SNOW HILL — With the implementation of the national Common Core Curriculum (CCC) underway, Worcester County Public Schools (WCPS) have been working to evolve their special education program to keep pace with changing education standards.
The intent is to blend together special education and general education in a way that leaves all students prepared for life after high school.
“One of the things that was very clear when we did our needs assessment is that we need to marry Gen Ed and Special Ed,” said Rae Record, Supervisor of Special Education. “You can’t be separate because we all have the same goal and all students need to achieve at the same level.”
Record gave the Board of Education an update on the school system’s Special Education Strategic Plan on Tuesday. Schools in Worcester have been phasing in CCC since last year and the new standards and expectations are reflected in how the special education plan has changed. Record and her team began working last summer to develop a needs assessment and the results have clearly pointed to a stronger partnership between special and general education fields.
Specifically, WCPS’ goal is to narrow the long-standing achievement gap between the two demographics.
“It is no longer, ‘these are my Special Ed kids and these are my Gen Ed kids,’” said Record. “It’s Special Ed and Gen Ed kids together using the evidence-based practice to narrow the gap.”
To accomplish this, the Universal Design for Learning will be updated to focus on things like co-teaching, were both a special education and general education teacher work collaboratively in the classroom.
“One of our big initatives is co-teaching, which means putting that Special Ed teacher and the Gen Ed teacher together so that they can both share what skills they have,” she said. “The Special Ed teacher being the specialist and helping the Gen Ed teacher that is usually very strong with their content and the two of them working together so that all students can be successful within the classroom.”
There will also be further emphasis on Response to Intervention, which targets students who are struggling or exhibiting behavioral issues. All of the strategies used will have to be evidence-based and have shown prior success in the education environment.
Board member John Cook asked Record how the strategic plan will be communicated to parents, many of whom will be watching the schools closely as CCC goes through its fledgling years.
“I just think there are a lot of eyes on this right now,” he said, “as we go through some changes you’re going to have a lot of people’s attention.”
Updating parents and WCPS stakeholders is a priority, according to Record, and her department has been working to answer questions and provide information to anyone interested. As far as the interaction between CCC and special education, that’s an area that is still being explored.
At least with the major Common Core assessment, the PARCC, Record knows that there will be accommodations worked in for students with Individual Education Plans (IEPs). This extends into the classroom, where Record said different techniques will be used in different situations to keep Special Ed and Gen Ed students on an even playing field. The goal is to prepare all students for either a career after high school or continued education no matter their needs.
“We know that all students are required to be taught the Maryland College and Career Readiness standards, even students with IEPs,” said Record.
The response from teachers has been positive so far, according to Record, and the plan is likely to see further adjustment as schools become more familiar with CCC.