New federal data shows the number of students with cognitive or profound disabilities in public schools across the nation is growing. But what does that mean for your district moving forward?
Special Education By the Numbers
About 7.2 million students between 3 and 21 years old were served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) last school year. This accounts for 15 percent of all students. Compare this to the 6.5 million students served under IDEA back in 2010, and it’s clear that special education enrollment is on the rise.
Whether the increase is due to a rise in significant disabilities, more careful diagnosis, or improvements in early identification, it’s clear that there is a higher demand for effective special education services.
A Change in Supply and Demand
With the new school year in full swing, all but three states (Arkansas, California, and Oregon) reported a special education teacher shortage to the U.S. Department of Education.
These states reported they have fewer teachers trained to meet the needs of functional skills students than they should for the 2022-2023 academic school year.
Special education is often where districts struggle to fill and retain positions. Over the last several years, the Department of Education database has shown shortages. Now, some districts are even offering sign-on bonuses of $10,000 to attract new teachers.
What’s Fueling the Teacher Shortage?
Teaching functional skills requires adequate planning time, more resources, and specific manipulatives that many districts struggle to provide on their own. Functional skills teachers typically have to plan and prep curriculum on their personal time in order to stay focused on the students during school hours.
As rewarding as it can be to teach functional skills, this lack of planning and preparation provided for teachers causes tough working conditions that are contributing to the shortage. While some districts are filling positions with “emergency certified” teachers who receive temporary licenses, more clearly needs to be done to fill the gap.
Helping Every Functional Skills Student Succeed
As special education enrollment continues to rise, federal funding will be a critical component for schools to deliver the learning experience these students need to succeed. However, districts can also use outside sources to provide ready-made, hands-on tools to improve functional skills outcomes.
The Supreme Court ruled that in order "to meet its substantive obligation under the IDEA, a school must offer an IEP reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.” OATECA can be your district’s vehicle for demonstrating adequate progress for your students with the most significant disabilities.
The OATECA System empowers educators with an appropriate assessment for these students in three different functional skill areas; cognitive skills, self-help skills, and job training skills. When the holes in each area are found using the OATECA Assessment Kit, the system provides easy-to-use interventions with activities and manipulatives.
Investing in OATECA now can help solve your teachers’ biggest pain points this school year, leading to a healthier work-life balance and — more importantly — greater success for your functional skills students.
It’s officially that time of year: back to school! Getting your classroom and supplies ready for the new school year takes a lot of time, planning, and patience — especially when you consider your functional skills curriculum and the ongoing needs of your students. Even if you have already started the school year, there are always ways to improve the structure of your classroom.
Whether your students have mild, severe, or profound disabilities, organization is critical. Your students spend a lot of time in the classroom, so the way it looks, feels, and functions can significantly impact their performance throughout the day.
Here are a few ways to streamline your classroom for success this year:
1. Setting Up Your Space
Utilize the tables in your classroom for activity centers. For example, one table can be used for small group work, and you can position a few tables to create “circle time.” Additional centers include a Composition (Handwriting) Center, Reading for Comprehension Center, and a Workstation where students can sharpen pencils or shred paper.
Make sure to position the tables so you can easily oversee each center from wherever you are in the room.
Utilize desks for independent work with your students. While this will depend on the ratio of students in your classroom, you might have a desk for each student. Try positioning these with shelving or separators in between, particularly for your students with autism to give them each their own space. If not, designate one of your tables for 1:1 education time.
Every classroom should have a library, whether your room is general or special education focused. Consider the reading levels and needs of your students. In most cases, it’s beneficial to organize the books into bins or shelves and sort them by theme (i.e., seasons, animals, friendship, etc.)
For some students, socialization and playtime are one of the largest struggles; for others, it’s a critical necessity for learning and growth. Playtime and socialization are likely already a vital part of your daily curriculum, so having the appropriate space in your classroom is necessary. Designate a specific location in the room for play, and keep the area structured, organized, and uncluttered.
The most important aspect of designating specific areas in your classroom for certain activities is to section off those areas by utilizing tables, shelving, or other separators in your room. This not only keeps your room organized and structured, but also helps your students learn those areas and transition through those spaces more effectively.
2. Visual Learning Resources
3. Prepping Your Paraprofessionals
Your class likely includes paraprofessionals, speech therapists, occupational therapists, counselors, and physical therapists, who are all an asset to your everyday instruction and education. If your classroom is center-based (and if you utilize the table layout as mentioned above), it’s a great idea to utilize your paraprofessionals at each workstation.
Regularly train your paraprofessionals on the instruction, assessments, and structure of the room. Training limits miscommunications and ensures better education for your students throughout the year. You should also set up regular meetings with the therapists to collaborate and discuss the ongoing needs of your students.
4. Functional Skills Curriculum
Planning functional skills curriculum and instruction can be challenging. As is often the case, many students have different IEP goals and are at different skill levels. Ensuring your assessments are assessable to all is vital, so taking some time to plan or prep the curriculum can set your year up for success. Considering that all students should be assessed initially and regularly throughout the year, your special education curriculum should be modified to meet your student’s ongoing needs.
5. Prepare Your Task Boxes
Task boxes are significantly beneficial to your functional skills classroom as they essentially provide activities aligned to your student’s transition and learning goals. These are the perfect tool to reinforce independence while practicing functional and academic skills. If your district uses the OATECA System, you are already provided with these resources and ready-made manipulatives.
As you prepare your task boxes, keep in mind the goals and objectives. Consider which skills are lagging in your classroom. After identifying the hole in a specific skill, prepare your symbol-adapted directions and manipulatives necessary for intervention.
Regularly Evaluate Your Classroom for Better Success
Aside from structuring and prepping your classroom, you should also go through any old files or papers from the past year and eliminate anything you don’t need this school year. Recycle duplicates of worksheets and shred any confidential work you no longer need.
You should also keep in mind that the layout of your classroom might change as you get to know any new students and their ongoing needs. You might quickly find that the structure or functionality of specific areas or tasks need to be adjusted to meet their needs. Regularly evaluate the layout and collaborate with your paraprofessionals to ensure a more successful classroom for this year!