Special Education programs are like mainstream education in many ways. In terms of assessment, the criteria is similar. But there are some areas essential to special education that need separate attention. We will consider both the similarities and the differences in this look at assessment of special education programs.
- Staff As in any education program, people make the difference. The most important area to assess is the quality of staff. And they should be assessed in several areas:
Assessment of students You will need to consider how the students are assessed. What are the tests used? Are they up to date? Do they reflect new research and technology? Are they accurate? Do they help the educators plan for instruction?
Objectives What are the expectations placed upon students? What are the students being taught and trained in? Do the objectives adequately reflect what the student needs? How will the completion of these objectives help the student in his life?
Curriculum The curriculum should be assessed intensely. It should answer these criteria:
- Education and training: Special educators must undergo rigorous training in the methodology and materials needed for a good program.
- Knowledge of student needs: Educators must be specially trained in the different areas of student need and disability. They should be trained to understand the characteristics of different conditions and disabilities.
- Compassion and concern for students: A really good program should have staff that are personally dedicated to helping students in all areas of life. They should demonstrate patience and good understanding of behavior and development. If a staff member is nurturing to students, it will be evident in the classroom environment.
- Basic life skills Are basic life skills addressed in the program objectives? Any worthwhile program should address any and all areas of self-care so that the student may be as self-sufficient as possible:
- food and nutrition
- household management
- finances and budgeting
- emotional well-being
- Employment Is employment part of the program? The end result of any special education program should be employment and job success. Does the program network with employers, agencies, social security and SSI, and government agencies like DSS, HEW, and FIA?
- Community resources Does the program link students with community resources? Does it help them understand and interact within their community? Does it help them understand their roles, rights and responsibility as citizens?
- Relevancy Is the curriculum up to date? Does it use reliable methods? Is is interesting?
- Active vs. passive Does the curriculum focus on doing rather than hearing and seeing? Any good program will have students doing rather than hearing. Most programs will include reading and writing, but it should be meaningful and not just busy work. And students should have lots of access to hands-on materials. That is the benchmark of good special education.
- Analytic skills Does the curriculum teach students to analyze, apply, synthesize and evaluate information rather than just know and comprehend?
- Practicality Are students taught practical applications for their math, science, social studies and writing? Do they know how to use what they learn, how to find what they need, and why they learn what they learn?
No program will be perfect. We are all human and prone to error. But I believe that if we hold our education programs to stringent standards, we will produce citizens capable of taking care of themselves and helping others.