The first step in providing universal access to the curriculum for students with special needs is to look at the IEP (Individualized Education Program) for the student. You need to understand what the student’s objectives are. The IEP will provide these. These are based on the student’s needs, developed by professionals from a battery of tests administered regularly.
Co-teaching is an important element of providing the Least Restrictive Environment for students with IEP’s. What this means is that students with special needs need to be placed in the most “normal” educational setting possible, by law, which will sometimes be a regular teacher’s classroom. In this case, programs like RTI (Response to Intervention) that provide universal access on a school level can be utilized to ensure that the student’s needs are being met, according to the IEP. The classroom teacher and the Special Education teacher and aids will work together to ensure that the goals of the IEP are being met, and the standards in the classroom, to the extent that this is possible.
How effectively the classroom teacher can teach a child with an IEP to standard will depend on the child’s IEP. The child’s IEP will essentially replace the standard, in terms of what the child is to be learning. However, the child is going to take standardized tests. So you have to align the standards with the goals in the IEP to the extent that this is possible, to see where there is overlap, so that the student can progress toward the standards to the extent that it is possible for that student. Keep in mind that while the IEP contains goals, some students exceed goals. The Least Restrictive Environment means that the child is in the grade-level class with an aid assisting in the work, so that it is possible for the student to participate in grade level activities on some level.
If you have low expectations, you will get limited results. However, if you have high expectations of students and provide support and modifications, you will sometimes be able to help students succeed beyond their IEP goals. Therefore, even students with IEP’s deserve a grade-level education and a chance at grade-level work, depending on the disability. Students with some disabilities such as dyslexia can achieve and excel just fine. Remember that there is a wide range of IEP students out there, and they cannot all be painted with one brush. The students who can be mainstreamed into the classroom are there because it has been determined that they have the ability to succeed on some level, and they should be given the chance to do so. Students with more severe disabilities will not usually be mainstreamed, but can still access the Common Core in some way, based on their IEP.
The bottom line is that the process always begins with the IEP, and then the collaboration between the teacher and the Special Education teacher and aids on analyzing the standards. Co-teaching is a vital part of mainstreaming. Modification of the lesson so that students with special needs can access the curriculum ensures that every student has a chance to learn and succeed, and high expectations ensure that everyone does.