose.
Lack of time and staff retention are closely tied. From instruction to assessment to paperwork, educators often report feeling overloaded by demands, and the pandemic has only made the situation worse. Many districts are reporting a shortage of educators and mental health professionals. The right special education programs and technology can support staff by making their workloads easier, more efficient, and more streamlined.
Perform An In-Depth Data Review
When researching a special education curriculum, it’s important to identify what you need before looking at what specific programs offer. Green suggests starting with an in-depth data review.
- Gather all of the information you can about student performance and try to identify any measures — or gaps — that might indicate a need. Keep in mind that some students were on virtual instruction and that some may not have taken the typical end-of-year assessments. Consider using benchmark assessments when students return in the fall.
- Pull usage reports and take a full inventory of the special education equipment, technologies, programs, and other resources currently available to you. Are programs being used? If they are underutilized or aren’t being used at all, try to figure out why. Is it because a special education program isn’t user-friendly or because the staff isn’t trained in how to use it? Are there areas of need that are going unaddressed?
- Solicit feedback from teachers and students. Ask teachers about the programs and technology that have been working well. Ask them for a wishlist of features they’d like to see in a program. Be sure to seek out student input as well: what they like or dislike about existing programs, what they find most interesting, and what is boring or out of date. Students are a valuable, often under-utilized source of insight.
Choose the Best Curriculum for Special Education
After you have gathered your data, it’s time to review your options for special education programs. There are several resources for finding and assessing a good curriculum for special education. One of the best things you can do is seek out advice from colleagues. In addition to that, here are some helpful websites that provide research and evidence-based insights on programs
- What Works Clearinghouse
- Intervention Central
- The CEEDAR Center at the University of Florida
- IDEAS That Work Tool Kits
Determine if trying new technology is right for you. New technology can be intimidating and usually involves a learning curve, but in the end, it can pay off by considerably increasing efficiency and effectiveness. Find options that can be easily integrated with current district programs and that use a single sign-on. Technology that incorporates artificial intelligence (AI) is useful because it can tailor interventions for individual students according to their needs. AI can increase efficiency by optimizing routine processes, like pulling information automatically so that specialists don’t have to input the same information across multiple programs. AI can also save time by streamlining documentation and data collection. Keep in mind that to use COVID-19 stimulus funds for education programs, the programs must be evidence-based.
Test a Special Education Program Before You Buy
Green suggests that you run a pilot test before making a large purchase for your school district, and says that many vendors will allow you to try out programs in this way. She recommends that you work closely with your finance office throughout this process. Explain the need for a new program and back it up with student data. Good communications can help enlist support with the purchase once the pilot test has been completed. Additionally, make sure that you find a program and a vendor that offers embedded and targeted professional development and support.
Once you’ve found a program, choose your testing group wisely (i.e., by selecting enthusiastic teachers who will try hard to make the program work) and prepare for the test. Then, run the test, collect data, and analyze the results.
Address Long-Standing Challenges
The pandemic has created many new challenges for special education. At the same time, there are many new special education curriculum options for approaching these challenges in diverse, innovative ways. Thanks to the funding made available from the COVID-19 stimulus bills, these solutions are now more affordable.
Do you have questions about ways that a special education curriculum can help your district? Schedule a personalized product demonstration that takes your unique challenges into consideration today.