Special Education Teachers in Massachusetts Drive Outcomes for State Programs
Massachusetts has developed a blueprint for a single system of support that accounts for the academic and non-academic needs of all students. Called the Massachusetts Tiered System of Supports (MTSS), this framework focuses on system-level change for all students, including those with disabilities.
The goal of the MTSS is to provide quality core educational experiences for Massachusetts students in a safe and supporting learning environment. It also calls for targeted interventions and supports.
The Commonwealth encourages every school district in the state to work toward an integrated approach that supports both the academic and social-emotional needs of all students. Through the MTSS, master’s educated special education teachers have been particularly critical to seeing to it students receive academic instruction and behavioral support.
This includes differentiation and extension activities designed specifically around the unique needs of each special education student in alignment with the Universal Design for Learning Principles, which promote:
- Multiple means of action and expressions
- Multiple means of engagement
- Multiple means of representation
Applying MTSS to Students with IEPs
Dedicated teachers are responsible for incorporating each student’s custom tailored Individualized Education Program (IEP) into the design and implementation of instruction and assessments to ensure each student entitled to special education services enjoys access to the complete system of supports and tiered instruction available to them.
Special education services in Massachusetts fall under one of the following areas:
- Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE) Services: Designed for young children, ages 3-5, with disabilities that require specially designed instruction or related services. Massachusetts law requires school districts to ensure that developmentally appropriate ESCE programs and services are available.
- Secondary Transition: Secondary Transition begins when students receiving special education services reach the age of 14. These services are provided until they graduate or reach the age of 22. Transition services are defined by federal law as a coordinated set of activities within a results-oriented process. These activities are designed to help special needs students move from school to post-school activities.
Number of Special Education Students in Massachusetts Soar Above the National Average
As of the 2015-16 school year, students with disabilities comprised 17.2 percent of the student population in Massachusetts – much higher than the national average of 13 percent.
Further, special education expenditures in the Commonwealth accounted for 21.2 percent of the overall state budget. Statewide expenditures for special education services in Massachusetts have steadily risen since 2006, sparking concern from the Massachusetts Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education about whether the high costs associated with special education were paying off for students.
The analysis that followed uncovered several, exciting trends:
- Massachusetts has the second highest rate in the US for identifying students with special needs
- Both general education students and those with disabilities in Massachusetts receive some of the top scores of the National Assessment of Educational Progress distribution, compared to students in other states.
How One Massachusetts Teacher is Making a Difference in Special Education
Audrey Jackson, 2016 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year, is inspired by her students and driven by social justice. As a fifth grade teacher at the Joseph P. Manning Elementary School in the Boston Public Schools, Jackson has worked to become a facilitator of learning who dedicated to helping students grows into teammates and community members that advocate for themselves.
Audrey earned a BA in American Studies, with a focus on race and ethnicity, and then went on to earn an MA in Elementary and Special Education in 2007. Jackson’s first job as a fifth grade teacher at Joseph P. Manning Elementary School allowed her to focus on children with special needs, as this Boston public school focuses on the inclusion of all children. It is committed to providing support for children with mental illness or those who have experienced trauma.
She has enjoyed various leadership and advocacy opportunities, which included a spot on both the Teach Plus National Advisory Board and the Boston Foundation Teacher Advisory Board. She also works as a Diversity Recruitment Fellow for the Boston Public Schools, where she shares her best practices in math instruction and trauma-informed culture. Jackson also shares her knowledge speaking on panels and as a guest lecturer in graduate courses.
Jackson believes that every child deserves to know they have a story worth hearing and that there’s a world worth exploring.