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Eighth grade teachers Allison Coomes and Renee Coghill teach mathematics together at Carroll County Middle School. On test day, Coghill works with some of the students in the classroom while Coomes works with others in the library, giving all students plenty of room so that they can concentrate on demonstrating their knowledge of basic algebra.
All students receive the same test and are expected to solve the same equations, plot the same points on a graph and draw the same slope; however, the students are not the same, and some need more tools than others to complete the test successfully.
Coomes, specializing in teaching students with disabilities, and Coghill, a general education teacher, are just one of many pairs of teachers in the Carroll County School District who team up to give students as many tools as possible to learn the content.
Based on newly-released data from the Kentucky Department of Education, Carroll County’s team-teaching is proving to be effective, as the school district ranks near the top third among 174 Kentucky school districts for the percentage of students with disabilities who scored proficient or distinguished on the 2010 Kentucky Core Content Test.
“All teachers, not just teachers of students with disabilities, have worked collaboratively to provide the best instructional practices in their classrooms,” said Sheila Anderson, director of exceptional children for the Carroll County School District.
Anderson said that 54.6 percent of students with disabilities scored proficient or distinguished in reading, and 49.1 percent reached proficiency in mathematics. Carroll County’s ranking of 62nd in reading and 64th in mathematics placed it ahead of all schools districts, except Anchorage Independent, in the Ohio Valley Educational Cooperative (OVEC), which also includes Oldham, Bullitt, West Port, Spencer, Shelby, Henry, Eminence, Trimble, Gallatin, Owen, Franklin, and Grant.
“We’re already getting phone calls from other school districts wanting to know what we’re doing in Carroll County,” Lisa James, superintendent of the Carroll County School District, said. “There’s no magic wand, just good instructional practices for all students.”
James said that because of requirements by the No Child Left Behind Act, all schools receiving federal Title I funds are required to hold all students, regardless or disability, ethnicity, race, or income status, to the same standard; however, schools and districts have to meet a different number of goals, depending on how many different groups they serve.
“We have worked very hard over the past several years with our disabilities population in order to make Annual Yearly Progress, according to the No Child Left Behind standards,” James said. “While some other districts can say they are making Annual Yearly Progress for meeting all of their goals, they often don’t have to meet as many goals as we do because they don’t have as many students with disabilities or as many students receiving free and reduced lunches.”
James pointed out that this is the first year in which the Kentucky Department of Education has released to the public the proficiency rates of students with disabilities for all 174 Kentucky school districts.
“Even though we are not where we want to be, which is all students reaching proficiency,” James said, “we are obviously making real and true progress, not only with our struggling students, but with all students.”
Anderson said that the key to effectively educating students with disabilities is looking at assessment results for each individual student, determining his or her needs, and everyone— not just special education teachers—working to teach the concepts in different ways to help the student to learn.
Each student who qualifies for special education services has an individual education plan, which include accommodations—strategies to help the student learn or demonstrate learning—such as additional time for taking tests, calculators to help with computation, outlines for organizing information, or cueing journals, which help cue or jog students’ memory so that they can recall the concepts they have learned.
Dana Oak, principal of Carroll County Middle School, said that the cueing journals have been very effective in reinforcing student learning. She said that each sixth grader who receives special education services gets a binder, which serves as the student’s cueing journal. The journal includes a list of key concepts that will be covered in the curriculum during the year. As students learn the concepts, they write notes, jot down examples, or draw pictures to help remind them about the concepts during assessments.
“Good instruction is good instruction whether it’s for students in general or students with special needs,” Bill Hogan, assistant superintendent for the Carroll County School District, said. “The techniques that special education teachers use to help students with disabilities to learn will help any student to learn better. Collaboration between special education and general education teachers is good for all students.”
Jeff Fremin is director of public relations for Carroll County Public Schools.