Every year, thousands of students with disabilities leave high school without the skills they need to succeed in their adult life. Data confirms that 65% of students with disabilities, including those with learning disabilities, read below the 20th percentile in eighth grade, and are at high risk for drop out during high school. Additionally, more than half of students with learning disabilities will end up unemployed or under employed as adults. Clearly, improving the educational outcomes of these students is an important step toward preparing them to be productive, successful members of society.
Drs. Sally Spencer, Sue Sears, Vanessa Goodwin and Nancy Burstein, in CSUN’s Department of Special Education, were recently awarded a grant from the Department of Education to take on the challenge of improving outcomes for this underserved and highly at risk population. Along with the Michigan State Department of Education and the University of Texas, Austin, they were awarded a four-year, 1.6 million dollar Model Demonstration Grant to create a model high-school literacy program for students with high-incidence disabilities. “The literacy skills of this population are extremely difficult to remediate, since they have been working to improve their reading for at least nine years. Many are still reading well below a fifth grade level by the time they reach high school. Creating a program that meets their individual needs while remediating the multiple skills in which they have fallen behind is an exciting challenge, especially in the limited time available in high school” said Sally Spencer, Associate Professor of Special Education. “We are so honored that the literacy work of our CSUN Special Education department has been recognized through this grant, and we are privileged to collaborate with the distinguished awardees in Texas and Michigan to create a program that can be shared and replicated throughout the country.”
The four professors of Special Education are beginning their work at Hamilton High School, and will replicate the model to two other high schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) during the four years of the grant. The multi-pronged program will include an intensive reading intervention program including a strong focus on computer literacy, professional development for special and general education teachers, and in-class support and coaching for teachers. CSUN is working closely with the LAUSD Intensive Diagnostic Education Centers (IDEC) to create a sustainable and replicable program that can be disseminated as a national model of literacy intervention for high school students with disabilities.
The recipients of this grant are working closely with each other and the Department of Education in Washington to create and implement these model demonstration programs. “We are excited about the potential of our program to change literacy outcomes for our students in special education” said Dr. Goodwin, Assistant Professor of Special Education, “and everything we learn is being directly linked back to our coursework, to improve our instruction in literacy pedagogy for our special education credential candidates. We feel it is a win-win for everyone!”