Key Takeaway: All students should have access to a range of program options that will be appropriately challenging and help them to develop the skills, attitudes, and experience needed to be successful post-school. For some students, such as those with moderate to severe learning difficulties, this would include access to vocational preparation and work experience—highlighting the importance and continued need for dedicated special education programs in schools. —Ayla Reau 

Garry Hornby from the University of Plymouth’s Institute of Education examines which type of educational setting and programs have the best outcomes post-school for students with learning and/or behavior differences. To do so, Hornby conducted a comparative analysis of his findings from three long-term follow-up studies of students with special needs over a period of 30 years.

Generally, most countries follow some of these types of educational settings for children with special needs:

  1. “being educated in a mainstream classroom with support from a teacher’s aide; 
  2. being educated in a mainstream classroom with an additional support teacher;
  3. being educated in a special class within a mainstream school; 
  4. being educated in a segregated special school, including one attached to a mainstream school.”

Hornby was interested in the levels of inclusion achieved in their communities post-school for students who had been in special education (pull-out dedicated special education programs) and/or inclusive education interventions (full inclusion into mainstream programs). He followed three sets of students over his study period (30 years): 

  • A special education class for young people with moderate learning differences (MLD) within a mainstream secondary school in New Zealand.
  • 29 students with MLD transferred from a special education school into mainstream programs in the North of England. 
  • And students from a residential special school for children with emotional or behavioural difficulties (EBD) in New Zealand.

To evaluate the effectiveness of the education provided in these different settings, Hornby needed evidence from all stakeholders involved. 

  • Parents: Hornby concludes that parents are neither overwhelmingly for nor against the practice of inclusion into mainstream education. 
  • Teachers: When looking at “teachers’ attitudes toward inclusion and their views regarding the extent to which they can effectively provide for children with learning or behavioural difficulties in their classes,” Hornby concludes that many teachers have a critical view of inclusion and advocate for the necessity for special education expertise and teacher training in this area. 
  • Students: Hornby found that students who had attended a residential special school for children with emotional and behavioral difficulties were overwhelmingly positive about their experiences. However, students who started their education in a special education program/school and then enrolled in a mainstream school were consistently negative about their experiences.

Overall, his findings suggest that students who completed their education in a special education setting, as opposed to a mainstream school, yielded better outcomes post-school. The success could be attributed to the vocational curriculum and work experience offered to students in special education settings/programs in the years leading to their transitioning out of school. “This suggests that a policy of full inclusion, with the closure of special classes and special schools, will result in less community inclusion post-school for young people with moderate to severe levels of learning or behavioural difficulties.” 

Ultimately, “effective specialized instruction, vocational curricula and work experience, as part of a planned transition from school to post-school life, are of greater importance for optimizing outcomes for young people with moderate to severe levels of learning or behavioral difficulties than simply being included in mainstream secondary schools that are attempting to be as inclusive as possible.”

Hornby does recognize that his finding derived from three studies that were small in scale. They were conducted without the use of control or comparison groups and, to some extent, relied on the interpretations of the author himself. It is important to note that the findings should be viewed tentatively and more studies should be conducted before definitive conclusions are made.  

Summarized Article:

Hornby, G. Are Inclusive Education or Special Education Programs More Likely to Result in Inclusion Post-School? Educ. Sci. 2021, 11, 304. https://doi.org/10.3390/educsci11060304 

Summary by: Ayla Reau—Ayla is excited to help continue to grow the MARIO Framework, seeing the potential for it to impact all students across any educational context.

Research author Garry Hornby, Ph.D., contributed to the final version of this article.

Key Takeaway: A number of factors affect the perception of key stakeholders in relation to the fairness of assessment practices for students with learning differences. Elements such as student disability, existing assessment processes, the socio-emotional environment, stakeholders’ conceptions of fairness, and contextual facilitators and barriers to inclusive practices interact to influence the overall fairness factor of classroom assessment. Having an awareness of this multidimensional conceptualization of fairness is helpful in evaluating whether assessment practices are offering equal opportunities to demonstrate learning, and also scaffolds students’ ability to self-advocate for their needs. -Akane Yoshida

“Creating inclusive classrooms has been a justice movement in education,” say Rasooli et. al., and in this paper they seek to fill the void they find in current literature regarding fairness in assessment practices by adding the voices of students with learning differences, their parents, and their teachers to the mix. 

Their paper contributes a framework for fairness in assessment as “a multidimensional concept that is negotiated and navigated in the cyclical and dynamic interactions with classroom teaching and interactions.” According to the authors, this conceptualization is “closely tied with the sociocultural theories of assessment that recognise the social, cultural and economic milieu within which teachers and students interpret and enact fairness in assessment.”

The study methodology describes a process by which data was pulled from open-ended surveys submitted by teachers, students, and their parents from 19 secondary schools across Australia. The questionnaires included such queries as “How was the assessment adjusted for you?” for the student survey, “Do you think this adjustment better allowed [your child] to demonstrate what [they] knew or could do?” for the parent survey, and “Do you think you would adjust assessment differently in the future for this student? If yes, please comment on what changes you would make.” for the teacher survey. Inductive and thematic coding was used by the researchers to identify themes in the responses. Through this analysis, four larger themes emerged: “conceptions of fairness, fair classroom assessment practices, fair socio-emotional environment and contextual barriers and facilitators of fair practices.”

Summarized below are the findings in relation to each theme:

  1. Overall conceptions of fairness: Participants expressed equal accessibility for all students as being the greatest determinant of fairness in assessment. Adjustments to assessment practices were thought to be fair when they offered students with learning differences optimal opportunity for success in line with mainstream expectations.
  1. Fair classroom practices: Three sub-themes emerged from the responses as factors that can support or hinder fairness in assessment:
  • Differentiation of the assessment preparation process and design (accessibility of the mode of assessment, clarity in the task format and expectations, as well as the opportunity to prepare for the assessment)
  • Differentiation of assessment settings and environment (provision of a quiet space, additional time and breaks) 
  • Differentiation of assessment scheduling (ensuring that multiple assessments do not occur within a short period of time)
  1. Fair socio-emotional environment: Three sub-themes emerged here as well:
  • Student self-concept 
  • Impact of the learning difference on the socio-emotional environment
  • Relationships with teachers and peers
  1. Contextual barriers and facilitators of fair practices: Participants identified school and national-level policies, teacher experience, availability of paraprofessionals and other human resources, class size and parent influence as being the most influential factors in fair assessment.

While the study drew upon participants from a variety of grade levels and learning differences, it concedes that future research involving a larger sample size from a wider range of educational systems would be necessary in order to lend greater credibility to its conclusions. 

Summarized Article:

Rasooli, A., Razmjoee, M., Cumming, J., Dickson, E., & Webster, A. (2021). Conceptualising a Fairness Framework for Assessment Adjusted Practices for Students with Disability: An Empirical Study. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 1-21.

Summary by: Akane Yoshida—Akane believes that developing supportive and nurturing relationships with students is key to helping them to attain their personal benchmarks for success. She loves how the MARIO Framework operationalizes this process and utilizes systematic measurement of student learning and teacher effectiveness to guide interventions.

Key Takeaway:  The reflections from students, teachers, and parents in this study show how the personalized learning experience not only produced expert learners but connected members of the learning community, which proved to be a meaningful and valuable experience to all involved. —Nika Espinosa

Summary: Suzanne Porath (Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS) and Dana Hagerman (College of Education and Professional Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, Whitewater, WI) ask the question:

“In what ways, if any, can a personalized, learner-centered environment, as implemented at Rolling Hills Middle School, develop the principles of connected learning?”

According to Porath and Hagerman,

“Connected learning is a form of personalized learning that can renew classrooms and schools to not only focus on the needs and interests of the learner but can support learners in making connections with their experiences, peers and teachers, content standards, multiple disciplines, and the community.”

In their study, 55 8th grade students were provided with two, 2-hour classes. The first of two classes was a STEM class with a combination of science, mathematics, engineering, and technology, and the second class was a humanities class incorporating social studies and literacies. The students spent the remainder of the day taking their specialist classes.

Feedback from students, parents, and teachers was analyzed by organizing comments into categories. In the first cycle of data analysis, a few categories emerged as most prevalent: family/community, peers, standards/learning, projects, student interests, and connections.

Key takeaways are focused on the principles and design of connected learning that relate to Wolfe and Poon’s Personalized Learning:1

  • Interest-powered: One of the early findings during the study was that a lot of students found it challenging to find their own interests. As a result, developing learner profiles to allow the students to reflect was something the teachers felt was necessary to implement the year after.
  • Peer-supported: Students and parents both highlighted the impact of the intentional development of a peer-supported learning community. One student reflected on the shift from working with just their friends at the beginning of the year to working with other students in the classroom. They realized that everyone works differently and found peers they worked well with.
  • Academically-oriented: Academic standards and aligned learning objectives were transparent to the students, and the students had a voice in determining when and how they were going to meet them. One student described the process as “learning how to take standards and take things that people want us to meet and create a unique project that will meet those.” By having teachers take on a facilitating role, students were able to design lessons that showcased their skills.
  • Production-centered: Student interest, choice, and peer support were integral to the projects throughout the year. There was a shift towards the end of the year from teacher-guided products to products that were less restricting, as students gained experiences in their personalized journeys
  •  Shared purpose: Teachers and students both recognized that standards needed to be achieved and that there was a shared purpose of learning. Learning experiences moved from teacher-developed to student-created. A culture was created where student opinion was factored into the development of creating these environments.
  • Openly networked: Porath and Hagerman quotes Ito et al., “Learners flourish and realize their potential when they can connect their interests and social engagement to academic studies, civic engagement, and career opportunity.”2 Combining different subjects, such as science and math and humanities and language arts, provides the students with opportunities to make connections in their learning.

Article Summarized:

Porath, S., & Hagerman, D. (2021). Becoming connected learners through personalized learning. Middle School Journal, 52(2), 26-37.

Summary By: Nika Espinosa – Nika believes that personalized learning is at the heart of special education and strives to collaborate with educators in providing a holistic, personalized approach to supporting all learners through the MARIO Framework.

Additional References:

  1. Wolfe, R. E., & Poon, J. D. (2015). Educator Competencies for Personalized, Learner-Centered Teaching. Jobs For the Future.
  2. Ito, M., Gutiérrez, K., Livingstone, S., Penuel, B., Rhodes, J., Salen, K., … & Watkins, S. C. (2013). Connected learning: An agenda for research and design. Digital Media and Learning Research Hub.

Key Takeaway: The core of personalized learning lies in the direct engagement with our learners through one-to-one sessions and one-to-one conferences. This engagement allows students to connect, identify, activate and be empowered throughout their personalized learning journey. —Michael Ho

Summary: Nick James Gore, Peter McGill, and Richard Patrick Hastings share their independent research study that examines the impact of direct engagements with learners who have intellectual and developmental disability (IDD).

The study aims to: 

1) guide learners to develop a goal selection procedure 

2) engage directly with children to identify personalized goals and priorities for their future support

Here are the major takeaways

  • The study had 14 participants, aged 4 to 15, go through a Talking Mat (TM) method. The TM method consists of a set of symbols relevant to a subject area; the participants were asked semi-open questions in relation to each symbol and invited to identify their views, feelings, and experiences on the corresponding mat. The researchers could interview 9 out of 14 children. These 9 children were able to understand the TM framework, as they were able to express their views and experiences and select personalized goals.
  • “Direct engagement with people who have intellectual and developmental disability (IDD) reflects the person-centered values of positive behavioral support (PBS) but also a human rights agenda.” Most of the time, PBS involves the family and other stakeholders to support the child. However, this study found that direct engagement with children who have IDD, which was reflected in the researchers’ guidance and their interaction with the participants during the TM sessions, is at the heart of PBS.
  • Overall, children in the study appeared “happy and confident to work with the researcher in the context of proactive supports.” This indicates that when adults are able to directly engage with and actively support the learner, students will become happier and build more self-confidence.
  • “Positive behavioral support (PBS) seeks to enhance skills, opportunities, environments and interactions in ways related to an individual’s specific needs and aspirations and reduce risk of behaviors that challenge over both the short and longer term”. As researchers engaged in direct engagement with the children and provided them with quality guidance, the opportunities, environments, and interactions of what makes up PBS are enhanced.
  • The study shows that the researchers’ direct engagement with children with IDD led to greater increase in the childrens’ choice-making opportunities and self-determination.
  • “This study provides initial evidence of the potential for direct engagement with children/young people with intellectual and developmental disability (IDD) through a structured process to identify priorities and goals for future behavioral support.” However, future policy in education should also emphasize direct engagement with learners who have specific needs.
  • The direct engagement between the researchers and children led to establishing a stronger relationship and rapport with both the children and their families.

This study had some limitations, such that the data from this study was not compared to data from other sources. It was also not possible to complete interviews with five other participants, all of whom had limited verbal skills or were non-verbal. Despite the limitations, this study provided evidence that one-to-one engagement with children with IDD led to the development of personalized goals

Further research is needed to engage in direct engagement with a wider range of learners and to examine how these goals could support development of effective interventions and assessments

Article Summarized:

Gore, N.J., McGill, P. & Hastings, R.P. Personalized Goals for Positive Behavioral Support: Engaging Directly with Children who have Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. J Child Fam Stud 30, 375–387 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-020-01867-2

Summary By: Michael Ho – Michael supports the MARIO Framework because it empowers learners to take full control of their personalized learning journey, ensuring an impactful and meaningful experience.