Improving Academic Outcomes for Students with Disabilities: Peeling Back the Onion



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Background: The all-encompassing problem of school failure is in the spotlight. The need to turn around schools is imperative not only to build a future economy and shift the attitude of public perception but also, more importantly, to impact student academic achievement positively. Purpose: The purpose of this study was to demonstrate the need to implement the prepare-inquire-act (PIA) cycle in a fast-growing rural school district. The cycle provides a process for leaders and teachers to use to determine the steps necessary to impact student learning outcomes. The first step is a needs assessment that unpacks the F rating on the target campus. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) places an emphasis on all students performing academically and progressing academically. Consequently, schools must improve the quality and rigor of instruction necessary to meet federal standards for accountability. Given publicly available accountability ratings and increased access to more detail about student performance, it was apparent that students in some subpopulations—especially students who were supported by federal did not perform as well as others. There are three research questions for this study, which examines special education students in a Texas middle school (Grades 6–8). First, to what extent are there gaps in performance in STAAR Math and Reading by ethnicity, poverty, and English learner status at the target middle school campus for students who have been identified with disabilities and qualify for support under IDEA? Second, what systems are in place at the target middle school campus to support the professional development of teachers in Math and Reading and to determine their capacity to deliver instruction? Third, what systems are in place at the target middle school campus to support the professional development of teachers to support students with disabilities? Methodology: This study used archived quantitative data. The design is a quantitative descriptive needs assessment and reviews the archived State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) test scores in Math and Reading in a rural sixth- through eighth-grade campus that had an state accountability rating of F for 2019. Students with identified disabilities at the target middle school campus, their teachers, and the campus leadership constitute the sample for this archival record study. Results: To help guide future PIA efforts at the campus, this report will provide a review of the student outcomes, supports provided for teachers, and the campus/district systems. Students with special needs at the target campus consistently underperformed their peers at the state and federal levels on Math and Reading and their peers without disabilities on the campus. A review of de-identified teacher records in the District Human Resources office indicated that three teachers had a content and special education certification, one teacher only had content certification, and another teacher had no information on file. Additionally, a review of the professional development logs at both the district and campus levels for the time of this study showed that most artifacts were not found, and the professional development plans that were found were broad in scope and not tied to STAAR scores or to the needs of students with disabilities. No artifacts were found to support professional development of staff for students with disabilities nor was any attention paid to the areas of Math, Reading, and disability support. Additional information about the district improvement plans and campus improvement plans were broad in scope and were not tied to STAAR performance or disability supports. Conclusions: The target middle school campus had no proof of systems or processes that were in place to support the academic success of all students, including students with disabilities. The lack of an improvement process was a key factor in the school's F accountability rating.



Improving, Students, Performance, Academics, Results