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The purpose of the study was to examine the extent to which learners with intellectual and developmental disabilities have access to the general education curriculum and the extent to which such access is related to and envisaged by complementary tools and services, including curriculum modifications (e.g., adaptations and argumentations, educational and assistive technology, adult and peer supports), classroom contexts (e.g., instructional groupings, physical classroom arrangements and classroom setting conditions) and other ecological influences.
The study was informed by the limited number of studies addressing “the degree to which accommodations and curriculum modifications are provided to students with severe disabilities or about teacher, student, and classroom ecological variables that may contribute to greater access for this population” (Soukup et al., 2007 p. 101).
As acknowledged by Payne et al (2007), students with special needs need effective curriculum-based instruction and assessment in both academic and social skills spheres, but many existing studies are yet to address this issue.
A quantitative research design was employed to collect and record primary data on 19 elementary students with learning disabilities (mental retardation or autism) sampled from three suburban school districts from the Midwest; that is, the researchers used a computer-based data collection program known as Access CISSAR to collect a wide range of the quantitative variables from the participants during core academic instructional time in science and social studies.
The researchers were able to observe and record important data from the participants using this instrument without intruding on classroom instructional activities (Soukup et al., 2007).
The researchers found that (1) intellectually and developmentally disabled students requiring individualized education programs do not align well with the general education curriculum, (2) students with special needs require to be provided with accommodations and curriculum modifications (e.g., augmentations and adaptations) during instruction; however the impact of paraprofessionals in providing the needed supports may be either positive or negative depending on classroom contexts and ecological variables, (3) students with special needs are often not provided with the opportunity to learn and apply learning-to-learn or self-regulation strategies than could enhance their capacity in interacting with the general education curriculum, (4) students with disabilities who sit in the same physical arrangement with at least some of their peers, and those who work exclusively with a teacher/paraprofessional on a one-on-one situation, have greater access to the general education curriculum, and (5) being educated with nondisabled peers more than half of the instructional day is predictive of greater access to the general education curriculum (Soukup et al., 2007).
Although this study utilized a small sample size, hence compromising on the generalizability of findings to a wider population, it has obvious ramifications for curriculum-based instruction for students with disabilities.
First, the study illuminates the fact that curriculum modifications and adaptations are important tools teachers could use in designing curriculum-based instruction for students with developmental or intellectual disabilities. However, the study fails to mention which modifications and adaptations are important for this group of the population.
Additionally, the findings are clear on the importance of providing intellectually and developmentally disabled students with a learning environment that facilitates learning-to-learn and self-regulation strategies for the purpose of promoting their interaction with the general education curriculum. It is therefore clear that disabled students who employ learning-to-learn and self-regulation strategies, along with the modifications and augmentations as provided by instructors, increase access to the general education curriculum.
Lastly, the study has illuminated the need not only to include students with disabilities in the general classroom to enhance their access to the general education curriculum, but also to ensure that the physical seating arrangement is conducive to their learning (seating in the same physical arrangement with peers positively impacts upon their access to the general education curriculum), and to ensure that this group of the population works exclusively with a teacher or a paraprofessional in a one-on-one basis to provide greater access to the curriculum.
Payne, L.D., Marks, L.J., & Bogan, B.L. (2007). Using curriculum-based assessment to address the academic and behavioral deficits of students with emotional and behavioral disorders. Beyond Behavior, 16(3), 3-6.
Soukup, J.H., Wehmeyer, M.L., Bashinski, S.M., & Bovaird, J.A. (2007). Classroom variables and access to the general curriculum for students with disabilities. Exceptional Children, 74(1), 101-120.