Vogel, Linda R.
University of Northern Colorado
Type of Resources
Place of Publication
University of Northern Colorado
Although 95% of the approximately six million students with disabilities aged 6 to 21 years of age are being served in regular schools, a substantial achievement gap continues to exist between these students and their peers in the general K-12 population. Recent studies indicate that an effective teacher is the single most important school-based factor influencing improved student achievement and students with disabilities are no less deserving than their peers of having effective teachers. Between 2009 and 2011, 36 states and the District of Columbia made changes to their teacher evaluation systems to enhance the identification of effective teachers. If the special educators who serve students with disabilities are to be included in these reformed teacher evaluation processes, it is highly likely that their evaluations will include use of a standard teacher performance rubric. However, these rubrics may not be differentiated to reflect the unique roles and responsibilities of special educators and the specialized best practices that they employ, although several researchers have recommend differentiated criteria for special education teachers where appropriate. This study was a qualitative inquiry that engaged special education teachers, principals, and special education experts in focus group discussions to determine the extent to which they believed best practices in special education could be observed and documented using a standard teacher performance rubric without substantial inference or interpretation of the performance indicators. Coding and analysis of over 20 hours of discussion revealed five majors themes: (a) that the unique roles of special educators must be acknowledged in their evaluations; (b) that curriculum may look different in special education; (c) that expected student behaviors may look different for students with disabilities; (d) that conferencing, to brief evaluators about the various delivery models and instructional strategies being employed to meet students’ Individualized Education Program (IEP) goals, must be a prominent part of special educator evaluations; and (e) that teacher performance rubrics must contain indicators that document the Individualized Education Program (IEP) development and monitoring process and Response to Intervention (RtI) models. This study can benefit both special education and educational leadership praxis by informing state and local education agencies that use standard teacher performance rubrics about the types of performance indicators that may not adequately document special educator effectiveness. This information can serve as the basis for training materials because having glossaries, interpretive guidelines, and illustrative special education “look fors” would enable both evaluators and special education teachers to share a common understanding of the unique performance expectations for special educators and minimize the amount of inference and interpretation.
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