Ohio Schools Closing the Gap for Students with Disabilities

By Patricia Hawke for Schools K-12

The Ohio schools are redefining their Special Education program and closing the gap in the achievement of students with disabilities. The Ohio schools believe that achievement gaps are not the same as ability gaps, and the education system is responsible for ensuring that high achievement is an attainable goal for all students. Furthermore, the Ohio schools has put forth that meaningful participation of students with disabilities in state assessment is absolutely essential if every child is to be assured access to challenging curriculum and appropriate instruction.

In 2001, the Ohio schools made a major shift in approaching students with disabilities by revising school policy to require students with disabilities to participate in state assessment. Now, content standards are the focus of instruction for all students in every classroom, and a variety of research-based instructional strategies are aligned with the content standards. A coherent array of interventions, supports and services are used to ensure the success of students with disabilities. The policy now is that assessment is a reflection of instruction and instruction is a reflection of assessment, creating a shared responsibility for the education of students with disabilities.

The Ohio schools’ goals for teaching students with disabilities are standards, capacity, and accountability.  They will improve access to, participation in, and progress in the general curriculum, based on the Ohio academic standards, for students with disabilities. Encouraging others to consider students with disabilities as general education children first is the capacity goal — assuming they will achieve, rather than assuming they may not achieve. The goal of accountability is to increase the performance of children with disabilities on state and district assessments from which they previously have been exempt.

The Ohio schools developed the following strategies for improvement:

  • Redefine special education at the state level to shift focus away from compliance and paperwork to standards-based instruction for all children.
  • Implement a statewide monitoring system designed to assess district/educational compliance with federal and state law applicable to students with disabilities.
  • Align the work of the Special Education Regional Resource Center (SERRC) network with the priorities of the Ohio schools, including No Child Left Behind, differentiating instruction, positive behavior support, reading/literacy, and progress monitoring.
  • Maximize use of federal and state funds earmarked for children with disabilities.
  • Develop and disseminate products, tools and services focused on improving results for student who are at risk, including students with disabilities.
  • Use the accountability system to leverage change in policy and practice at the local school level.

The Ohio schools are focusing attention and energy on assisting all students to achieve high academic standards. They are preparing and supporting teachers and administrators to ensure that all students are taught what they need in order to succeed. They are adapting the public education structure in a manner to ensure all students will learn the Ohio schools’ academic standards.

This means fewer but more meaningful goals for all students, effective use of student assessment data and resources, a fundamental shift in focus from what is taught to what children learn, and allowing assessment to drive classroom instruction, which is rigorous and aligned to the standards.

The Ohio schools are creating a culture where each student feels valued and is given the ability and tools to succeed, including the students with disabilities.