As a speech-language pathologist and in my current role with Pearson Clinical Assessments — and as a parent — I’m encouraged by the beginnings of what I view as another significant shift in education. Specifically, I’m interested in the intertwining of general education and special education domains that we’re seeing today.
Undoubtedly, a fair amount of this reality has been driven by a multitude of state legislative initiatives, fueled by a groundswell of advocacy to do better screening of evidence-based characteristics of dyslexia. In addition, this “coming together” of general and special education is encouraged by a recognition that students and families are better served through cross-collaboration between professionals from all parts of the school environment. We need all hands to turn the U.S. reading story into a positive future.
Easing workloads while achieving more results
As every educator knows, professionals are coping with new hurdles in the school environment. Although I was trained decades ago with an individual and small group focus for primarily special education work, the challenge my colleagues and I face is to widen the aperture to a more holistic view, one that mirrors a typical general education perspective — whole classes, school systems, intervention/instruction for all.
Similarly, those in general education grapple with the opposite struggle: how to drill into certain segments of the curriculum and customize instruction for all, some, or a few students, rather than primarily considering the advancement of the entire class. You should hear the conversations I have with my lifelong friend, a kindergarten and first grade teacher, as we wrestle with these ideas together.
The good news? Both of these goals can be supported with the right data, which is one of the reasons we at Pearson advocate for universal screening, among other things. Yet, while it’s heartening to see great progress in support of this equitable approach, I have observed confusion and stress emerging from education teams in addressing “what’s next.”
Here’s the question we receive most often: After gaining the insight that comes from universal assessment, what is the best next step to ensure each child receives the right intervention and support?
There is something a little bit magical in districts that have turned to cross-functional, cross-departmental data meetings, during which the entire team looks at universal screening data together. We’ve observed that when they take this approach, they make better decisions and allocate resources more decisively, which has a measurable impact on improving student growth.
In those meetings, special education and general education meet in the middle, merging the perspectives of data from the broadest level of the student body population or entire class down to an individual or small group view. There’s tremendous value in bringing both ends of that continuum together. The results are palpably different in schools that see themselves as a team of professionals.
Collaborate across educational disciplines
I’ve experienced the benefits of breaking down these silos as a volunteer in my own children’s school, where I teach structured literacy word study classes with general education second- to fourth-graders twice a week.
While I focus on making a meaningful difference in that short time, I multiply the benefit by attending meetings with the classroom teacher where I can download what I’ve seen and seek input on how I can further support all the amazing things they do in the rest of the curriculum every day.
If the classroom teacher only has 20 minutes and I only have 20 minutes for a lesson, how can our work be complementary? We wrestle with the right problem-solving approach, with the goal of providing the most relevant instruction we can as a team, given the short amount of time we have to impact these students’ trajectories.
It’s a purposeful conversation, not only because I'm communicating about my core intervention with a specific group of students but also because it helps fulfill my aim of supporting the larger system of all student instruction. Together, we can determine the “what’s next” in every area — using all the data.
The right tools at the right time
This cooperative method also ensures that educators are using the right resources at the right time. Every school district has a suite of resources related to reading, writing, and spelling. Professional teams need to know which are related to dyslexia and struggling readers so they can tease out the questions they have about individual students or groups of students and identify the ideal intervention.
Reaching out to one of us at Pearson allows them to draw on our breadth and depth of measurement expertise and content across general and special education. Together, we can explore the categories of assessments that can help students show what they know and to ensure they receive the support they need. Whatever the workflow, we have a tool for it.
I also encourage the general education community to consider all the different roles — for example, educational diagnosticians, special education teachers, speech-language pathologists, and school psychologists — and to learn more about how these various functions interact to provide optimal development at every stage. By breaking down traditional educational silos and working together, we can do much more to help all our students achieve.
For more free resources and training, visit Pearson’s Dyslexia Resource Center here.