Key Takeaway: In education, we throw around the term evidence-based quite casually, at times without the awareness of whether the evidence we rely on is empirically sound. Bringing clarity to how we ascertain veracity can support our ability to identify high-quality interventions. – Erin Madonna

In this article, Kauffman and Farkas discuss veracity as it pertains to special education, particularly around issues of policy and access to services. The authors outline two types of beliefs that drive educational decisions, Type A or scientifically verifiable beliefs and Type B, opinions or personal assertions which are not scientifically verified. The authors argue that when Type A beliefs have been established as replicable and truthful, they should be given precedence over Type B beliefs when making educational decisions.

In defining Type A and Type B beliefs, the authors provide the example of reading instruction to illustrate the difference between scientific beliefs and those based upon opinion. A Type A belief around reading is that explicit reading instruction of decoding skills works, while a Type B belief around reading is that reading emerges naturally in a literature-rich environment. We know this Type B belief as a “whole language” or a “balanced literacy” approach. The Type A belief has been verified scientifically, replicated, and is determined to be an evidence-based intervention not because we believe it to be, but because it has qualified as such through rigorous testing. This Type A belief can be challenged and reverified or debunked at any point. 

  • A Type A belief is not based on popular opinion, it is based upon the outcome of credible scientific study. 
  • The Type B belief is based upon personal testimonies and is often reinforced by the assertions of an authority figure or by a collective opinion held by a large group. It has not been exposed to the same scientific scrutiny as the Type A belief but is accepted by many because it fits with their personal opinions. This particular Type B belief is based upon flawed research which demonstrates how a Type B belief can be reinforced by data that does not meet the requirements of scientific assessment, but that is accepted anyway, becoming pseudoscience.

With the definition of Type A and Type B beliefs established, the authors go on to discuss practical applications of greater awareness around the two types of belief. “When we claim that something is evidence-based in special education, the matter of Type A belief about it—the empirical evidence—is of enormous consequence.” This is because making educational choices without empirical evidence risks, at best, neutral outcomes and, at worst, potential harm for our students. “Conformity to a personal version of belief, Type B, must not be substituted for a confirmable reality.”

The authors connect the concept of veracity with social justice when they discuss the impact of Type B beliefs on public policy, including the belief of “over-representation of certain racial or ethnic groups” in special education. With only partial veracity, amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) aimed at addressing the belief that “over-representation” is occurring have denied Black students badly needed services. “When a social policy or the fate of an individual is in question, as is often the case in special education, then Type A truth matters a great deal.” 

Educators must look beyond the fads or popular movements in education and seek out information about whether the interventions they plan to implement are based upon a Type A belief or a Type B belief. Part of this process for the individual is being willing to adjust their practice if new empirical evidence demonstrates that a previously held belief is not in fact a Type A belief. Adaptability and commitment to relying on scientific evidence provide the best opportunity for delivering a high-quality educational experience for our students. Allowing for external pressures to influence our choice of intervention without evidenced veracity is problematic. 

The authors are careful to express that Type B beliefs can positively influence education. They make clear that Type A and Type B beliefs may not always be in conflict. When one’s personal beliefs allow them to “make better sense of the objective world and/or provide moral guidance or a star to steer by,” that Type B belief can provide the motivation to advocate for special education services or improved policy. The point is not to abandon all Type B beliefs but to become conscious of how they influence our decisions as educators and to always check our Type B beliefs against available evidence before acting upon them. 

Summarized Article:

[Kauffman, J. M., & Farkas, G. (2021). Veracity in Special Education. Exceptionality, 1-14. DOI: 10.1080/09362835.2021.1938066]

Summary by: Erin Madonna—Erin philosophically aligns with the MARIO Framework’s deeply rooted conviction that all learners are capable, and she firmly believes in MARIO’s commitment to the use of evidence-based practices drawn from the field of current multidisciplinary research.

Key Takeaway: Families should be valued, and we should reconceptualize families as central stakeholders, seen and treated as significant contributors who have authority to influence and impact the trajectory of content and research decisions. This happens when teachers learn from parents who are actively involved in research, design, and inquiry. It shifts the focus by taking into account the family’s popular knowledge and wisdom—expertise that comes mainly from hands-on experiences based on their daily lives, experiences, and needs. —Jay Lingo

Summary: In this research article, Graff explores the Family as Faculty (FAF) approach which emerged out of family-centered care. The idea is to capitalize on the comprehensive knowledge that the families of children with disabilities possess about the children’s needs and strengths. This would create teachable moments for professionals through their personal stories as a way to better understand how to provide the best overall care for the child. This program is an intentional movement for teachers to communicate with families with a respectful understanding that there is value in learning more about the child’s disability through the family’s lens. This program aims to not only provide increased empathy but also effective communication, tolerance for diversity, and extraordinary commitment to partnership.

Despite the numerous advantages of the FAF program, Graff also recognizes that working together is often a complex and difficult process. Some of the main concerns raised in the article are: 

  • Anxiety or being defensive because of previous negative experiences
  • Continuous language and cultural barriers 
  • Being less successful in navigating special education systems for emerging multilinguals

These complexities are even amplified in the multiply marginalized families—families of color who have been historically minoritized on top of having children with disabilities. When assessments are often based on dominant Westernized notions of what educational progress and success looks like or when predominately White, non-disabled monolingual English-speaking teachers are assessing why their child is struggling, they are often viewed through deficit perspectives. This is also why the adaptation of FAF is treated with much urgency. Graff suggests that FAF will provide a platform for families to challenge the existing traditional power hierarchies in education and to question educational power structures that are directly impacting their children.

By making families co-investigators and co-educators, the family is repositioned as active agents of change rather than passive recipients. This partnership is critical when measuring educator impact and reflecting on our own power and privilege in relation to the students and families we are collaborating with.

Article Summarized:

Santamaría Graff, C. (2021). Co-investigation and co-education in ‘family as faculty’ approaches: A repositioning of power. Theory Into Practice, 60(1), 39-50.

Summary By: Jay Lingo

Key Takeaway: It is the responsibility of special educators to continuously review the educational laws specific to their location given the close connection to Human Rights Laws and various Disability Acts (IDEA & ADA) that exist in this particular field of work. As an educator, you will frequently reference your students’ individualized education plan or program (IEP), often as a legally binding document, in order to align the IEP goals with the personalized learning goals that students will create as part of your learning support program. Understanding the laws surrounding IEPs within your context will help to ensure that you are able to provide legally sound and equitable programming for your students. —Taryn McBrayne

Summary: In the article, “Ten Legal Lessons for Special Educators,” co-authors Emma Gratton-Fisher and Perry A. Zirkel (Lehigh University, College of Education) emphasize the importance of building legal literacy amongst special educators. Gratton-Fisher and Zirkel state that, as special education teachers, “…you need basic legal currency, not a law degree, to navigate the legally denser parts of special education law and support students with special needs.” In order to assist educators in navigating the legalities that exist within the educational field, the authors outline ten legal pointers that they believe to be most applicable to special education teachers and seek to debunk possible legal myths. The article highlights the following five pieces of legal information as they relate to laws applicable in the United States (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act): 

1. “One “red flag,” such as a diagnosis of ADHD, or a parent evaluation request does not automatically obligate the school to evaluate the student for special education.” 

  • Contrary to popular belief, Zirkel (1) suggests that “reasonable suspicion” for a student’s eligibility for special education services requires a “pattern of indicators.” 

2. “A student does not need to complete all tiers of Response to Intervention (RTI) or Multi Tiered System of Support (MTSS) prior to the school finding them eligible for special education.” 

3. “The law does not clearly define the boundary between special and general education.” 

  • Gratton-Fisher and Zirkel explain that a student who is diagnosed with a learning difference does not automatically qualify for special education services. Rather, services are only provided to the student if the diagnosis impacts their educational performance. 

4. “A concussion does not entitle a child to eligibility under Section 504 or IDEA.” 

  • According to Zirkel (2), in order for a student to receive services under the Rehabilitation Act, a student’s physical or mental impairment must impact them for “at least four-to-six months.” Therefore, in the context of a student acquiring special education services after being diagnosed with a concussion, the duration of their impairment must be considered. 

5. “A legally sound IEP must provide the most reasonably calculated progress for the child, which does not need to be equal to the progress of children without disabilities.” 

  • Gratton-Fisher and Zirkel reference Yell and Bateman’s (3) detailing of a 2017 Supreme Court case to support the notion that an appropriate IEP is one that “enables a child to make progress.” 

The remaining five pointers outlined in the article fall under the categories of Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), Least Restrictive Environment (LRE), discipline, remedies, and miscellaneous. Those who are interested in learning more about the legalities within these contexts of special education are encouraged to read Gratton-Fisher and Ziekel’s article in detail. 

Ultimately, through the discussion of the aforementioned legal statements, the authors reiterate the importance of frequently reviewing legal policies due to the implications they can have on the daily practices of special education teachers.

Article Summarized:

Gratton-Fisher, E., & Zirkel, P. A. (2021). Ten Legal Lessons for Special Educators. Exceptionality: A Special Education Journal, Vol. 29 (1), 41-46. https://doi.org/10.1080/09362835.2020.1727341

Summary By: Taryn McBrayne – Taryn believes in the power of student voice and, through the MARIO Framework, strives to create more opportunities for both educators and students alike to regularly make use of this power.

Additional References:

  1. Zirkel, P. A. (2016). Court decisions specific to public school responses to student concussions. Physical Disabilities: Education and Related Services, Vol. 35, 1–16. doi:10.14434/pders.v35i1.20696.
  2. Zirkel, P. A. (2015). Are students with concussions qualified for Section 504 plans? West’s Education Law Reporter, 311, 589–594.
  3. Yell, M. L., & Bateman, D. F. (2019). Free appropriate public education and Endrew F. v. Douglas County School System (2017): Implications for personnel preparation. Teacher Education and Special Education, Vol. 42, 6–17. doi:10.1177/0888406417754239.