skip to content | CalSTAT

CalSTAT Technical Assistance and Training

IDEAS that Work!California Department of Education, Special Education Division’s special project, California Services for Technical Assistance and Training (CalSTAT) is funded through a contract with the Napa County Office of Education. CalSTAT is partially funded from federal funds, State Grants #H027A080116A. Additional federal funds are provided from a federal competitively awarded State Personnel Development Grant to California (#H323A070011) provided from the U.S. Department of Education Part D of the Individuals with Disabilities Education act (IDEA). Opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of the U. S. Department of Education.

The Special EDge

Winter/Spring 2008 Volume 21, Number 2

Topic: Closing the Achievement Gap

Article List:

Closing the Achievement Gap

Mustering “Urgent Patience” for Student Success

In November 2007, California’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell sponsored an Achievement Gap Summit, which, if attendance is any monitor, was a resounding success. Over 4,000 educators, parents, and business leaders from 52 of the state’s 58 counties filled the halls of the Sacramento Convention Center. In his opening address, O’Connell welcomed the attendees with “trepidation” because what is at stake is what he believes to be “the most intractable issue facing us in public education: a systemic and persistent achievement gap that really does hold far too many of our students back.” While acknowledging impressive effort and commitment among the state’s educators and policymakers to successfully educate all of California’s students, O’Connell said that these efforts have not worked to close the existing achievement gap; “nor is [that gap] solely based on poverty. We have a racial achievement gap, as well. Our test scores show that our average African American students and our Latino students who are not poor are achieving below the levels of white students who are in fact poor.”

He challenged the thousands of Californians present to “identify and eliminate those things that are holding groups of students back . . . .We simply cannot allow another generation of students to grow up with this persistent achievement gap.”

Along with trepidation, O’Connell also claimed excitement and optimism at the possibilities represented by the people at the summit who are interested in the problem and determined to successfully “identify and eliminate” the root causes of this gap. He insisted that “we must do this with a sense of urgency . . . . Closing the gap is not just a moral imperative, it’s not just a social imperative. Today it’s an economic imperative, as well.”

O’Connell cautioned that “closing the achievement gap will involve long, hard, often uncomfortable work. And it will cause many of us to change not only practices, but also our own personal beliefs. We’re calling for nothing short of a true culture change. . . .
So we ask for almost the impossible. We also ask for urgent patience:” the urgency to implement and embrace the new and challenging approaches and programs that will be required
to effectively close those existing
gaps in achievement; and the patience to allow these programs time to mature and become part of an effective system. “Our goal,” he said, “is to develop, maintain, and sustain a plan for what the state can do differently—a plan that holds us accountable for creating the conditions that are going to be necessary for closing the achievement gap.”

This issue of The Special EDge reports on those events from this summit that focused specifically on issues related to students who receive special education services, and on how educators and policymakers can close the achievement gap for children with disabilities. 

Letter from the State Director

by Mary Hudler, Director, California Department of Education, Special Education Division

In his 2008 annual State of Education Address, State
Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell
unveiled an ambitious and comprehensive plan aimed at closing the achievement gap, which persists for many students in California, including students with disabilities. This plan is encompassed in the publication Closing the Achievement Gap: Report of Superintendent Jack O’Connell’s California P–16 Council, which was released during the Superintendent’s presentation. A year earlier, the Superintendent had directed his P–16 Council, a statewide assemblage of education, business, and community leaders, to examine strategies for closing this gap. The Council’s work was rooted in four major themes, from which 14 recommendations were generated on the basis of research that the Council and its partners conducted and which are discussed in detail in the report.

Theme 1. Access: The extent to which all students have equitable access to basic conditions, such as qualified, effective teachers; rigorous curriculum based on the state academic content standards; “safety nets”; and accelerated interventions. The recommendations of Theme 1 involve (1) providing high-quality prekindergarten programs; (2) better aligning educational systems from prekindergarten to college; and (3) developing partnerships to close the achievement gap.

Theme 2. Culture and Climate: The extent to which the learning environment is safe, promotes a sense of belonging, and fosters strong, positive relationships among students, among school staff, and between the school and home/community. The recommendations of Theme 2 call for (4) providing culturally relevant professional development for all school personnel; and (5) conducting a climate survey.

Theme 3. Expectations: The extent to which a culture of excellence exists for students and adults alike, so that a common, high standard is the norm for all students, and getting all of them to meet those high standards is a responsibility embraced by the school community. The recommendations of Theme 3 involve (6) augmenting the accountability system; (7) modeling rigor; (8) focusing on academic rigor; and (9) improving the awards system.

Theme 4. Strategies: The extent to which evidence-based or promising teaching, leadership, and organizational practices are employed by practitioners at all
levels in such areas as delivery of standards-aligned instructional programs, standards of professional practice, needs-based allocation of resources, collegial accountability and collaboration, articulation across grade spans, and leadership development. The recommendations of Theme 4 include (10) creating a robust information system; (11) providing professional development on the use of data; (12) sharing successful practices; (13) fully implementing the California K–12 High-Speed Network; and (14) creating opportunities for school district flexibility.

Closing the achievement gap will be a long-term effort by all involved! For an online copy of Jack O’Connell’s report on closing the achievement gap, go to and click on the link to the report. For more information on Superintendent O’Connell’s Closing the Achievement Gap initiative, go to

Keynote Speaker Douglas Reeves Promises “No Hot New Thing”

“You Know What to Do, Teachers. Now Do It.”

Dr. Douglas Reeves doesn’t take himself too seriously. In fact, he’ll be the first to call himself an “ivory-tower residing, bow-tie wearing, Volvo driving, NPR supporting, Yankee New Englander.” But Dr. Reeves takes education very seriously. As the keynote speaker at California’s Achievement Gap Summit, he performed the speaker’s equivalent of coming out with both guns blasting: he insisted that his audience members already knew what they needed to do
to close the achievement gap—they just weren’t doing enough of it.

While giving deep bows to the work of Robert Marzano, Linda Darling-Hammond, and others who have offered great strategies and approaches to instruction, Reeves asked whether these were actually being implemented. “In the real world of the classroom, it’s critical mass that matters,” said Reeves. “The good news is that there are no new ideas about effective instruction; we already know what to do. The bad news is that effective instruction isn’t going to make a difference unless 90 percent of the faculty are doing it.”

He refused to see the achievement gap as intractable. Using study after study to support his point, he insisted that what works is “deep implementation” of a few key instructional strategies. This approach, he said, is more effective than superficial implementation of a wide variety of strategies, and it cuts through a school’s setting and a student’s background—“no matter whether rural or urban, rich or poor, black or brown or white or whatever.” Deep implementation, he insisted, will predictably narrow the achievement gap.

In his career as an educator and researcher, Reeves has studied “over 800 variables and their relationship to student achievement.” He went on to list a number of those strategies that his research shows to be worth “implementing deeply.”

Strategies at the Classroom Level

Writing and note-taking

In his research, Reeves has found that nonfiction writing, including note-taking, is “consistently and profoundly related to student achievement.” This is true not just in English/language arts classes, but also in mathematics, science, and the arts. “Nonfiction writing is one of the most powerful things we can do. . . . The most successful schools have 90 percent of their faculty fully, consistently, and over time implementing this strategy. . . . Those who go to the same workshops and fail to implement, also fail to see student achievement.”

Recognizing student achievement

“Some people say you ought not to [recognize achievement] because it will take away motivation. But there is not a school [represented by the people]
in this room that doesn’t have a trophy case. People in this country don’t have any problem with recognition. It’s
just that we chose to recognize some things and we don’t recognize others. And when we recognize academic achievement, we see dramatically better student results.”

Engaging classroom environments

Reeves encouraged teachers at all levels to display exemplary student work, learning standards, and clear objectives for every lesson. “Schools that do these things with 90 percent of the faculty committed to doing it have dramatically better results.”

Deep questioning

“Deep questioning”—also called “the big question” or “the essential question”—is an open-ended inquiry that typically has more than one right answer. And any answer is not obvious; it demands a thoughtful response; and it often cuts to the root of the issue in question. Citing the work of Robert Marzano, Reeves explained that “enquiring into ‘essential questions’ gives teaching a purposeful, meaningful, and ‘big picture’ focus for learning details and ideas, [and] it engages higher mental and emotional capacities.” When educational activities and assignments encourage “deep questioning,” they also encourage the development of skills in critical analysis and problem solving. Were a teacher to pose the following question to a science or health class, “What are my chances of getting Alzheimer’s disease and what can I do about it?” that teacher is using the strategy of deep questioning.

Numerous times throughout his address, Reeves emphasized the importance of engaging in these proven activities every day: “Engaging your students with demonstrated, effective teaching practices every day produces significantly better results.”

Strategies at the School Level

Aligning standards, curriculum, and instruction

Aligning standards, curriculum, and instruction “sounds so old fashioned; so boring. So effective,” quipped Reeves. Essentially, he asked educators to “test what they teach.” According to his research, aligning curriculum, instruction, and assessment is something that successful schools do. He added that “when I studied reading and science and math, the magnitude of the impact [of these alignment practices] was highest in science.”

Assigning teachers based on need

Reeves has observed a mismatch across the country: schools are putting new, inexperienced, and often under qualified teachers in classrooms with the neediest and most at-risk students, while the most experienced and talented teachers find themselves in classrooms with the most motivated and talented students—who are also easiest to teach. “When teacher assignments are made based on the needs of the students as opposed to personal preference, experience, and tradition, the data shows that it makes a huge difference. In the area of science, for example, we see scores tripling when teachers are assigned on the basis of student need.”

Modeling, mentoring, and monitoring

Insisting that “the burden is not
just on administration, but it’s on us [as teachers],” Reeves notes that successful schools employ modeling, mentoring, and professional learning communities “every single week.” He implored teachers and administrators to support and mentor each other, and to “monitor what the adults are doing
as carefully as you monitor what the kids are doing.”

Though Reeves joked that he could “go publish this in The Journal of Incredibly Obvious Results,” he went on to explain that all of these “strategies aren’t worth a hoot if we don’t implement them. So what the new evidence says is not to go out and do the next, new thing. The new evidence says to challenge your colleagues when they say ‘we already do that’ or ‘we already have that.’ I haven’t given you one hot new deal. Go back home and have deeper implementation of what you know works.”

School Culture

Reeves stressed the importance of creating a healthy school culture, particularly one that consciously creates a positive environment for both students and teachers. He argued that grading should not be a “system of toxic feedback to students.” He suggested that, if students are missing work, “give them a penalty . . . that motivates them to get the work done,” an incentive—and not a zero. He proposed that “we start using the best representation of student work,” not an “average,” to determine a final grade. He also advocated positive feedback to teachers, and encouraged those administrators who evaluate teachers to set about creating “a better learning environment” as the primary goal of their teacher evaluations. “Let’s have people stay for an hour [in your classroom] and tell you what’s right.”

He then talked about student attitudes toward school. According to his research, students value academic achievement in the first four grades, regardless of race or socioeconomic status. But, “by seventh grade it was choked right out of them. . . . What happened between second and seventh grade?” Reeves thinks it may have something to do with the culture of the classroom. “You walk into any second grade classroom and you walk into a temple of student achievement. You see student work all over the wall; you find author’s corners; you see science exhibits flowing out the door and down the hall.” He said this attention to student work can often be seen through third and fourth grades. “But by secondary school, what’s on the wall is maybe some rules, maybe a trophy case.” He encouraged all teachers at all levels to create in their classrooms “temples of student achievement.”

Reeves especially encouraged teachers and administrators not to let the school schedule hamper their efforts to improve education. “Change schedules, if necessary, despite unions or parents. Successful schools put learning first and overcome obstacles that may at first glance look intractable.”

He advised teachers to learn from those athletic coaches who carefully study the Friday night game films and have their practice plans readjusted by Monday afternoon—they willingly change their coaching (i.e., “instructional approach”) to make up for any deficiencies they see when they view the films and the game statistics (i.e., “performance data”). According to Reeves, coaches think nothing of changing the schedule, adding extra practices, doing whatever they need to do to improve what they truly value. “Committed coaches make data-informed decisions all the time,” Reeves said, as he encouraged educators to create a culture that takes academics as seriously as it takes athletics.

Reeves challenged his listeners on many fronts and suggested numerous strategies for closing the achievement gap. When he concluded his presentation, the applause he garnered suggested that many attendees would be happy to be on his team.

For an overview of Robert Marzano’s “high-yield strategies” for teachers, go to scape_HY_catalog.pdf

“Just What Did You Expect?”

Students with Disabilities and the Achievement Gap

Rachel Quenemoen applauds California’s educators for “leading the charge to bring together people to think about the achievement gap.” She believes that all children who are caught on the wrong side of this gap have much in common. But she insists that “what’s unique for kids in special ed. still seems to be the public acceptance for children with disabilities to have lower achievement levels because ‘they have disabilities.’” She challenges this thinking, and offers good reason for doing so.

According to Quenemoen, the vast majority of children who receive special education services—85 percent—do not have a cognitive disability, and thus do have the capacity to achieve academically to grade-level standards. She even challenges what she considers to be “common thinking” about the remaining 15 percent—those children with cognitive disabilities.1 She suggests that most of these children also “can learn grade-level content.”

The fact that so few children with disabilities do meet grade-level standards, she believes, is a systems issue. “We have to take a stand. In a country that has followed special education status with money, labels have become how we drive our support services for kids who need extra help. And the danger . . . is that labels become their destiny.” She cites “a strong body of research literature in education on the effect of teacher expectations on student achievement” and how those expectations are communicated (often referred to as the “Pygmalion” effect). She cautions against using “labels to define what a child could or should learn” and called on all educators to “reconsider whether you’re expecting too little from students.”

According to Quenemoen, “If we can set high standards both for what kids should learn and how well they should learn it in our schools, and we systematically instruct all students in that content toward those achievement targets, and we hold the adults in the systems accountable for that to happen, we can help children be more successful than ever before.”

Stuff in the Middle

“Stuff in the middle” is what Quenemoen calls the many systems-related elements that she believes have a significant impact on the success of students with disabilities: schedules, the place of instruction, the instruction itself, the amount of time teachers spend with students, the curriculum (and whether or not it is based on high standards), and methods of assessment. She suggests that, if the achievement gap for students with disabilities is going to close, these things might need to change.

But, she cautioned, “the only principals or superintendents I ever saw fired were those who tried to monkey with that stuff in the middle—the nature of the school day, the way you cluster classes. You change those things and you’re going to get in trouble with your community. They expect schools to look a certain way.”

But how, then, do you make those important changes?

Legal Mandates

Both the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) are mandating important changes to that “stuff in the middle.” Quenemoen sees NCLB and IDEA as working in concert, especially since the reauthorization of IDEA in 1997, with its emphasis on increased access to the general education curriculum for students with disabilities, its raised expectations, and its insistence on improved results.

Throughout the various reauthorizations of IDEA, Quenemoen says, “the precise meaning of the law was not always clear. In 2004, the reauthorization clarified that ‘the same challenging content and expectations that apply to all other students in that state [apply to students with disabilities]’ . . . And many people all over the country are still surprised when I tell them that.” She faults in part the preservice curriculum that is currently in place for special educators in many colleges and universities. To counter inadequate preparation, she encourages teachers to know the law so that they can better understand the degree to which their students who receive special education services should have those services tailored to help them “go over, around, or through their disability to get to the grade-level content.”

Quenemoen encourages educators to read three documents that are available online. The first clearly displays how NCLB and IDEA are aligned on the issue of assessment: NCLB and IDEA: What Parents of Students with Disabilities Need to Know & Do ( linePubs/Parents.pdf). The second explains the new policy initiative for the modified achievement standards: Alternate Assessments Based on Modified Academic Achievement Standard ( Pubs/LearningOpportunities.pdf).

Quenemoen quoted a prominent lawyer in disabilities rights after the 1997 reauthorization of IDEA: “Children with disabilities have the right to a program designed to help them meet the same high standards expected for all children. The IEP should spell out how this child’s special needs should be addressed so that they do not pose a barrier to reaching those standards.
. . . An IEP that sets lower goals and does not focus on these standards is usually illegal.”

She calls for every school to ensure that every child has the services necessary “to get him to the challenging curriculum.” Acknowledging that individual teachers can’t reform the entire system, she directs administrators again to “that stuff in the middle.”

Systems-level Change

Quenemoen referred to a large-scale case study, completed in 2004 by the Donahue Institute at the University of Massachusetts.2 The study examines the progress of students with disabilities in certain schools, and it shows these students surpassing academic expectations. “They were seeing a dramatic closing of the achievement gap. Urban districts and schools were seeing better-than-expected achievement among students with disabilities.” Quenemoen pointed out that “These schools displayed eleven characteristics that were amazingly consistent with studies of other schools that were closing the achievement gap for other kinds of students who historically struggle in schools: African Americans, Hispanics [and] disadvantaged kids of all kinds.”

The eleven characteristics of schools with high-achieving students with disabilities are as follow:

  1. A pervasive emphasis on curriculum alignment with the state framework.
  2. Systems to support curriculum alignment. There were “people present in the school whose job it was to support fidelity of implementation; to help teachers who had never done standards-based instruction.” Since “it is not always easy to teach to standards, [there needs to be] people whose job it is to make sure it is happening and to support teachers in knowing how to do it.”
  3. An emphasis on inclusion and access to the general education curriculum. The schools carefully planned “how kids were included in the content. Students were included in meaningful ways in a community of students their own age, and special ed. teachers worked with general ed. teachers who knew the content.” Quenemoen explained: “If you want a kid with disabilities to learn algebra, get him to a teacher who knows algebra.”
  4. Culture and practices that support high standards and students achievement. Everyone at these schools, from bus drivers and cooks to teachers and superintendents, is on the same page. All adults were there to “help every child learn—and learn to high levels.”
  5. Well-disciplined academic and social environments. These schools expected the students to behave and had systematic, school-wide approaches for ensuring appropriate behavior. With proactive behavioral management techniques, students were not behaving in ways that interfered with their own learning—or anyone else’s.
  6. The use of student assessment data to inform decision making. These schools “didn’t rely on large-scale, state-wide assessments to get their data. They used formative assessments; their teachers talked about data and about student work.”
  7. Unified practice supported by targeted professional development. These schools had mentoring systems in place to help teachers implement the programs, strategies, and approaches they had learned.
  8. Access to targeted resources to support key initiatives. These schools “used their data to figure out where things were working and where they were not. They developed their training and their support to coach people so that [their own] problem areas could be addressed.”
  9. Effective staff recruitment, retention, and deployment.
  10. Flexible leaders and staff working effectively in a dynamic environment. The leaders in these schools “welcome change.”
  11. The determination that effective leadership is essential to success.

Quenomoen believes that these eleven characteristics present no surprises. “They appear in all of the literature about effective schools. We know how to help kids achieve to high levels. But sometimes we put kids with disabilities out of that equation.” This study, unique in its focus on students with disabilities, shows that these students benefit from the exact same things that benefit students without disabilities.

Assessment and Instruction

Quenemoen insists that large-scale assessments “should be a very, very tiny part of the data you use to improve teaching and learning for an individual student, for a classroom.” They are designed for a broad application: “for use at the whole-school, district, and state level.” She insists that “to find out how to teach Johnny or Johnny’s class, [it is] better to use formative assessments3 or other classroom data. Not large-scale assessments.”

But she believes that “if you have kids who are far behind,” the only way to successfully address the problem is “through systematic changes and interventions. Universal preschool and RtI (Response to Intervention) [are] systematic ways of preventing problems before the kids get so far behind that things look hopeless. And if you feel hopeless, think how the kids must feel. . . . In the past what has happened, especially for kids with disabilities, when they didn’t pass the high standards that we expected all kids to achieve, we lowered the standards, rather than change the stuff in the middle.”

She urges administrators and teachers to remember that “the solution to kids feeling bad about not knowing what their peers know isn’t to give them easier material. Just because learning is a challenge for students doesn’t mean we should leave them behind. If a student is performing poorly on a test, but [the] student has not been taught what is on the test, the solution is not to lower the standards of the test. Teach them first.”

  1. See Expectations for Children with Cognitive Disabilities: Is the Cup Half Empty or Half Full? Can the Cup Flow Over? at

  2. An executive summary of “A Study of MCAS Achievement and Promising Practices in Urban Special Education,” is available at

  3. A formative assessment is an evaluation that seeks to discover “where a student is” so that instruction can be shaped, or “formed,” to fit the student’s needs. This kind of assessment is typically not graded. Teachers use the results of a formative assessment to design courses and curriculum that are based on the specific needs of the students.

Helping Students with Disabilities Realize Their Academic Potential

Supports + Accommodations = Achievement2

The California Department of Education is working in numerous ways to close the achievement gap for students with disabilities. One specific effort, which involves a collaboration with the California Comprehensive Center at WestEd, consists of collecting information and resources that help educators and parents make decisions about accommodations during instruction and assessment, and then monitoring the effectiveness of the accommodations. The presentation at the Achievement Gap Summit that discussed this effort focused primarily on “accommodations during instruction” because, according to presenter Jill Larson, “there’s no point in having assessment if there hasn’t been effective instruction.” The entire presentation was framed around the following principles:

  1. Special education is a service, not a place.
  2. Special educators and general educators work collaboratively to teach all students.
  3. All students are general education students first.
  4. All students are entitled to access to the core curriculum.
  5. All students can learn.
  6. Setting high expectations for all students and engaging all learners is essential.

In presenter Pam McCabe’s words, the purpose of supports and accommodations is to “provide access to instruction and assessment and reduce or eliminate the disability’s affects on learning.”

McCabe defined instructional, or classroom, accommodations as “changes made by classroom teachers or other school staff to enable students to benefit from their educational program.” She went on to define the verb “to support” as simply “to assist or help.” Supports are those things that help a student with disabilities to be successful in a general education classroom. Accommodations, then, are a form of support. Unlike accommodations, supports also might be provided to the teacher to help the student be successful in the general education classroom. Supports might consist of personnel, adapted materials, equipment, or technology that is either low-tech or high-tech. Ultimately, supports provide access to instruction and assessment and serve to reduce or eliminate the effect of a disability.


Although schools are mandated to provide the necessary accommodations for students with disabilities—as identified through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and through Section 504 (a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities)—any struggling learner can benefit from accommodations. According to Larson, accommodations can be very useful for “the 1.5 million English learners in California’s school system.” These students “also benefit from different kinds of supports, as do Title I students. Ultimately, supports and accommodations provide access to instruction
and the core curriculum—they are a critical component of a standards-based system.”

Finding the Right Accommodation

Selecting accommodations that work for an individual is a five-step process:

  1. Identify the student’s strengths, abilities, preferences, and areas identified for improvement.
  2. Identify what exactly it is that you want the student to be able to do or learn.
  3. With a group of people who have an investment in the academic success of the child (the IEP team or the 504 team, for example), brainstorm possible supports and accommodations.
  4. Try the accommodations and supports out in the real world of the classroom.
  5. Identify what works through a process of monitoring, adjusting, and evaluating the success of the efforts.

For any accommodation to be effective, the student for whom the accommodation is chosen must be a willing participant, according to McCabe. She insisted that there are four key components to student involvement and “buy-in that will determine the success of any accommodation”:

  1. The student needs to be willing to use the accommodation.
  2. The student needs to perceive the accommodation as valuable and effective.
  3. The student needs opportunities for learning which accommodations are most effective for him and how and when to use them.
  4. And finally, students with disabilities need to learn how to advocate for themselves in settings beyond school—they need to be able to ask for those supports and accommodations that help them perform successfully at home, in the community, and in the workplace. This kind of self-advocacy is critical to helping any child become independent.

Parent involvement* is also a critical part of any effort to shape and implement a plan of effective accommodations and supports for a student. A parent is the child’s first teacher and often knows the child better than anyone else. When educators ask parents what works for the child at home and what the child’s interests and experiences are, the teacher can then link that background and those interests to the child’s learning. Additionally, parents can be invaluable sources of information about community resources that may be important for teachers to know about and that can be helpful in supporting a child’s education.

Approaches to Accommodations

There are four ways to categorize accommodations:

  1. Presentation. An accommodation that addresses “presentation” takes into account the way the student is best able to absorb information. The accommodation then “presents” classroom information in that format. For example, sometimes children with disabilities need alternatives to print—students with visual impairment may need Braille or large print. Other students with disabilities require “text to speech” technology in order to access reading material.

  2. Response. This type of accommodation deals with how a student is going to give back information, or “respond.” Schools most commonly require a written response, but “response” accommodations permit the student to use alternatives to writing such as responding orally, using speech-to-text technology, or using a scribe.

  3. Timing and scheduling. The most typical accommodation in this category involves extended time, such as giving students more time to complete an assignment or a test. Variations on this approach include allowing a student to take breaks from a task if that student has a hard time sitting for long periods; or breaking a task into smaller units, which the student then finds more manageable.

  4. Setting. A “setting” accommodation allows for a change in the location where an assignment or assessment is given, or it allows or initiates changes in the conditions of the setting. This may involve moving away from a large classroom to smaller groupings or pairs. A “setting” accommodation may also involve other changes in the physical environment such as lighting, temperature, or noise levels.

Finding the right accommodation for each child amounts to determining what exactly the student needs to access the curriculum, deciding how the student’s disabilities challenge that access, and then finding what accommodation or supports can be put in place to provide access.

Monitoring and Evaluating for Effectiveness

Four questions help determine how well an accommodation is working:

  1. Is the accommodation producing the desired result (i.e., is the student learning)?

  2. Is the student comfortable using the accommodation?

  3. Are instructors consistent in their use of the accommodation?

  4. At what point might it be possible to alter, start phasing out, or eliminate entirely the accommodation?

Since the goal of all education is to assist a student in his growth toward independence, it is important for educators to see any accommodation as simply one point along a continuum and to be always mindful of the importance of reducing the intensity of the supports and accommodations as the child gains mastery.

Effective Strategies for All

Teachers commonly find that practices, accommodations, and supports that are effective for students with disabilities are actually effective for all students. Numerous strategies have been developed to help children with disabilities access the general education curriculum, and general education teachers have gone on to absorb them into their standard repertoire of teaching practices. What follows is a partial list of these kinds of strategies from presenters Larson and McCabe:

Concrete, Representational, and Abstract (CRA) Sequence of Mathematics Instruction

This approach takes a student from the concrete (for example, using three physical blocks for the number three) to a pictorial representation (a picture of three blocks) to the abstract (the actual numeral “3”). Go to for more information about the CRA approach.

Differentiated Instruction

While not research-validated, differentiated instruction is considered a “promising practice” and is known to be effective with many students who face learning challenges. It involves creating multiple paths so that students of different abilities or interests are offered equally effective ways to absorb, use, develop, and present new ideas and information. Go to for more information about differentiated instruction.

Direct instruction

Direct instruction refers to a highly scripted method for teaching that relies heavily on drills and repetition. Since many children with disabilities often need repetition, this approach has been shown to improve both reading and math skills among this student population. Go to to learn more.

Graphic organizers

Graphic organizers are pictorial or graphical ways to organize information and thoughts for understanding, remembering, or writing. They can be powerful tools for enhancing understanding and creating a foundation for learning. For more information, go to any one of the following three Web sites: organizer/;; or graphicorganizersa.htm.


Mnemonics consist of a collection of memory-enhancing strategies that involve teaching students how to
link new information to something students already know. For more information, go to www.k8access ing_resources/Mnemonics.asp.

Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies

Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies  (PALS) involves teachers identifying and pairing children who require help (“players”) with children who are the most appropriate to help other children learn (“coaches”). The PALS peer-tutoring strategy allows teachers to circulate around the classroom and observe students, providing feedback and remedial lessons when necessary. Go to for more information.


Scaffolding instruction is like a set of training wheels on a bicycle; it consists of those supports the instructor provides that help a student progress from what he can already do to what he would not have been able to do without the supports. The second important part of scaffolding is slowly removing the support so that the child gradually becomes independent in the particular skill or task in question. Go to for more.

Technology (specialized media and assistive and other kinds of technology)

A great deal of assistive technology is available for students with disabilities. One free source is the California Department of Education’s Clearinghouse for Specialized Media and Translations. The materials provided by this unit are State Board of Education-approved and are available in Braille, large print, audio tape, and sign language videos. The unit also provides consulting and referral services. Visit its Web site at

Taking What Works

Countless accommodations and supports are available to help children with disabilities; and teachers can devise countless more. By extrapolating from a particularly effective strategy those characteristics that make it work and then using the characteristics to inform and shape other strategies, a teacher can devise new accommodations that are uniquely suited to a particular child. For example, if the repetitive aspect of direct instruction is especially effective for a student, then repetition can be applied to other accommodations and learning strategies. What is important is that educators be creative—and determined—in finding accommodations that work. Frequently, a single, simple accommodation can completely mitigate the disability barrier that keeps a child from achieving or accessing the curriculum, and thus realizing academic success.

* The Parent Involvement Project at the California Comprehensive Center is working to develop meaningful standards for parent involvement. To learn more about its efforts, go to

Improving Their Chances for Success

Educational Supports for Children in Foster Care

Foster youths are one of the most educationally vulnerable populations in our schools today. Research provides solid ground for making such a claim. Children in foster care rarely attend preschool, so most of them enter first grade already academically behind their age-mates. Once they are in school, 75 percent of foster children consistently achieve below their grade level, with 50 percent in the bottom quartile in reading. And then, depending on where they live, one- to two-thirds of current or former foster youths drop out of high school, only 4 percent of this population go on to a four-year college, and 30 percent require special education services. When they become adults, over half are unemployed, 40 percent are on public assistance, 25 percent become homeless, and one in five will be incarcerated in his or her lifetime.

What contributes to this dismal picture of school performance, a performance that leads to even more dismal prospects in adulthood? And what can schools do? Researchers Elaine MacLeod, Lois Weinberg, and Andrea Zetlin from California State University at Los Angeles have begun looking for answers to these questions.

One of their answers to what schools can do lies in the importance of communication and collaboration among schools and relevant agencies. Teachers and social workers, in particular, need to work together; and social workers and school staff need to make sure that teachers know which of their students are placed in foster homes.

Training for teachers on the challenges presented (and faced) by foster youths is also extremely important. Foster children represent a very emotionally fragile population. Teachers need to understand their particular needs and be trained in using the most effective interpersonal and behavioral strategies in order to best respond to and support them.

Because these students are often behind their age-mates in their academic achievement, and because they often suffer significant speech
and language delays, schools need to have in place intensive academic remediation programs. Response to Intervention (RtI) models are proven to reduce the number of poor beginning readers, and thus can increase the chances of academic success for children in foster care.

The CSU-LA researchers also found that foster children benefit from support groups offered in schools. Because the home lives of these children can be so tumultuous, “a safe haven” at school can be of significant benefit, given the often irregular lives they lead through no fault of their own.

Additionally, those programs that offer strategic tutoring and mentoring after the school day is over, as well as Out-of-School-Time Programs, have shown to be effective in providing foster children with academic remediation and emotional support.

Some aspects of the lives of foster children cannot be changed by school improvements—such as the fact that these children usually come from troubled backgrounds, and many of them are abused and suffer trauma from the minute they are born.

But early intervention can ameliorate the effect of some of this early trauma, and intervention is considered critical if these children are to gain the emotional and intellectual skills they will need to succeed as adults. The best kinds of early intervention for foster children include therapeutic preschool programs with a clinical component.

Foster children are frequently moved from one care setting to another, which causes them to experience frequent changes in schools, disrupted relationships with teachers and classmates, and missed instructional time. In addition to the emotional adjustments that this situation exacts, these children’s school records can end up being incomplete, inaccurate, or completely missing.

This particular challenge, however, is something that schools can directly redress. The CSU-LA researchers strongly recommend a statewide, coordinated system of school record keeping, one that ensures that the records and transcripts of foster children go with the children when they change schools. This coordinated system would help guarantee that these children are placed in the right classrooms when they re-enroll after a change in their home placement; it would help to prevent the students from losing any more valuable school time by being placed in the wrong classroom; and it would help to ensure that they get appropriate credit for the classes they have taken.

Researchers MacLeod, Weinberg, and Zetlin called for a concerted effort among schools and agencies to address the needs of foster children in California’s schools. The interventions they offer can make an important difference in the lives of these vulnerable children.

Foster Care Resources

The following organizations support efforts to improve the lives of foster youths:

The Stuart Foundation

The Annie E. Casey Foundation

The Walter S. Johnson Foundation

Find tools and publications that support quality foster care:

For publications that promote the school success of foster youths (scroll to “Foster Youth Education”):

Strategies for Closing the Achievement Gap

School Supports for Students Who Are Deaf

Nancy Sager, Deaf and Hard of Hearing Consultant at the California Department of Education, expressed concern for California’s deaf students on opening a panel discussion at the Achievement Gap Summit. “The majority of deaf children,” she said, “are not succeeding academically.” Although deaf students are cognitively normal, Sager told her audience, “only about eight percent of deaf students in the state are scoring at or above grade level in English/language arts,” and “more than half of our students are scoring below basic or far below basic in English/language arts.” The result, she says, is that “they are not able to succeed in college and careers.”

The purpose of the panel was to examine those factors that lead to academic success for children who are deaf or hard of hearing, and to identify strategies and programs that can help deaf children acquire linguistic competence and compete successfully in standards-based instructional settings.

Sager’s first questions to her panelists focused on parents: “We often hear that the problem with deaf education is the lack of parent involvement. In particular, the parents [are] not learning to sign. In your opinion, what can we do to improve parent involvement?”

Parent involvement is vital to the success of the student, insisted panelist Erika Thompson, who supports “incentives to get [parents] involved,” “home visits to listen to them and support them,” and “providing role models to demonstrate effective interactions between deaf and hearing persons.”  Thompson also recommended giving parents the opportunity to learn American Sign Language (ASL).

Panelist Sheri Farinha Mutti supported this position, insisting that “You can’t have an education without communication . . . we must be able to work with the parents. . . . [because] early intervention is imperative . . . so that by the time you get to kindergarten you’re ready for academics.” Mutti also sees helping parents understand Individualized Education Plans as vital to any effort to support a child. These plans can serve as important tools for helping parents stay abreast of their child’s academic progress.

Panelist David Smith recommended the Shared Reading Project1 and lauded it as a successful strategy “that involves training deaf adults to go into the home to teach parents how to read to their children.” He cited research from Fresno State that shows that “those [deaf] students who have done well on the STAR test [had] families that exposed [their] children to literature. They read to the children ever since they were born. . . . They took them to the library, took them out into the community, exposed them to the world, gave them the opportunity to touch the world and see it.”

Sager’s second question looked at teachers: “What can we do to assist teachers in providing standards-based instruction to deaf and hard-of-hearing students?”

Because the language needs of deaf children are unique, insisted Smith, “teachers need to adjust and modify [the standards], using a process called ‘differentiated instruction.’” Teachers who work with deaf children need to be allowed more flexibility, he said, “especially in the early grades.”

Thompson proposed the development of standards for teaching ASL as a first language and English as a second language, suggesting an approach to teaching and evaluating English skills for deaf children that would be similar to the CELDT (California English Language Development Test, most commonly used for Spanish-speaking students who are acquiring English). “Most [deaf students] are learning English as a second language [because] most of them use ASL. We need to give them time to develop proficiency
. . . much as we allow Spanish-speaking students to develop their English skills over time.”

Sager’s third question addressed the relatively new concept of “language planning”: “What is language planning and how can it help us improve outcomes for students who are deaf or hard of hearing?”

Language planning is a comprehensive approach to educating deaf students using both ASL and English for academic instruction and promoting full proficiency in both languages.2 Thompson referred to it as “a roadmap of what bilingual, bicultural education looks like, although, since it’s a relatively new concept as applied to deaf education, there is still a great deal of work to be done to systematize it.”

Smith noted that there is much available research on bilingual programs for hearing students; and while ASL and English language acquisition present some unique challenges, “the evidence is strong that if a child has strong abilities in a first language [here, ASL], he will be able to effectively learn a second language.”

Sager’s final question addressed regionalization: “What is it and how will it benefit deaf and hard of hearing students?”

Regionalization in this context is an approach to structuring systems that allows school districts and county offices, regardless of size, to pool their educational services, resources, specialized staff, equipment, and finances to educate deaf and hard-of-hearing students.

Smith called regionalization “the solution” to deaf education, stating that “everyone needs to bring together deaf students and their teachers to learn from each other.” He sees the California State Schools for the Deaf at Riverside and Fremont as model programs that offer the support and resources that teachers need to effectively educate children with hearing impairments. He voiced concern over the challenges that teachers of the deaf in small mainstream programs face: they are “sitting in classrooms with a huge range of students at a wide range of levels . . . and without the support or even the textbooks to meet the needs of the students. Kids in high school don’t have educational interpreters. . . . There are many things the students just aren’t getting.”

In her opening remarks, Sager said that “deaf children can do anything but hear.” This panel offered strategies for giving deaf children the chance to show this statement to be true.

  1. For more information about The Shared Reading Project, go to
  2. For more information about language planning, go to

News in Special Education Teacher Credentialing

In an effort to improve the certification process for special education teachers, the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) formed a workgroup of stakeholders to examine special education credentials and to recommend effective changes to the CTC in both the credentialing structure and its processes.

The following goals guided the workgroup’s efforts:

The workgroup made 25 recommendations to the Commission on Teacher Credentialing, seventeen of which were included as part of the mandated SB 1209 Report to the Legislature, delivered on Dec. 1, 2007.

Highlights of these recommendations included the following:

  1. The current Education Specialist Certification should be maintained, but the authorization should be expanded to allow the credential to be used more flexibly. Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) instruction should be provided in all credential areas and the credential authorization should reflect this preparation.
  2. There should be multiple entry points into special education teacher preparation programs.  
  3. All preparation programs should include careful and continuous advisement, expanded recruitment, carefully sequenced instruction and field experience, and support systems. 
  4. To earn a preliminary credential, each candidate shall demonstrate the ability to meet each Teaching Performance Expectation for Education Specialist teachers through a Teaching Performance Assessment.
  5. All preliminary credential holders should have available to them a program that combines advanced coursework and supported induction so that they can earn their Clear Education Specialist Credential. If an individual holds more than one credential, the Individualized Induction Plan (IIP) that guides the teacher’s advanced preparation should be written to clear all preliminary credentials held by that individual [a “clear,” or “Level II,” credential represents the completion of all academic and applied coursework and professional development necessary for teacher certification].
  6. Speech-Language Pathology credential programs should be augmented by a new teaching credential that will provide a more continuous range of opportunities for teacher candidates. This new credential would be a seventh Education Specialist Credential and would focus on the full range of communication and language development skills that are taught and remediated in schools. Additional streamlining activities have been designed to help reduce the shortage.
  7. Opportunities for special education teachers should be available at all stages of adult learning. There should be career ladder programs for paraprofessionals and speech aides. There should be opportunities for parents of students with special needs and second career professionals to enter teaching at a point later in their lives. Teacher preparation programs should be more predisposed to grant equivalent credit for prior experiences when the candidate can demonstrate skill and performance.
  8. Special Education programs are encouraged to expand services to candidates in a number of new ways; for example, by allowing instruction in foundational knowledge, core curriculum, and early field experiences to be provided in locations convenient to the candidates’ home or though distance learning. Programs should also encourage the transfer of credits, host multi-campus programs, and actively recruit diverse candidates to Education Specialist rolls, including candidates with disabilities and from ethnic and racial groups that are underrepresented in the teaching workforce. Finally, programs should also encourage males to become special education teachers, as they represent only about fourteen percent of special education teachers nationwide.

2008 Calendar

April 1–2 (Burlingame)

Engaging All Students: Rigor, Relevance, Relationships: Secondary Literacy Summit VIII

This eighth annual literacy conference is designed for middle and high school teachers, administrators, school teams, and other individuals interested in adolescent literacy. The conference will examine how California schools address national and state mandates for secondary student literacy. Keynote speakers, presenters, workshops, and panel discussions will focus on reading, academic vocabulary, comprehension, and writing. Instructional strategies for teachers will address struggling students, English learners, and students with special needs. School presentations will feature secondary school teams that are successfully improving student literacy. This conference is sponsored by the California Department of Education, the Association of California School Administrators, the California Teachers Association, and other organizations. Burlingame, California. For more information, contact Sherry Arnold,, 916-228-2479, or visit the Web site literacy/.

April 24–25 (Los Angeles)

A Dream Deferred: The Future of African American Education

This two-day, solutions-driven conference, hosted by the College Board, is designed for teachers, school counselors and administrators, researchers, and others. It is devoted to bringing together educational and community leaders to discuss and explore models of excellence that address the most critical educational issues that directly impact African American students. Los Angeles, California. For more information, contact Carmen Quinones at; 408-367-1422; or visit the Web site deferred/.

April 28–29 (Palm Desert)

Secondary Transition Conference

Sponsored by the California Department of Education in collaboration with the California Community of Practice for Secondary Transition, this conference is designed to strengthen and expand the knowledge, working relationships, and network of professionals working in the field of special education and transition. The conference welcomes teachers, parents, support personnel, youth, administrators, rehabilitation practitioners, community stakeholders, employers, workforce development personnel, social workers, and representatives from adult service agencies invested in the successful transition of youth with disabilities. Palm Desert, California. For more information, contact Alison Greenwood at or 916-322-0373. Or go to

May 22–23 (Chicago)

Prepárate: Educating Latinos for the Future of America

This conference will bring together members from higher education, secondary schools, middle schools, and community-based organizations to promote academic accomplishment for Latino students. It will inform participants of the direct services available for Latino students in schools and communities across the country and present practices to help Latino students overcome barriers to success. Chicago, Illinois. For more information, contact Carmen Quinones at; 408-367-1422; or go to

May 22–23 (San Diego)

Closing the Gap: Using Parent Involvement to Increase Student Success and Academic Achievement

This event, sponsored by the Parent Center at San Diego State University-College of Extended Studies, is a leadership development opportunity for school, family, and community partnerships. San Diego, California. Contact Beth Sondak at; 619-594-4756; or go to (scroll down).

October 9–10 (Portland)

Youth Change: Breakthrough
Strategies to Teach and Counsel Troubled Youth

Designed for teachers, youth workers, counselors, psychologists, court workers, social workers, justice workers, foster parents, and school administrators, this workshop will deliver 200 strategies for addressing problems such as violence, apathy, truancy, defiance, ADD, school failure, poor attitudes, low motivation, and more. A special focus will be on children with challenges and disabilities. Portland, Oregon. For more information, contact Ruth Wells at; 503-982-4220; or go to

October 22–24 (San Diego)

Evolving Leaders: Inspiring Greatness

This second annual Leaders Institute, designed for school administrators and sponsored by RAPSA (Reaching At-Promise Students Association), will provide administrators with the proven techniques they need to increase student achievement and to empower staff by integrating teaching and management skills. San Diego. For more information, contact Eileen Holmes at or 800-871-7482; or go to

Web Resources

Closing the Achievement Gap: Achieving Success for All Students
Closing the Achievement Gap: Achieving Success for All Students offers an overview and summary of the California Department of Education’s efforts to close the achievement gap. The site provides an overview of the pertinent issues on the subject, profiles of successful programs, ideas for getting involved, online activities and discussion groups, events, and more.
This Web site features the annual address on the status of education in California from State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell, who announces a clear, ambitious, little-to-no-cost plan to improve California’s school system. In addition to audio, video, and text transcripts of the address, the site offers links to several resources, partnerships, and projects for closing the achievement gap.
Closing the Achievement Gap: Oregon’s Plan for Success for All Students lays out the research, practice, and policy of one state’s efforts to provide equitable educational success for all students.
The Web site of the Education Commission of the States provides a cogent list of “quick facts” about the achievement gap and describes what selected states are doing to close that gap. The site also includes a helpful annotated bibliography of recent research on the topic.
Hands & Voices is a nationwide, non-profit organization dedicated to supporting families and their children who are deaf or hard of hearing, as well as the professionals who serve them. The organization is a parent-driven, parent/professional collaborative group, and its membership includes those who are deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing impaired and their families who communicate orally, with signs, cue, and/or combined methods.
“Parsing the Achievement Gap: Baseline for Tracking Progress” by Paul E. Barton examines the conditions that perpetuate the achievement gap and those correlates that support student achievement. October 2003.
From the 2007 forum titled State Efforts to Integrate Career Technical Education with Rigorous Standards, this Web cast addresses how career technical education supports efforts to improve California’s graduation rates and close the achievement gap.
This Web page provides an overview to the State Superintendent of
Public Instruction’s P–16 (preschool through college) Council and how California’s efforts to close the achievement gap align with the council’s mission.
UCLA’s School Mental Health’s Project offers a free, online presentations on barriers to learning. Topics include “What Is a System of Learning Supports?” (from policy, intervention, and infrastructure perspectives), “What’s Involved in Getting from Here to There?” and “Rebuilding with an Emphasis on Intrinsic Motivation.”

RiSE Library

The RiSE (Resources in Special Education) Library lends materials to California’s residents free of charge. The items listed on this page are just a sampling of what is available. Go to to view all library holdings and to request materials by e-mail. To order materials, either phone or e-mail Judy Bower: 408-727-5775;

Accessing the General Curriculum: Including Students With Disabilities in Standards-Based Reform

Victor Nolet and Margaret J. McLaughlin. Corwin Press: Thousand Oaks, CA. 2006. 148 pages. The authors provide updated frameworks and strategies, with examples and flowcharts for fitting special education into the frameworks created by national standards and assessments. This resource gives K–12 educators strategies to support every learner. Call #23972.

Accountability in Action: A Blueprint for Learning Organizations

Douglas Reeves. Advanced Learning Press: Englewood, CO. 2005. 329 pages. This comprehensive book provides a bridge between the effort to implement standards and the systems that will help schools assess the effectiveness of their efforts. Call #23931.

The Daily Disciplines of Leadership: How to Improve Student Achievement, Staff Motivation, and Personal Organization

Douglas Reeves. Jossey-Bass: San Francisco, CA. 2002. 240 pages. This popular book addresses the importance of educational leadership in ensuring excellence in accountability, instruction, and curriculum. It offers advice on developing the skills needed to evaluate, coach, and groom new leaders. Call #23896.

It’s My Life: Postsecondary Education and Training—A Resource for Child Welfare Professionals.

Casey Family Programs. Seattle, WA. 2006. 171 pages. This educational framework offers ideas for developing services and supports for young people who are preparing academically, emotionally, and financially to make the transition from foster care to successful postsecondary education. Call #23937.

Making Assessment Accommodations: A Toolkit for Educators

Council for Exceptional Children. Arlington, VA. 2000. Video: 40 minutes; book: 146 pages. This toolkit was developed in response to the IDEA ’04 requirement for the participation of students with disabilities in general state- and district-wide assessment programs, with appropriate accommodations and modifications in test administration, where necessary. Call #23015 and 23016.

Making Standards Work: How to Implement Standards-Based Assessments in the Classroom, School and District

Douglas Reeves. Advanced Learning Press: Englewood, CO. 2003. 298 pages. This book offers a straightforward approach to improving student achievement, beginning with using performance assessments that contain real-world scenarios, multiple tasks, and clear, consistent scoring guides. Call #23897 and 23898.

Programs for Deaf and Hard-of- Hearing Students: Guidelines for Quality Standards

California Department of Education. CDE: Sacramento, CA. 2000. 199 pages. This document contains guidelines for parents, teachers, administrators, governing boards, support personnel, and others interested in identifying, assessing, planning and providing appropriate educational services to all children who are deaf or hard of hearing. Call #22705.



California Services for Technical Assistance and Training (CalSTAT)
A Special Project of the Napa County Office of Education| 5789 State Farm Drive, Rohnert Park, CA 94928
Fax: 707-586-2735 |