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: The study explores factors that affect data-based decision making (DBDM), which has been established as an essential part to student progress, particularly for those with learning differences. The article outlines the importance of effective, frequent training to allow educators to build confidence and experience in analyzing data and transforming this data into meaningful adapted instructions for their students to ensure progress. The lack of training and universal rules of application hamper the potential of DBDM in education. —Frankie Garbutt

In this study, Oslund, Elleman and Wallace (Middle Tennessee State University) argue that to evaluate the effectiveness of “tiered instructional systems,” one must essentially rely on the correlation between frequent assessment of students with academic difficulties and educators’ skills to “make decisions using student data.”

In most states across the United States, it is legally mandated that schools implement multi-tier instructional systems. However, “data-based decision making is being adopted worldwide, yet relatively little research exists on the relations among variables impacting teachers’ ability to read, interpret, and inform instruction,” argue Oslund, Elleman, and Wallace. In their research, they analyzed teachers’ ability to interpret “student progress-monitoring data presented graphically (i.e. graph literacy).” They also investigated whether a teacher’s confidence in interpreting data, experience, or targeted pre- or inservice training on data-based decision making (DBDM) impacted their graph literacy to improve student achievement. 

In their findings they discovered the following:

  • Teacher experience had impacted their graph literacy, yet did not impact their confidence in analyzing data. 
  • Training had a large effect on teacher confidence, which confirmed previous studies referred to in the article. Professional Development “is one possible way to directly influence their confidence and potentially indirectly influence their use of data.”
  • Training increased teacher confidence “but had no impact on their assessment knowledge.” 
  • “Teachers who are skilled at DBDM are more likely to adapt instruction to meet student needs.”
  • “Unless and until teachers are properly equipped with DBDM knowledge, the effectiveness of tiered instruction may lag behind its potential.”

Therefore, the study suggested further research into what format and frequency of training would be required to increase effective use of data-based decision making.

The results of the findings also highlighted the limitations of the research. Admittedly, the data collected was “susceptible to bias” and “sample size is too small to examine differences beyond basic descriptives” relating to implementation of tier support systems within or across states. Moreover, the lack of universal rules for DBDM can result in two different teachers looking at the same graph and making different decisions.

Overall, it was concluded that “the promise of DBDM is established, but the need to further develop models and create consistency is an urgent and productive step toward increasing its effectiveness.” 

Article summarized: 

Oslund, E. L., Elleman, A. M., & Wallace, K. (2021). Factors Related to Data-Based Decision-Making: Examining Experience, Professional Development, and the Mediating Effect of Confidence on Teacher Graph Literacy. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 54(4), 243–255. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022219420972187

Summary by: Frankie Garbutt—Frankie believes that the MARIO Framework encourages students to become reflective, independent learners who progress at their own rate. 

Key Takeaway: Providing teachers with instructional strategies, coaching, and feedback to effectively manage student behavior will benefit teachers and students alike. Employing effective classroom management techniques can pave the way for positive teacher-student relationships and create a safe space for students to learn, improve behavior, and increase academic achievement. School leaders should look for opportunities to offer authentic, long-term, multicomponent professional development for classroom management practices, such as through peer coaching. —Bernadette Gorczyca

In the educational research article, “Professional development for classroom management: a review of the literature,” Wilkinson et al. (Department of Educational Psychology, University of Connecticut) present a review of empirical literature examining 74 professional development (PD) in-service studies on classroom management in the United States from 1984-2018. 

Wilkinson et al. (2021) set the stage for their review by first establishing research-based best practices for teacher professional development. As part of the review, the authors cite additional research that suggests, “PD opportunities should be job-embedded, occur long-term with ongoing supports (e.g., demonstrations, observations, feedback, reflection), focus on content, align with other school initiatives, provide opportunities for active learning, encourage collaboration among teachers, and include coaching.”1, 2, 3 

The article then establishes the importance of this review by drawing a link between classroom management practices and student achievement, finding that, “The ability of teachers to organize classrooms and manage student behaviour is critical to achieving positive educational outcomes for students.”4,5,6 

Unfortunately, there is a lack of classroom management pre-service training and training for teachers active in the field, especially for special educators and secondary teachers. Moreover, the training that is offered is often generic and short-term, leading to little development in skills and application.

Major takeaways from the article:

  • “A clear gap exists between what research shows regarding effective delivery of PD and what teachers in schools experience. Although generic, one-time PD aligns with practical logistics (e.g., time, expense, scheduling convenience), it is important to consider PD outcomes in the context of basic learning theory.”
  • Instead, school leaders should offer “multicomponent PD for classroom management as the most effective approach. Across all studies that demonstrated desired results, the most frequently identified components of effective PD were didactic training, coaching, and performance feedback.” When persistent challenges continue after attending PD training, schools can organize internal, ongoing additional supports such as one-to-one coaching and/or performance feedback for individual teachers. 
  • Moreover, classroom management training should “[make] appropriate adaptations and considerations for the cultural and contextual characteristics of teachers, school settings, student needs, and community values.”
  • Future research should include:
    • an analysis of classroom management strategies and an examination of PD components and the effect on teacher/student behavior in order to develop innovative, effective PD practices; 
    • studies dedicated to secondary teachers as well as K-12 elective and special education teachers.

Summarized Article:

Wilkinson, S., Freeman, J., Simonsen, B., Sears, S., Byun, S. G., Xu, X., & Luh, H.-J. (2021). Professional development for classroom management: a review of the literature. Educational Research and Evaluation, 1–31. https://doi.org/10.1080/13803611.2021.1934034 

Summary by: Bernadette Gorczyca – Bernadette loves the MARIO Framework because it centers student voice and choice, empowering students to take ownership over their personalized learning journey to become confident, self-directed learners

Additional References:

  1. Darling-Hammond, L., Hyler, M. E., & Gardner, M. (2017). Effective teacher professional development. Learning Policy Institute. https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/sites/default/files/product-files/Effective_Teacher_Professional_Development_REPORT.pdf
  2. State, T. M., Simonsen, B., Hirn, R. G., & Wills, H. (2019). Bridging the research-to-practice gap through effective professional development for teachers working with students with emotional and behavioral disorders. Behavioral Disorders, 44(2), 107–116. https://doi.org/10.1177/0198742918816447
  3. Yoon, K. S., Duncan, T., Lee, S. W.-Y., Scarloss, B., & Shapley, K. L. (2007). Reviewing the evidence on how teacher professional development affects student achievement (Issues & Answers Report, REL 2007–No. 033). U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Southwest. https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/edlabs/regions/southwest/pdf/rel_2007033_sum.pdf
  4. Korpershoek, H., Harms, T., de Boer, H., van Kuijk, M., & Doolaard, S. (2016). A meta-analysis of the effects of classroom management strategies and classroom management programs on students’ academic, behavioral, emotional and motivational outcomes. Review of Educational Research, 86(3), 643–680. https://doi.org/10.3102/0034654315626799
  5. Oliver, R. M., & Reschly, D. J. (2007). Effective classroom management: Teacher preparation and professional development. National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED543769.pdf
  6. Stronge, J. H., Ward, T. J., & Grant, L. W. (2011). What makes good teachers good? A cross-case analysis of the connection between teacher effectiveness and student achievement. Journal of Teacher Education, 62(4), 339–355. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022487111404241

Key Takeaway:  This article highlights the importance of teaching skills to learners in sequences to allow for practice and reflection, consequently leading to mastery. Moreover, direct and explicit instruction allows educators to react and adapt to the individual learner’s needs as they progress through their learning journey. —Frankie Garbutt

Summary: “All teachers are evaluated using the same tool, regardless of the teacher’s role, suggesting that the instructional approach supported by one tool would meet the needs of all students,” say Hannah Morris- Matthews, Kristabel Stark and Nathan Jones (Boston University), Mary Brownell ( University of Florida) and Courtney Bell (Educational Testing Service, Princeton) in this Journal of Learning Disabilities article. The authors investigated whether Danielson’s Framework for Teaching (FFT) is a tool which encourages instruction that adequately responds to the needs of students with learning disabilities. The use of observation tools, to evaluate teacher practices and identify professional development needs, can be “agnostic and universal,” thus creating the assumption that one instructional approach benefits all learners. The academics rooted their research in the Load Reduction Theory (LRI) because previous studies suggest that students with learning disabilities benefit from direct and explicit instruction. LRI practices “avoid overburdening the working memory, and facilitate productive interaction between long-term and working memory.” This is achieved through using the pillars of LRI teaching practices (intensive, explicit, systematic and individualized instruction) in order to support learners with cognitive disabilities.

The study addressed two questions: 

1. What assumptions about instructional quality are present in Danielson’s FFT? 

2. To what extent does Danielson’ FFT make practices associated with LRI visible?

The methodology of the study looked at the language of the observation tool due to its role in “defining, evaluating and developing good teaching.” Their analysis found that practices that reduce cognitive load are rare and instead favour practices which are student-driven and focused on making sense of complex content. They concluded that “observers using FFT would direct these teachers to practices that would likely serve as barriers to equitable and efficient learning opportunities.”

Nonetheless, the limitations of this study were acknowledged as it had not investigated “how FFT might operate in practice” because the analysis “does not provide insight into the ways that raters make use of the tool.” Moreover, the focus “foregrounds the needs of students whose disability influences cognitive processing,” and thus, “does not explicitly speak to the needs of all students with disabilities.” Consequently, it was suggested that further research is required into how the framework is used as a whole and not just segments of the tool. The authors suggest that future researchers “query how observers use and make sense of the rubrics to better understand the processes through which they arrive at ratings and determine directions for professional development.”

The conclusion was that FFT as an instrument “may not be an appropriate mechanism through which to support a continuum of effective instruction for students with learning disabilities and other struggling learners.” The researchers proposed to root observation tools in the cognitive load theory, recognising the need for a diverse tool box with practices that can respond to learners’ needs.

Article Summarized:

Morris-Mathews, H., Stark, K. R., Jones, N. D., Brownell, M. T., & Bell, C. A. (2020). Danielson’s Framework for Teaching: Convergence and Divergence With Conceptions of Effectiveness in Special Education. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 54(1), 66–78. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022219420941804

Summary By: Frankie Garbutt- Frankie believes that the MARIO Framework encourages students to become reflective, independent learners who progress at their own rate.

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.