3 advances in special education instruction


Overcoming geographical challenges

With declining local industry and challenging economic times, educators in Georgia’s Murray County schools knew they needed a way to connect students with speech therapists to prevent those students from falling behind their peers.

That’s when Allison Oxford, the district’s director of instructional support services, decided to pilot Presence Learning’s online speech therapy solution in select district schools.

“We’ve had difficulty finding qualified speech therapists,” Oxford said. “There aren’t a lot of young speech therapists looking to come make their homes in rural, impoverished Georgia.”

After the pilot proved successful, Oxford expanded it into all district elementary schools except for one, which already had a full-time speech therapist.

“These kids are digital natives, and this is the way they like to learn,” she said. “It removes the stigma of being called down to the speech room.”

Using an online platform has cut down on travel time and costs for district speech therapists, and it extends the time that each therapist, whether virtual or face-to-face, can spend working with students.

Critical to the program’s success was district-wide support. Oxford asked district speech therapists if they thought Presence Learning’s solution would meet the needs of students.

“Their support and understanding—that’s a huge piece of our success with it, that our speech therapists support it,” she said. “It’s not taking anyone’s jobs. That’s a big misconception, that it will replace speech therapists. It will never replace them; it really is an enhancement of the services we can offer to our students.”

The district also uses i-Ready Diagnostic from Curriculum Associates, an online diagnostic assessment that tracks student progress in relation to IEP goals and objectives and differentiates instruction accordingly. District educators analyze student progress and work samples each week and compare Common Core goals to IEP goals.

“If students don’t master skills or make progress on goals, my teachers have an immediate intervention plan to help that child meet that standard,” Oxford said. “It creates a nice way for us to have tangible products, especially for parents.”

Meeting Common Core goals

The transition to the Common Core States Standards hasn’t been easy for all districts, but some began revamping their curriculum offerings ahead of schedule in anticipation of the change.

For teachers at Everett Middle School in San Francisco, that meant reworking learning goals for students with special needs as well, said Jamie Stewart, the school’s Acceleration Coordinator.

(Next page: Robots for instruction)

Laura Ascione

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