Combat the COVID slide for students with special needs.

As education begins to look past the challenges COVID has brought, schools find themselves needing to develop solutions to problems never seen on the scale they are currently experiencing. However, this does not mean history hasn’t provided a blueprint that can be tweaked to bring all students out of the COVID slide. Since the mid-1970s special education professionals have found success using a two-tiered approach to educating their students. For over four decades, this approach has effectively served students’ needs ranging from minimal to profound. Now, it most certainly can provide a blueprint for how to overcome the needs of any child.

Effective remedial/acceleration programs and instructional goals, or IEP goals in the case of an identified child, are central to the first tier, designed to improve the child’s skills and abilities. Teachers should work with parents and students to develop an understanding that the purpose of these programs is to support the student through their needs. Schools have specialized in the development of these types of programs. Systemically, RTII (Response to Instruction and Intervention) programs bring forward specific goals for each effort and intervention as data measures their outcome. While effective school-wide RTII programs provide a definitive framework for success, they are not necessary to achieve the goal. Schools can implement effective programs that are research-based and driven by data to verify success. The key rests in finding and supporting effective programs that accelerate the improvement of a child’s identified needs.

The second tier focuses on supporting the student around their needs so that they can learn and perform grade-level content. This tier takes place in the general education classroom and is firmly rooted in a planned, sequential, and often spiraled curriculum. Teachers should identify when a given need is causing a student to struggle and then plan ways to support the student around it. Think of a middle school student who struggles to take good notes while participating in a social studies class. Taking poor notes means the student isn’t doing well on tests and quizzes while also struggling to pay attention in class. This teacher can support the student around their writing need by providing the student with a word-for-word sentence fill-in, which permits them to record a few keywords to capture quality notes. This tier is achieved by implementing effective accommodations and modifications that should be selected and implemented based on the child’s individual needs in each unique learning environment. Action Driven Education has been working to support this tier through the development of Accomods, an interactive, online database of hundreds of accommodations and modifications designed to support teachers from selection through implementation of individualized student supports. We’ve discovered that by empowering teachers with the tools they need to implement the around mindset, we’ve effectively supported schools’ ability to implement the two-tiered approach.

This two-tiered, through and around approach has the capacity to accelerate the achievement of needs while maintaining a consistent pace of learning. It has worked for decades to meet the challenges of students with special needs; therefore, it lends its effective history to the current COVID challenge. As a special education teacher, I have experienced countless “ah-hah” moments where the two-tiers of student ability and grade-level content converge. Most importantly, it matches well with the routine of most schools, making it easy to implement while bringing familiar stability back to a system that has been rocked by challenges.