Lake Zurich Community Unit School District 95 is looking to help students with disabilities spend more time in general education classrooms since the number of hours is increasingly short of state targets.
The percentage of students with an individualized education program who spent at least 80 percent of their day in regular classrooms fell to 35 percent last year, down almost 9 percentage points from three years ago.
The state goal is 52 percent.
“It’s alarming as the trend continues to decrease,” said Erin Pittman, assistant superintendent of student services.
To reverse this drop, the district plans to provide a more robust continuum of services to students with disabilities. Traditionally, District 95 has provided two options: offering one-on-one instruction or small classes taught by a special education teacher with a modified curriculum.
But starting next year, the number of co-taught classes — in which a special education teacher and a general education teacher collaborate on curriculum and instruct students with IEPs and those without in the same classroom — are set to increase.The goal is to get at least 38 percent of students with a specific learning disability — of which Pittman said there are about 300 — to spend a significant portion of their day in the general classroom.
“Constantly being pulled out (of class), you’re missing the core curriculum, you’re missing the conversations with your peers,” she said.
Students with IEPs generally have average cognitive ability, but are subject to some kind of deficiency in the areas of reading, writing or math. One such example of a disability would be dyslexia, she said.
“I can’t tell you how excited I am about this,” board member Jim Burke said. “This is something the district has needed for a long time.”
The change will result in the loss of one full-time teacher at the elementary level, Pittman wrote in a memo to the board. Any other changes will be determined when course selections are finalized at the high school level, she said.
This year, the district piloted a co-taught class at the third grade level with noticeable success for both types of students, Pittman said. And at the preschool level, there were four sections of blended classrooms, which included therapists, speech pathologists and social workers. Pittman said staff noted growth in social-emotional skills, ability to follow directions and successful navigation of a larger class size.
The results came about as part of the district partnering with the Illinois State Board of Education’s Least Restrictive Environment Data Cohort, which was started in 2010. The idea is that students with disabilities are general education students first and special education services should supplement that learning, Pittman said.
Lake Zurich is one of 14 other districts facing similar challenges, she said, and was chosen though an application process. Its project team is made up of eight administrators.
Moving forward, Pittman said she wants to see more professional development for teachers that would help them increase student engagement, among other things. She said the ultimate goal is to help students develop out of their IEPs.
In the next four years, she added, she wants the district to be on the cutting edge in the field of special education.
“We’re always interested to see what we can do to increase the positive outcome for this part of our population,” board of education Vice President Doug Goldberg said.