Steamboat Springs The inclusion model has come under recent scrutiny in our district. What, exactly, does the term "inclusion" mean, and how does it affect advanced students? To answer that question, we need to return to the classrooms of the 1980s, where students with special needs were separated from their peers and educated in what were called "self-contained" classrooms in "pull-out" programs.
However, with the passage of the Exceptional Children's Education Act and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, educators began the push to get children with special needs out of their segregated environment and back into the regular classroom. Special educators entered the regular classroom to accommodate their students, and the classroom reflected the larger, more diverse world outside the classroom. The result was that the "inclusive" classroom represented democracy at its best; all students were treated as equals.
However, the fact remained that not all students are the same, and classroom teachers were faced with meeting the needs of students with special needs, ranging from language barriers and learning differences to physical and emotional disabilities. Teachers needed additional training in meeting the needs of different learners. The term "differentiation" began to be used to describe how teachers used multiple strategies to help students master curriculum.
The Steamboat Springs School District was slow to embrace the inclusion model. In fact, as late as 1992, I taught "accelerated" language arts classes, labeled 9X and 10X, at the high school, and my husband taught the equivalent social studies classes at the middle school. Eventually, leaders in the field of gifted education - Joseph Renzulli, Susan Winebrenner and Carol Ann Tomlinson - published research that concluded that the regular classroom was the best environment for providing services for all students and that exclusionary environments were detrimental for advanced students as well.
This year, the Colorado State Legislature passed House Bill 1244, which mandated that every school district in the state of Colorado identify and serve gifted students. The legislation does not mandate, however, how those services are rendered. Fortunately, it leaves the decision for designing and implementing services to the local professionals who best understand their populations.
Many of the parents of today's students were educated under the exclusionary model of the 1980s, and some are calling for a return to that model. Parents are again using words such as "honors classes" and "pull-out programs." As a 25-year educator and member of this community, and as one of the Steamboat Springs School District's Gifted Education Specialists, I know that a return to the exclusionary classroom is wrong. All students are capable of learning more than is expected. To segregate a population based on ability or disability harkens to a violation of the rights all children have to a quality education, every day, in every classroom.
Our district must embrace a model, pre-kindergarten through grade 12, for delivering a continuum of services to meet the needs of diverse learners, and it must support its teachers in doing so. It must provide training in the researched, best practices for meeting the needs of all students. It must provide ongoing assessment of those strategies to determine their efficiency. And finally, this district must align itself with the Colorado Department of Education's recommendations for meeting the needs of today's students for tomorrow's world.
Steamboat Springs High School has begun this hard work. It currently is exploring ways to implement the state's Response to Intervention, or RTI model, which articulates strategies to address students' strengths and weaknesses and monitors their progress. It is not an easy road. But one thing is certain: We all bring strengths and weaknesses to our workplace, to our community, to our families. Helping children explore their strengths and mitigate their weaknesses is the noble profession of which I am proud to be a member.
Lisa A. Ruff is a gifted education specialist at Steamboat Springs High School.