Key Takeaway: The pandemic has disrupted teaching and learning in many ways. Students with IEPs likely had these documents changed to adapt to the current mode of learning. In particular, students with social-based interventions may have needed to put these on hold as social distance and virtual learning made these infeasible. As students return to a more normal school routine, IEP teams will have to reassess students’ Present Level of Performance (PLOP) and likely conduct reassessment and revision of IEPs. —Ayla Reau

Students with autism rely on routine and often require individualized instruction. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the disruption to education worldwide, Sarah Hurwitz, Blaine Garman-McClaine, and Kane Carlock (Indiana University Bloomington) sought to investigate how special educators and specialists adapted practices for such students in response to pandemic schooling conditions. 

“Special education professionals were asked to complete an online survey inquiring about service provision for students with autism during the COVID-19 pandemic.” Participants reported:

  • making changes to Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). 
    • Adding Individualized Continuity of Learning Plans (ICLPs) to describe how service could be provided across learning modalities (i.e. online, hybrid, face-to-face). 
    • Adjusting service minutes to provide more flexibility
  • “having less time to work on behavioural goals, track student progress, or help students interact socially.” Some educators dropped social-based IEP goals and spent much less time implementing social interventions due to distancing requirements and inapplicability to virtual instruction, “with about 80% reporting more difficulty addressing social goals than before the pandemic.” 
  • having to stop using peer helpers and running social groups, which afforded fewer opportunities for social skills practice. 
  • making modifications to every aspect of teaching including materials, personnel, and format. Modifications were also made to who implemented the interventions, including coaching paraprofessionals who would then deliver small group instruction over Zoom and build collaboration with parents.

Overall, special education teachers described feeling less able to meet IEP requirements during online learning “and struggled to deliver the services, support, and attention that their students needed.”

However, the results also indicated the importance of collaboration between teachers and guardians. Getting and keeping caregivers involved in a child’s education is imperative to maintaining progress, especially while the children work from home. Since parents may not have the required training and experience needed to effectively implement their child’s education plan, offering the option to hold virtual parent-teacher meetings and case conferences may facilitate access. 

Educators also found that while some students with more intense needs struggled, others actually preferred virtual instruction. “For some students with autism, staying at home where they feel comfortable and can engage in self-regulating activities without negative social consequences, may reduce their stress and have positive impacts on learning.” This raises concerns for the future when social expectations resume. 

The authors conclude that students with disabilities are likely to have had a diminished learning experience during the pandemic. “As such, compensatory services may be required going forward.” They suggest that as schools return to more normal functioning, “IEP teams should assess what services were, in fact, delivered during school closures and across the changing educational modalities, and then conduct an assessment of each student’s current needs (i.e. reassess their Present Level of Performance (PLOP)).” If regression has occurred or limited progress was made in meaningful skills, the authors suggest IEP teams issue a COVID-19 compensatory services plan. Further, they predict reassessment and revision of IEPs to become common requirements as in-person learning resumes.  

Schools must also continue to address mental health and provide additional layers of support for teachers to address burnout, in order to retain the teachers they have, especially special education teachers. 

It is important to note that participants were all from public schools in Indiana, and the data was collected from a specific moment in the pandemic (middle of the 2020-2021 academic year), so their “perspective is grounded in experiences from a state that endeavored to open schools early, with precautions, allowing many school districts to offer hybrid and full-time in-person learning for considerable portions of the year.”

Summarized Article:

Hurwitz, S., Garman-McClaine, B., & Carlock, K. (2021). Special education for students with autism during the COVID-19 pandemic: “Each day brings new challenges”. Autism : the international journal of research and practice, 13623613211035935. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1177/13623613211035935

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.

Article Abstract

Evidence-based practices (EBPs) emerge as inherent to the successful implementation of a comprehensive and combined multi-tiered system of support (MTSS) model. The intended result of multi-tiered intervention progression combined with EBP is a validated, data-based approach to understanding students’ needs along with a description of what promotes or inhibits their academic and social–emotional and behavioral performance. The purpose of this chapter is to present a combined research- and practice-based framework for integrating a comprehensive MTSS model with EBP, and thus, optimize the results stemming from school improvement efforts. Toward this goal, EBPs and strategies are reviewed to address concerns in the academic and social–emotional and behavioral domains along with recommendations for their application within MTSS.

Schools are in the midst of intensive educational reform. A comprehensive multi-tiered model to address a full range of academic, behavioral, and social needs among children and youth is envisioned as a preferable practice model in response to reform initiatives. To attain the goal of successful multi-tiered intervention implementation, however, the model must incorporate evidence-based practices (EBPs). The chapter begins with an overview of EBPs and the rationale for incorporating them within a multi-tiered system of support (MTSS) model. Next, applications of MTSS and EBP in academic domains and social–emotional and behavioral domains are provided. These sections highlight specific strategies for successful implementation at tier 1, tier 2, and tier 3. Key questions that have emerged regarding EBP approaches within MTSS are addressed. Finally, a summary of the current status of EBP and MTSS is presented along with future research and practice implications.

MARIO Connections

Stoiber and Gettinger’s study connects to the MTSS thread woven throughout the MARIO Framework. In particular, this study drives our work around evidence-based practices and how we measure the success of the interventions we utilize.