Accommodation revelation

A new online training helps instructors support learners with disabilities

A scene from the online training video features a special education teacher and a math teacher discussing accommodations for a student.

In the video, a special education teacher and a math teacher are talking about a student. The student has a learning disability, and the special education teacher suggests an accommodation. Initially, the math teacher is skeptical about the process and not sure it is her job to do anything about it. But at the conversation’s end, she is willing to give it a try.

The scene reflects very real conversations that happen every day in classrooms across the country. The video is part of a new set of online training modules on making decisions about instructional and assessment accommodations for students with disabilities.

The training was created by the National Center on Educational Outcomes (NCEO) in CEHD for the State of Alabama, but it is available to anyone who wants to use it. Whether the training is shown to educators in Alabama or at conferences nationwide, the reaction is universal. Once the video clip concludes, audience members cannot wait to use it.

“Oh, I can use this!” is the phrase NCEO’s Sheryl Lazarus so often hears.

The first time Lazarus showed the training was at a conference for teacher educators held by the Council for Exceptional Children.

“After we presented it one person asked, ‘Can the Decision Making Tool be used to get a grade for a student?’” Lazarus remembers, “and then three other people jumped in—‘Well, this is how I think I could use it in my course’—and suddenly we weren’t the ones answering the questions.”

A resource for instructors

Accommodations are tools or processes that enable a student with disabilities to access instruction and assessment meaningfully, without changing the difficulty or construct. They help students better access learning and show what they know.

The training includes case-based video clips and contains five interactive, multi-media professional development modules. Educators are coached on best practices in how to select, administer, and evaluate the use of accommodations.

Illustration of accommodations decision-making processA key feature of the training is an accommodations decision-making tool that walks the participant through the steps to take when making decisions about accommodations. The tool provides an opportunity to put into practice what they are learning, and it can be used once the training is completed. The training also offers activities and other resources to build teachers’ knowledge and skills.

This training is available without charge and is accessible from NCEO’s website. NCEO developed the training collaboratively with the State of Alabama, where instructors earn continuing education credits after completing it, but it can be used in other states because the information in the training is not state specific.

Designed for users

After conducting a needs assessment, the Alabama State Department of Education found that teachers were randomly assigning accommodations.

“Teachers were doing accommodations, but there was no rhyme or reason for what they were doing,” says DaLee Chambers, director of the department’s transition initiative.

“It has been many years since any kind of training has been conducted in Alabama to help educators understand what accommodations are and how to properly use them with students instructionally and on state assessments,” says Nannette Pence, the department’s education specialist for Student Assessment Special Populations at the Alabama State Department of Education.

NCEO is a national center funded by both state and national grants. The center works with states across the country to provide leadership to include students with disabilities and English language learners (ELLs) in large-scale state assessments. The grant that funded this training was from the Office of Special Education Programs. NCEO and Alabama began to develop it in 2010.

NCEO team, L-R: Moore, Rieke, Lazarus, Hodgson.
Four members of the team that created the accommodations decision-making online training presented their work at CEHD Research Day 2013 before the rollout. Left to right: writer Michael Moore, project coordinator Rebekah Rieke, project director Sheryl Lazarus, and graduate research assistant Jennifer Hodgson.

As part of the development process, NCEO staff members led focus groups, teacher surveys, usability testing, and a national summit meeting. They found that case studies are helpful, and teachers learn best when they can relate the training to their own practice. NCEO made an early decision to include video clips, which then required writing scripts, involving actors, and filming.

Knowing that learning is aided when learners can actually do something rather than passively watch a computer screen led the NCEO team to develop the Decision Making Tool included in the training.

After considering various options for implementing the training itself, NCEO selected the college’s LT Media Lab.

“They had a focus on creating content and presenting it in a way that was engaging that involved learners and brought them in,” Lazarus says. “One of the highlights working with them was the very excellent people they had working on the videos.”

Throughout development, LT Media Lab emphasized thinking and doing the training in cutting-edge ways. From the start, they said the training should be able to work on mobile devices and iPads.

“That was always their focus,” says Lazarus, “and I’m glad we went that route.”

Comprehensive and fun

The training launched last August, in time for teacher development prior to the school year. Since then, Pence has presented the training to several thousand educators in Alabama. She has also included it as part of the curriculum for an exceptional-learner class she teaches at a private college.

“It was very well received and looked upon as a necessary tool everyone could use,” Pence says. “Everyone thought it was easy to follow, understand, and then able to implement within the classroom. And they were glad they could receive credit for it.”

Video clips from the training are available on NCEO’s YouTube Channel, where anyone may view and use them. NCEO is also creating web pages that will imbed selected videos and provide curriculum for teachers to use.

The training is spreading to other states. Matt Holloway, special education specialist at Texas Education Service Center Region 13, found the training while doing a web search.

“When we came across it,” Holloway says, “we were very impressed that somebody did a comprehensive, methodical training that looks at the whole picture of the accommodations process.”

Holloway works with schools to align accommodations with student needs.

“We were thrilled that this training is generalized enough that it translates across multiple state policies,” he says. “We didn’t have to tailor the training to relate to Texas teachers.”

It isn’t just the content Holloway likes, but how the information is presented.

“Overall the design is engaging, it is quick paced and responsive,” Holloway says. “It’s fun!”

Learn more about accommodations training and the National Center on Educational Outcomes.

Story by Michael Moore | Photos courtesy of NCEO (top) and by Gayla Marty