Developing Special Educators to Work Within Tiered Frameworks

Developing Special Educators to Work Within Tiered Frameworks

Dena D. Slanda, Mary E. Little
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-9494-0.ch007
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This chapter situates the expansive roles and responsibilities of special educators in inclusive settings within the historical context of 40 years of legislation and policy. Ultimately, these legislative changes have led to the development, implementation, and scaleup of a multi-tiered system of supports which has impacted the special educator who works within the framework. This chapter begins with an overview of the legislation which has guided the reconceptualization of special education and accordingly the roles and responsibilities of the special educator. Then, the main tenets of the MTSS framework are provided, and the role of the special educator is situated within the framework to provide a greater understanding of the advances and how teacher preparation programs can respond to the revisions. Finally, this chapter highlights high-leverage practices cross-walked with resources from national centers which can be utilized to meet the needs of students with high-intensity needs.
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The role of the special educator continues to expand as states and school districts implement policies and procedures to address the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 1997, 2004) and Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA, 2015). The federal legislation, in particular, requires special educators to implement specially designed instruction, individualized supports, and data-driven interventions within a tiered-framework to support students with educational needs both with and without disabilities (Berkley et al., 2020). Concomitantly, ESSA renewed the emphasis on strengthening standards and rigor for all students, the use of evidence-based practices to support student learning, and the use of data-based instructional decision-making within a Multi-tiered System of Supports (MTSS) (Knoff et al., 2018).

The systematic implementation of an MTSS framework within schools has expanded the roles and responsibilities of special educators who provide supports for students with educational needs (e.g., pre-referral, pre-identification for special education) as well as students with disabilities in the general education classroom (Shepherd et al., 2016). Given these changes, research has suggested that there is a “different, distinctive, and important role for special education” (Fuchs et al., 2010, p. 301). Special educators who work within inclusive settings must be prepared to provide all students with prevention and intervention, as well as provide students with disabilities with an appropriate, individualized education (Sailor et al., 2021).

As a result, the evolving roles and responsibilities of special educators have influenced changes in multiple ways including special educators as key participants of the team of specialists who work with struggling students prior to identification for special education (prevention and intervention) as well as students with disabilities (continued intervention and service delivery) (Bailey et al., 2019). In this way, MTSS has increased the presence of the special educator in the general education classroom (Bailey et al., 2019; Lemons et al., 2018). Special educators provide services and specialized instruction within an MTSS framework to students with disabilities in the least restrictive environment (Rodgers et al., 2021). In part, this has led students with disabilities to move from self-contained settings to the general education classroom to the greatest extent possible. This shift in location of services has increased the opportunity for collaboration between the special and general education and expanded the special educators’ need for content area proficiency (Slanda, 2017). Service delivery for students within the MTSS structure requires collaboration with a focus on differentiation of instruction and universal design for learning (Davis, 2015).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Evidence-Based Practices: Instructional and behavioral practices that have been scientifically shown to have a statistically significant impact on student achievement and outcomes when implemented with fidelity.

Specially Designed Instruction: A term that refers to the content, strategy or delivery or instruction that provides access to the general education curriculum while addressing the unique needs of students.

Multi-Tiered System of Supports: A problem-solving framework that is flexible, fluid, and responsive to student needs. Within this framework students move along three tiers to receive intensifying supports aligned with their individual needs.

Least Restrictive Environment: The extent to which students with disabilities are educated alongside their peers without disabilities in the general education classroom.

High-Intensity Needs: Students who have high-intensity needs have significant and persistent needs that require intensive instruction and intervention beyond the core instruction.

Data-Based Individualization: The process individualizing instruction and intervention to meet the unique needs of a student using assessment data after engaging in the data-based decision-making process.

Data-Based Decision Making: The ongoing process of analyzing and evaluating student performance data from various assessments to inform educational decisions including instruction and intervention.

Response to Intervention: A framework for prevention and intervention that allows for the identification of specific learning disabilities.

Highly Qualified: Highly qualified is a term stemming from No Child Left Behind (NCLB, 2001 AU72: The in-text citation "NCLB, 2001" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ) which requires educators to hold a Bachelor’s degree, have state certification or licensure, and demonstrate they are knowledgeable in the subject area(s) they teach.

Free and Appropriate Public Education: In accordance with federal legislature, students with disabilities have access to special education and related services free of charge (at the public’s expense) regardless of their disability category. These services are set forth in their Individual Education Plan (IEP).

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