While it is common practice for students in general education to have access to a standards-based curriculum, this is not always the case for students with moderate to severe disabilities receiving special education services. Despite the need, districts are often met with limited funding and resources, among other reasons, that may prevent the purchase and implementation of an adapted curriculum.
As special educators, we’ve all heard teachers share their frustrations at one point or another about having to adapt and modify the general education curriculum to meet the needs of their students. While individual adaptations may “get the job done,” special educators often spend countless hours reinventing the wheel. This ultimately leads to less instructional time, along with the added stress and exhaustion that can lead to burnout.
Let’s take a closer look at the benefits of an adapted curriculum and how to determine if an adapted curriculum is the right fit in your district.
For students with low incidence disabilities, having access to a standards-based, adapted curriculum is a driving factor on the road to academic success. Students with disabilities often require specially designed instruction and accommodations that consider individual needs and learning styles. An adapted curriculum meets your students where they are at in their learning journey, while still providing access to the same educational opportunities as their typically developing peers. How so? Let’s define what this can look like.
Using an adapted curriculum allows educators to modify their students’ instructional materials to support different learning styles, strengths, and areas of need.
Accessing an adapted curriculum can also heighten student engagement and knowledge retention. When students are provided with learning materials that are culturally-relevant, developmentally and socially appropriate, and meaningful to their lives, they are more likely to be interested and invested in their education.
By providing access to the same educational opportunities that peers are receiving in general education, student outcomes will climb, as will a greater sense of confidence and self-esteem.
enCORE offers an adapted reading library that contains classic and modern literature books (like Julius Caesar, White Fang, and Peter Rabbit, for example.) differentiated at each of three levels – for those students needing the most support to those needing less. Additionally, all of the high-quality illustrations that appear in the adapted curriculum library are done in-house to ensure the diversity of characters in the literature represents the diversity of our student population. And, the lifelike imagery and real life photographs help students generalize across settings – a critically important aspect of learning for students with moderate to severe disabilities.
The adapted reading library is only one component of enCORE. This blended learning model of teacher-led instruction and individualized technology-facilitated lessons support measurable student growth. In fact, the nearly 86,000 students who use this adapted curriculum experience on average a 69% growth rate between pre- and post test scores.
Evaluating your school’s current special education program on an annual basis is key in helping to identify gaps and areas for improvement.
The first step in assessing the special education program in your school is to evaluate your current curriculum and support systems. You can start by reviewing the curriculum materials that your special educators use – this may include textbooks, instructional materials, technology and other resources. Do your teachers have access to an adapted curriculum OR are they modifying the general education curriculum themselves? Or perhaps they use an adapted curriculum that they tirelessly create themselves – authoring their own lessons and pulling from a variety of sites.
If so, do these materials offer instruction that aligns with your state standards? Is the curriculum producing measurable student outcomes? To answer these questions, you’ll want to review student performance data, gather feedback from teachers and families, and observe student progress.
Are areas like accessibility, instructional strategies, and accommodations all being met?
Once you’ve identified weaker areas of the curriculum, define a plan to address these improvements. Do certain curriculum materials need to be adjusted? Will your teachers need additional opportunities for professional learning? Outline a plan and create a timeline for how and when you can work toward strengthening your special education program.
If you determine that you need a comprehensive, standards-based adapted curriculum for your school, what steps should you consider to ensure you choose the best fit for your students, and the educators who teach them?
Selecting the right adapted curriculum to use in your special education department can make all of the difference for your students with moderate to severe disabilities. While the selection process may be challenging, here are a few tips to help you navigate the journey:
First, you need to truly understand what your students need. Review multiple sources of student data and connect with teachers, support staff, families, etc. to fully understand what areas of need must be addressed with a new adapted curriculum. For example, if you know that physical classroom manipulatives and hands-on resources are a necessity for student success in your school, you do not want to evaluate adapted curriculums that only offer an online component.
Which brings us directly to our second tip. Do your research! Vet every vendor on your checklist to ensure their adapted curriculum offerings align with your school’s needs and goals. What does their customer support look like? Do they offer a blended learning approach? How easy-to-use is the curriculum? And then of course, does the adapted curriculum fit in your defined budget?
● Does the curriculum include physical goods and an online component, or are screens used all day every day?
● Is there a visual appeal, or are stick figures included in place of realistic visuals and illustrations?
● Will the adapted curriculum offer equitable and inclusive access to the general education curriculum?
You’ll want to be fully confident in what is being offered. Even if you are confident, consult with experts for additional feedback. This can include your staff, curriculum specialists you may know, school psychologists, and/or support staff. You’ll want as much feedback as possible prior to making a decision to ensure that you invest in the right adapted curriculum for your school.
Once you’ve chosen the right adapted curriculum for your school, what comes next?
All that is left to do is implement (and evaluate regularly!) your adapted curriculum now. Implementing a new adapted curriculum can be overwhelming for you, your staff and your students, but with specific implementation tips it’ll be less intimidating and more effective. Reference this guide prior to implementation so you can hit the ground running once you’re ready to implement your new adapted curriculum.
Make sure your staff feels supported and is provided with ample professional learning opportunities throughout the implementation process, as well. Keep an eye on data and student progress as you all navigate a new adapted curriculum – this way adjustments can continuously be made to guarantee you are meeting educational goals and objectives.
When you’re ready to begin evaluating adapted curriculums, request a demo of TeachTown’s K-12 standards-based, adapted curriculum today. We offer customized, district-specific evaluation plans to help special education leaders throughout the curriculum search process.
Megan Gilson is the Senior Manager of Content Marketing at TeachTown, the leading provider of K-12 adapted core curriculum. A skilled content creator, Megan has spent the last decade of her career raising awareness about the benefits of health, wellness and equitable and inclusive education. She received her bachelor’s degree from the State University of New York at New Paltz.