A news brief linking people and resources to support quality practices in the education of all students

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All subscribers will receive a news brief of information and resources via email once a month from September through May, excluding December. Each news brief will highlight a key topic in education related to supporting the learning needs of all students.

The news brief is a collaborative effort of the Virginia Department of Education Training and Technical Assistance Centers at George Mason University and James Madison University.

Current issue of our news brief

November 2018 | The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 2004 solidified the mandate for specially designed instruction (SDI) as part of a student’s right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). According to IDEA Sec. 300.39 (2004), special education, “(s)pecial education means specially designed instruction, at no cost to the parents, to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability, including...

Past issues of our news brief


October 2018 | The mission, of the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) Department of Special Education is to, “provide children with disabilities the knowledge and skills they need to live, learn, work, and participate in communities of their choice with the maximum amount of independence as possible.”

VDOE’s “Profile of a Virginia Graduate” includes revised graduation requirements for a standard or advanced diploma in the Commonwealth. The revisions require high school students to demonstrate proficient workplace and citizenship skills. Similarly, students graduating with an applied studies diploma graduate “life ready” by completing the requirements of an individualized education program (IEP), which includes individualized post-secondary transition goals.

September 2018 | Is handwriting relevant in the digital age? Yes! The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), for example, maintains that the visual-motor skills developed in handwriting are linked with academic achievement; therefore, it is important for teachers to address pencil grip and writing legibility (Chassiakos,2017). Furthermore, Graham, Harris, and Fink (2000) ascertain that students with unreadable handwriting lack a fundamental skill needed for expressing ideas in writing. Unfortunately, many students, including those with disabilities, struggle with handwriting (Mason, Harris, & Graham, 2013). Students’ difficulties in handwriting can interrupt the writing process and can interfere with intended meaning. Importantly, difficulties with handwriting may lead students to avoid writing and may lead them to believe they cannot write (Berninger, Mizokawa, & Bragg, 1991).

May 2018 | QUOTE “Training teachers to understand bias will not eliminate it, but it could create an institutional environment in which it is clear that understanding bias and its effects is critically important. The long-term return on investment is inestimable.” – SORAYA CHEMALY

April 2018 | Some measure of parent and community involvement has always been a cornerstone of public schools. However, that involvement has usually been directed and guided by the schools and, for the most part, has focused on fundraising initiatives, volunteering, and supporting school activities. We now understand that families and the broader community also must be included in decision making and school governance. We also realize that the learning that occurs within the family and community contributes to school success, and so we need to give greater recognition and support to these collaborative efforts (NEA, 2011).

March 2018 | Does your student require assistive technology? How does the IEP team know?

February 2018 | “Inclusion is a right that values the membership and participation of children with disabilities in typical settings.” (Gupta, 2014, p.9)

January 2018 | Trauma informed care is increasingly becoming part of the conversation in promoting mental health in schools. It has been defined as, "a system level philosophy of service delivery which integrates choice, collaboration, empowerment, safety and trust to create an organizational culture sensitive to trauma" (Keesler, 2016, p. 482). Title II, Part A of the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 calls for states to provide examples of "carrying out in-service training for school personnel - in (i) the techniques and supports needed to help educators understand when and how to refer students affected by trauma, and children with, or at risk of, mental illness..." In response, the VDOE is striving to develop a workforce that is trained in supporting students' mental and emotional wellness. Through professional development, the VDOE seeks to develop trauma-informed staffs that are able to support the needs of all students.

November 2017 | "Special education leadership is as complex, unique, and diverse as the students it intends to serve. The roles, duties, and responsibilities of special education leaders change as swiftly as the policies, budgets, best practices, and systems of accountability that governs their ability to meet the challenges of the students under their charge. Moreover, special education leadership is a multifaceted educational enterprise that is predicated on the ideal of social justice, in that it is based on the ideals that all children can learn, all children should have access to a quality education, and all children should be included in the educational system irrespective of their respective disabilities" (Seltzer, 2011).

October 2017 | What is the difference between Dual Language Learners and English Language Learners?

September 2017 | Specially designed instruction (SDI)is the adaptation, when appropriate, to address the unique needs of individual students with disabilities. Adaptations may address content, methodology, and/or delivery of instruction. The purpose is to ensure that students with disabilities can access the general education curriculum and meet the educational standards within the jurisdiction of the public agency that apply to all children. SDI is organized, planned and implemented to address the student's IEP goals. It is intentional and systematic. (Section 300.39(b)(3) of Title 34, Code of Federal Regulations[CFR] and Friend, 2017).

May 2017 | Students with a growth mindset often achieve more than those who think success simply comes to those born with talent. Individuals who embrace a growth mindset realize they can reach goals by working hard, asking for help, and trying different strategies to accomplish tasks. When students believe achievement is the result of their effort, not their luck, they "worry less about looking smart and they put more energy into learning" (Dweck, 2016).

April 2017 | "Self-determination allows young people to make choices and decisions to direct their own lives" (I'm Determined Project, Module 4). Self-directed learning, a component of self-determination, includes taking initiative and being responsible for one's learning and requires choice- and decision-making skills. Tools are available to assist all students in the process of self-directed learning and leading their Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings and other conferences. (I'm Determined Project, Module 4)

March 2017 | Do you work with children? If yes, how do you know if they are mentally healthy? According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (2017), mental health includes "our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act." It is important at every stage of life and early intervention, when needed, can make a tremendous difference in transforming children's lives.

February 2017 | What is a predictor of post-secondary success for students with intellectual disabilities? Inclusion, access to the generaleducation curriculum in general education classes with peers without disabilities, is one of the researched and highly qualitatively correlated in-school programmatic components that the National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT) lists as a predictor of post-secondary success for students with intellectual disabilities. In fact, inclusion is listed as a high impact predictor in the outcome areas of education, employment and independent living. (Post School Success, NCTACT; Predicting Outcomes, NCTACT)

January 2017 | Classroom routines and procedures that are well defined, taught, displayed, and referred to frequently are necessary at all grade levels (Leinhardt, Weidman, & Hammond, 1987). Not to be confused with classroom rules, routines and procedures are flexible and proactive. When teachers integrate clear structures, research shows an enhancement in student learning (Soar & Soar, 1979). As students are taught and become increasingly familiar with classroom routines, procedures, and expectations, they are able to "predict the events throughout their school day, they are more likely to be engaged and less likely to display problem behavior" (Kern & Clemens, 2007).

November 2016 | Function Based Thinking (FBT) is a proactive model for thinking that uses an evidence-based, systematic process to observe and define problem behaviors which lead to the selection of the most appropriate interventions to match the function of the behavior. While Functional Behavior Assessments (FBA) have been widely used for students who require a behavior intervention plan, a framework does not exist to serve students who may need minimal support. FBT can be a valuable tool for understanding the actions of all students in a classroom. (Hershfeldt, Rosenberg & Bradshaw, 2010)

October 2016 | Co-teaching, a service delivery option in schools implementing inclusive practices, means two or more licensed professionals sharing planning, instruction, and assessment for a group of students (Murawski, 2003; Murawski & Spencer, 2011). Interested in resources and opportunities to support co-teaching? The VDOE Excellence in Co-Teaching Initiative is a good place to start your exploration.

September 2016 | Number talks are"...classroom conversations around purposefully crafted computation problems . . . that students solve mentally" (Parrish, 2011). Number talks facilitate the development of computational fluency "while thinking and reasoning like mathematicians" (Math Perspectives, 2007). "During number talks, students are asked to communicate their thinking when presenting and justifying solutions . . . which leads to the development of more accurate, efficient, and flexible strategies" (Parrish, 2011).

May 2016 | Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a research- based set of principles to guide the design of learning environments that are accessible and effective for all. UDL guidelines address the WHY (engagement), the WHAT (representation), and the HOW (action and expression) of learning ( In a traditional classroom, a teacher may devote a great deal of time and energy to planning lessons but unknowingly create barriers that exclude some children. Using UDL principles, educators can be ready to reach all learners at any age or grade level.

April 2016 | Person-Centered Planning for Students with Autism Everyday transitions can be difficult for some students with autism. Knowing how students cope with small transitions is essential for long-term transition planning. Transition planning for adulthood can be easier if teachers begin early, engage the students in preparatory activities and ensure the process is person-centered.

March 2016 | As winter turns to spring, so do schools turn their thoughts toward graduation! This spring, some Virginia students will be among the first to receive the Applied Studies Diploma. Like the "Special Diploma", the newly named Applied Studies diploma will be awarded to 2016 graduates with disabilities who complete the requirements of their Individualized Education Program (IEP) and do not meet the requirements for other diplomas. This diploma option provides for curriculum enhancement and is NOT a replacement for statewide assessment.

February 2016 | Dynamic Assessment (DA) a clear link between assessment and instruction. It incorporates a child's response to instructional feedback. Its distinctive feature from traditional assessments is that it determines the students' potential for change when given assistance (McMaster, Ritchey and Lembke, 2011). Also known as authentic assessment, instructional assessment and mediated assessment, DA is a type of formative assessment providing information on how a student interacts with the curriculum at hand. It helps teachers determine the zone of proximal development or entry level for instruction. That interaction is guided by the assessor and becomes the driving force for the assessment. It is a process for data collection rather than a protocol and is considered to be an evidence-based practice.

January 2016 | College and career readiness are the latest educational buzzwords, but what do they mean and how do they apply to ALL teachers? The idea of focusing on college readiness in the K-5 setting may seem daunting or even inappropriate, but through engaging students in critical thinking activities, all students and teachers can begin to climb the ladder to a successful post-secondary life. Colleges and businesses have stated time and again that students are not prepared for graduating with the necessary critical thinking abilities (Darling-Hammond, Wilhoit, & Pittenger, 2014).

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