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TNLI: Action Research: Curriculum Implementation: Finding the Right Fit


How will immerged special education students being tested in their actual grade level perform in high-stakes reading and writing tests?


Would a first grader take a test written for a third grader? Would a seventh grader take the SAT? The preceding questions are reflective of many parents and professionals whose special education students are being asked to take high-stakes tests that are at times three full grade levels above a child’s functioning level. Can immerging these special education students in their actual grade level curriculum for reading/writing affect testing achievement?

Believe it or not, the answer is a resounding yes! I will be the first to admit that I fully intended to fight to have functional level tests given. Prior to doing this project, I believed that it was very unfair to these students. However, I wonder if I was more concerned about the rating they were causing my school to have or worried about the actual curriculum that was being taught.

W.T. Chipman is a typical middle school in rural Delaware.We have both a large number of special education students and a 41% poverty rate.We are a school that definitely has enough students to fill the special education cell. There are, however, schools within our state that have so few special education students that they do not have to count their scores. Due to this large number of special education students, our school is currently “under review.” We have met every target except for the one dealing with special education. This has many teachers in the building distraught because we could be seen as a model school in so many other areas.

The data suggest that in our building special education teachers when compared to regular education teachers seem to have lower expectations for their students. Furthermore, this belief affects instruction and the learning process of both special education and regular education students. By looking at GATES testing, the DSTP, student surveys, teacher surveys, and attendance/referral records, one will see that immerging students in grade-level materials will positively affect achievement.

The GATES testing showed improvement in both “pullout” and “inclusion” special education students. However, the inclusion students did much better on the DSTP. Some may argue that this is because inclusion students have higher reading levels. This is not the case with these students. Their testing scores on the GATES were very similar. In fact, you would not be able to tell the two groups apart based on GATES testing scores. The major differences occur when looking at the DSTP scores.

Teaching styles also came into play. If “pullout” teachers followed the eighth-grade curriculum being taught in class, their students did better on the test. The inclusion students, who were fully immerged in the curriculum, did the best. Again, the results of this study were surprising. I certainly expected to go to battle for these special education students. The bottom line is that if high expectations are set from the beginning, students will reach their goals or at least come close to meeting them. This is obvious when test scores are reviewed.


  • Arrive at a combination of functional-level and grade-level material for special education students.
  • Policy makers should become aware of the statistics regarding inclusion.
  • Teachers and staff should be trained to work with inclusion students, and existing biases should be redirected for higher expectations from special education students.

Full Study
Coming Soon!

Jill Rumley

9th Grade English
W.T. Chipman Middle School

TNLI Affiliate:

If you would like to learn more about Teachers Network Leadership Institute--Delaware, please e-mail Michael Rasmussen.



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