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Learning Disabilities, Teacher Training, and ESSA in Colorado

Learning Disabilities, Teacher Training, and ESSA in Colorado

By Debbie Campbell, Understood.org Parent Fellow for the National Center for Learning Disabilities (ncld.org)

When I started my career as a long-term substitute teacher, I was placed in a special education classroom. I really didn’t know how to work with children with disabilities because my training program didn’t focus on special education. I had to learn on the job, with limited supports from the school.

It’s been 16 years, and I’m no longer a teacher, but my experience with helping my daughter, who has learning and attention issues, succeed in school has shown me that teachers still aren’t prepared to meet the needs of diverse learners. And, while I’ve had frustrations with teachers’ knowledge and comfort level helping students like my daughter, I also know that I can’t expect my child’s teachers to know everything. Teachers have a big job to do—they play the role of educator, classroom manager, social worker, and researcher on a daily basis.

Luckily, I had the knowledge, time, and resources to help my daughter’s school learn how to help her. Not all parents do. And while we can’t expect teachers to know everything, we can expect that they will continue to learn and develop as educators, and we should expect the education system to drive and support their professional development.

There is no question that schools and districts need to provide more training for teachers on how to recognize and support students with learning and attention issues. Today, 70% of kids with specific learning disabilities spend 80% of their time in general education classrooms, which means all teachers need to be prepared to meet their needs. And now, federal law recognizes and encourages schools and districts to do just that. With the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), it is required by law that districts and schools support teacher development.

It’s important that parents and teachers alike know about ESSA, which emphasizes state and local education planning. This means local stakeholders will make more decisions about their own schools and districts.

ESSA supports programs for teacher professional development and training by authorizing funding for Title II teacher training programs. One new development with ESSA is that these trainings need to focus on helping teachers learn evidence-based practices—strategies that are proven to help students learn. This includes several strategies that help students with learning and attention issues, like multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS), universal design for learning (UDL), and personalized learning.

As parents, we need to get involved and urge our districts and schools to do more to support students by providing teachers with training in the strategies that we know are effective for our kids. Ask your child’s principal about how your school supports teacher learning and development, and how that may change this school year as a result of ESSA. Talk to your child’s teacher about the training he or she receives, and find out if they learn about MTSS, UDL, or personalized learning.

Getting involved helped me make sure my daughter was successful, and weighing in on ESSA and teacher professional development is our opportunity to make sure our schools support all kids with learning and attention issues. For more ideas on how to get involved, you can review Understood.org’s toolkit on ESSA advocacy.

P.S. PEAK extends our thanks to Debbie Campbell and The National Center for Learning Disabilities for this contributed blog post! PEAK is proud to be a non-profit Parent Center. In addition to this great toolkit from Understood.org, please note that very soon, a toolkit on ESSA will be made available to Parent Centers across the nation. PEAK will be sure to post information here, on our blog, when this additional resource becomes available.