How Master’s-Prepared Teachers are Helping North Dakota Overcome Challenges with Special Education
North Dakota has faced challenges in its special education programs recently, problems that exceptionally well-trained educators with master’s degrees are best suited to sort out. Although an evaluation conducted as recently as 2011 under the federal IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) found North Dakota schools to be meeting all requirements for special education, the school system has since slipped into the “Needs Assistance” category and stayed there for more than two years now.
Around 13 percent of North Dakota students are listed as having Individual Education Plans (IEP), which is consistent with the national average. Around 70 percent of these students graduate, which is even better than the national average. But the problem is that only 33 percent of school districts in the state are meeting the targets for educational objectives for special needs students, skewing the statewide statistics toward favorable ratings.
Despite these difficulties, 70 percent of parents with children with an IEP reported that the school was helpful in facilitating their involvement with their child’s progress, a vital component of coordinating care between home and school for special needs kids. That emphasis on coordination is part of a fundamentally new approach that is improving outcomes with the help of master’s-trained special educators in North Dakota.
A New Approach to Special Education in North Dakota
The finalization of IDEA requirements for state handling of special needs students in 2006 was a watershed for North Dakota. The Department of Public Instruction, which oversees all of the state’s 179 school districts, set out guidelines for evaluation and accommodation of special needs students. Each district was responsible for developing its own programs to meet those guidelines.
The Bismarck school district, for example, works on reaching out to parents early on in order to bring them into the IEP planning process for their children. Procedural safeguards are built into the system to ensure each child has an impartial hearing to determine their challenges and that the resources to assist them are allocated fairly.
The principle of “Least Restrictive Environment” is used in all cases. This requires that the district make every effort to keep IEP participants in the same classrooms and following the same curriculum as their peers. Outcomes and social conditioning for special needs children in least restrictive environments has been shown to be more successful than the old style of separate classrooms.
North Dakota Teacher Recognized for Thirty Years for Dedication to Special Education
Reading and literacy have been close to Rika Quittschreiber’s heart for a long time. More than thirty years of teaching special education at Lincoln Elementary School in Jamestown has made her a model for other special education teachers in the state.
In recognition of her exceptional service, in 2016 the North Dakota Reading Association honored Quittschreiber with its annual Celebrate Literacy Award. She was recognized for the wonderful support she provides not only to her students, but to their parents and her fellow teachers.
Working with elementary students in kindergarten through the 5th grade, Quittschreiber encounters students during years that are both vitally important to literacy, but also when they are most likely to be diagnosed with a learning disability. It takes a special touch to work with such a population, to distinguish between common obstacles in learning to read and more significant problems such as dyslexia or autism. A master’s degree program in special education is widely recognized as being able to help teachers learn that same deft touch today.