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Additional Qualifications to Special Education

Response to the Ontario College of Teachers regarding the draft revision

To: Patricia Goldblatt,
Program Officer, Standards of Practice and Education Unit
Ontario College of Teachers
121 Bloor Street East, 6th Floor
Toronto, ON M4W 3M5
pgoldblatt@oct.on.ca

Re: Revision of Additional Qualifications in Special Education

From: The Ontario Coalition for Inclusive Education (Groups that comprise the Coalition are: Brampton Caledon Community Living, Canadian Association for Community Living, Down Syndrome Association of Ontario, Early Childhood Resource Teacher Network of Ontario, Family Alliance Ontario, Integration Action Group, Lakehead Association for Community Living, Community Living Ontario, People First Ontario, Youth Involvement Ontario)

The Ontario Coalition for Inclusive Education appreciates the invitation to provide feedback on the Additional Qualification Guidelines: Special Education Part I, Special Education Part II, and Special Education Specialist.

We welcomed the opportunity to share some of our concerns about the pre-service program for teachers when we met with representatives of the College last year on April 2, 2001.

Current legislation (Reg. 181) recognizes that all students have the right to be educated in "regular" classrooms, with the support, accommodations and modifications needed to make that happen. We continue to emphasize that changes in teacher training are needed so that all educators are prepared to teach all students in their classrooms. All teachers should graduate as qualified teachers in the province of Ontario, prepared to facilitate learning for all students, able to accommodate individual differences as needed, establish goals and meet objectives as stated in Individual Education Plans (IEPs). Teachers must be able to write IEPs, modify the Ontario Curriculum as might be needed for some students, and subsequently evaluate and assess students in a variety of ways. This preparation should not be reserved for AQ courses, but the objectives of the AQ courses should also be part of basic teacher training. If graduating teachers do not have these skills, then subsequently exceptional students are at an immediate disadvantage in their classrooms. We would also comment that the length of the current preservice program (eight to nine months) makes it difficult to adequately prepare teachers to teach all students.

We would encourage the College of Teachers to examine the report of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD): "Sustaining Inclusive Education: Including Students with Special Educational Needs in Mainstream Schools" – Lessons from Case Studies – March 1999. This intensive look at inclusive education practices around the world led OECD to preface their report with the following clear statement:

"Although fully inclusive education systems are difficult to locate, enough examples exist, at least at the local and school level, to begin to identify the main factors for sustaining inclusive education. The report concludes that given certain safeguards, there are few, if any, organizational, curriculum or pedagogical reasons to maintain segregated provision within the public sector. In fact encouraging a symbiosis between regular and special education personnel will prove to be beneficial for the school and all its students. There are, however, considerable implications for the training and preparation of staff and the ways in which they work. Furthermore, funding models which are biased against inclusion, and systems of public accountability which exclude disabled students also need to be reviewed.
…it seems safe to conclude that well-developed inclusive practices, which give equivalent attention to disabled students, are less expensive than segregated ones. Furthermore, the evidence on educational progress is such to suggest tentatively that well structured and supported inclusive practices are beneficial for both disabled and non-disabled students alike." [p.2]

And

"the training systems for teachers and other professionals appear to be inadequately oriented for preparing trainees for the demands of working in inclusive settings. The paucity of appropriate training would seem to be helping to maintain an unnecessarily high level of segregated provision." [p.13]


We are encouraged by those revisions the College is proposing to the AQ courses that have improved how special educators must include students with identified exceptionalities in regular classrooms. We are discouraged by the emphasis on the grouping of students into categories according to their different disabilities, which has a deficits-based focus. Instead what teachers really need to learn is how to design any help an individual student might require in order to learn (as a teacher will be required to do during the development of an IEP). But once again, all graduating teachers should be able to develop and carry out what is outlined in an IEP.

The proposed guidelines appear to imply that teachers of segregated classes and teachers of "regular" classes in which pupils labeled "exceptional" are "integrated" will get the same training. This does not reflect the reality of these situations. Teachers in segregated classes for pupils with intellectual disabilities, for example, work in one place and have a separate, alternate curriculum, which they are supposed to adapt for each student separately, as if she / he existed in isolation.
The role is very different when resource teachers are team facilitators and agents of professional development for classroom teachers. Along with teachers in "regular" classes in which students labeled exceptional are "integrated", they need to know how to adapt the Ontario curriculum so as to accommodate students according to their IEPs. The "regular" classroom is dynamic and always changing.

The most appropriate accommodations will depend on the teacher's attitude and personality, the relationship she/he has developed with the class, the class dynamics, and the level of confidence in making creative changes/modifications to the curriculum. The same "exceptional" pupil in a different classroom or with a different teacher may need different accommodations. This difference in required preparation must be reflected in the AQ Guidelines. In fact, the competencies for teachers registered with the Ontario College of Teachers do not emphasize that teachers must accommodate any kind of difference in their classrooms, especially difference labeled "exceptionality". AQ guidelines do not emphasize this either.
It is helpful, therefore, that you have considered ways to prepare educators to be school leaders and advocates for their students. Inclusive education requires fundamental paradigm shifts in school structures and cultures. The onus to adapt should be on the teacher, not the student. Accommodations must be made, but fewer of these will be "exceptionality-specific" in classrooms where teachers are flexible and welcoming of diversity.

We feel that it is important to comment on the use of different terms throughout the document to describe students with exceptionalities. "Exceptional students", "special needs student", "exceptional needs students", "people with special needs" - all of these are used interchangeably. The only term that has a defined meaning in law is "exceptional pupil", so that if several different terms are to be used, they should be defined. If all terms are supposed to mean the same thing, then the defined term "exceptional pupil" should be used consistently. Alternatively, the focus should be on the individual as opposed to their label, e.g. "student with exceptional needs" could also be used.

The term "assessment" is also used in an inconsistent manner throughout this document. When used in Section 7, Assessment and Evaluation of Candidates", it appears to imply "formative evaluation", or "evaluation of ability or attainment". However, when the focus is on students in the classroom, as in Specialist, Section 5.C Program Development, Planning and Implementation, "assessment" appears to have a different meaning that seems to imply a diagnosis of deficits. Students as well as teachers should also be assessed by their attainments. Most of the "assessments" imposed on students considered to have intellectual disabilities, for example, are deficit based. This process enables school personnel to label students, and to tell parents exactly what their child cannot do, but it has limited, if indeed any use in determining appropriate accommodations within the Ontario curriculum.

Formative assessments can be useful in determining how much a student is able to do, and then the IEP outlines accommodations and support needed by the student in order to be included in the classroom. It should be noted that the Education Act defines "special education program" essentially as an IEP - designed for one student at a time. Therefore it is incorrect to suggest that teacher candidates learn that "program" can mean congregated groupings and segregated settings - i.e. as places to visit. We think that all teachers must receive training in settings that are inclusive. We would encourage teachers to learn from the Ontario Coalition for Inclusive Education and its unprecedented partnerships.

Comments Related to Specific Sections

(these comments relate to all three draft Additional Qualification Guidelines: Special Education Part I, Special Education Part II, and Special Education Specialist.

1. Introduction

We recommend that "special education" be redefined in all of these draft documents to reflect "special education" as "the art and science of accommodating difference in classrooms, and within the school community". Hence paragraph 4 in the Introduction to both Part I and Part II would read: "The underlying purpose of the Additional Qualification Course: Special Education, Part I (or II) is to inform teachers of current best practices and current theories for accommodating differences; to enable teachers to adapt and improve their existing skills and knowledge in light of this new knowledge; and to provide them with the tools and practice they need to apply it".

Part III: Special Education Specialist, Section 1, paragraph 4, would read: "The underlying purpose of the Additional Qualification Course: Special Education Part III is to enable teachers to acquire greater expertise and practice in supporting (in collaboration with non-teaching professionals and parents/ guardians) other teachers and staff who need support in finding and using appropriate accommodations. Successful candidates will also know how to design and implement a strategy for accommodating differences across the curriculum and across a school board system, and to design and implement appropriate mechanisms to ensure accountability to school boards, parents, and communities".

2. Background

This section in all AQ course drafts should strongly emphasize that Regulation 181 states that the regular classroom is the "norm", and that regular class is the first placement option to be discussed at every IPRC. Therefore, all classroom teachers must prepare themselves for teaching "exceptional students" who are members of the regular classroom, possibly requiring accommodations and/or modifications to the Ontario curriculum as outlined in their IEPs.

3. Standards of Practice for the Teaching Profession and the Ethical Standards for the Teaching Profession

As previously stated, the competencies for teachers registered with the Ontario College of Teachers do not emphasize that teachers must accommodate any kind of difference in their classrooms, especially difference labeled "exceptionality". Emphasis should be placed on teachers developing accommodation strategies for individual students, if we remember that the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that school boards have a "duty to accommodate" [Eaton vs. Brant County Board of Education]. It is clear that the College recognizes that this is a rights issue, evident in Part I, Section 5.C bullet 9, where it is stated that special education teachers will demonstrate an "understanding that special education is an equity issue by listening to the "voices' of the diverse exceptionalities in special education." It will be important to emphasize this in the guidelines because when differences are identified as "exceptionalities", "difference' is often treated as a pathology to be diagnosed and treated. The unfortunate consequence is that people do not see 'treatment' occurring in the regular classroom, and so students are segregated. Hence our reluctance to promote the ongoing references to definitions and categories of exceptionalities, as they only serve to further stigmatize and marginalize students with exceptionalities, thus compromising their right to an academic education.

4. Learning Expectations

There are many excellent learning expectations listed. However, the first learning expectation for candidates in all AQ courses should be to understand that "regular" classroom is the norm as per Reg 181, and must prepare teacher candidates to teach all students, since all students have the right to be accommodated in the regular classroom.
Bullet three could be restated to reflect that candidates understand "how to use, accommodate and modify expectations, strategies and assessment practices" based
on the needs of students as defined in their IEP, and according to the Ontario curriculum.
We especially support the learning expectation bullet four that candidates learn to work collaboratively with in-school personnel, parents/ guardians, and the community.


5. Curriculum Content

The curriculum content has many excellent aspects, but once again we comment that much of this curriculum should be essential to the foundation with which all teacher candidates in the province of Ontario graduate. Ideally, inclusion would form the infrastructure of every strand of curriculum that teaching candidates are exposed to, so that educating students with exceptionalities in the regular classroom would, in fact, be "the norm".

Section B: Theoretical Foundations of Special Education, encourages understanding of the "development of special education in Ontario". We think teachers also need greater knowledge of where we have been, in order to understand what is involved in shaping a better future for our young people. They need to learn how people with disabilities have been treated in our past - and not just in school. Historical and social analysis of policies, practices and attitudes is a necessary component of social change. The negative influence of the eugenics movement on the education system would be an extremely vital component of this course.

Section C: Program Development, Planning and Implementation; Section D: The Learning Environment; Section E: Assessment and Instruction; and Section E: School, Parent/ Guardian and Community; should be the most intense and emphasized parts of the curriculum for all AQ courses.
It does not benefit teachers to know great detail about the categories and definitions of various exceptionalities, if they do not know how to welcome all students, modify Ontario curriculum, accommodate difference, and assess students differently. Within each category of exceptionality exist individual students, with individual strengths and needs.

We especially commend the College for the first and last bullets in Section C, and would suggest that an emphasis be placed on:

  • "understanding that all students share elements of ability, disability and normalcy"
  • "understanding that special education is an equity issue by listening to the voices of" students with exceptionalities, their peers, their families, and the community.
    We must also listen to the stories of people who have been segregated and isolated throughout their school careers, and benefit from their perspective.

6. Instructional Practice

In preparing teacher candidates for welcoming all students to their classrooms, it is essential that these candidates have opportunities for authentic school-based experiences in inclusive classrooms.
Instructors who are responsible for delivery of the curriculum to candidates must address inclusive curriculum design, accommodations and modifications to the Ontario curriculum, and alternate assessments, and model effective, inclusive classroom strategies (that have been clearly demonstrated) (e.g. cooperative learning, multi-level instruction, etc.)

7. Assessment and Evaluation of Candidates

Previous comments call for a clear definition of assessment and evaluation. We strongly support "a balanced approach to candidate assessment and evaluation" for teacher candidates, just as we know that all students deserve the same opportunity. Students who require accommodations to participate in the classroom curriculum must also have the opportunity for alternate assessment of their learning.

We would strongly advise that Independent Projects include opportunities to understand inclusion from the perspective of families, students, adults who have been segregated, and educators who can share the benefits of inclusive education to society.

The inconsistent language when referring to students with exceptional needs is very clearly evident in the section entitled " Other Assessment Experiences" (see comments in the introduction of this submission).

8. Additional Comments

We are attaching a document, "March 2000 Communication for the Ontario Association of Deans of Education" that describes some of the work of the Ontario Coalition for Inclusive Education shared with that Association. In the paper we expressed concerns that graduating teachers were not being prepared to include all students in their classrooms.
Since that communication was distributed, as part of the Coalition project !ALL TEACHERS - ALL STUDENTS! , advocates such as parents and people who experienced segregated education have been advising Ontario's Faculties of Education about changes needed so that all new teachers are being prepared to teach students of all abilities who will be members of their regular classrooms in the future.

The Ontario Coalition for Inclusive Education would like the opportunity to review any further revisions prior to final release of the guidelines.

Janice Strickland


On behalf of the Ontario Coalition for Inclusive Education


 

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