Ardmore City Schools has adopted a new program called Inclusion Education for students needing special services.
Students, regardless of abilities, are kept in the general education classroom all day.
"I believe in it wholeheartedly," said Carolyn Thomas, special services director. "The principal is to educate everybody. The method may be different and a different delivery, but the goal is to educate everybody."
Before, students would be pulled out of class each day to receive instruction from the special education teacher.
Now, special education teachers visit the general education classrooms to support the students.
"If I were a kid in special education, would I want to sit with just special education kids or do I want to sit with everybody? Everybody wants to dance," Thomas said.
While Jefferson Elementary began implementing the system last school year, the system is new to the rest of the district. Thomas said the system has had challenges.
"This is our baseline year," Thomas said. "We are not going to be perfect. We have to debug and upgrade before we do it right. We have baseline data. Then we build from that baseline."
In 2014, the Oklahoma Modified Alternate Assessment Program is being eliminated with the transition to the Common Core Standards. OMAAP was used for students who need an abbreviated test.
Once it is eliminated, students who took that test will take the Oklahoma Core Curriculum Test, taken by general education students.
"It just makes sense that if a student is taking regular education tests, he or she needs to be in a regular education classroom," Thomas said.
The Oklahoma Alternate Assessment Program, commonly known as a portfolio assessment, will still be available for students with severe cognitive disabilities.
"It still exists, but it's a very small percentage of students who can take it," Thomas said. "For example, some kids can't hold a pencil, they can't take the general education test."
Such students have self-contained classes with staff to support them the entire day.
"We are here to educate every child, and for the majority," said Pat Hawkins, Jefferson Elementary special education teacher. "Inclusion works."
For the majority, special education teachers rotate between classes. Depending on the students within a particular classroom, a special education teacher or paraprofessional will stay from 30 minutes to an hour in the room.
"Students don't leave the classroom. It eliminates out time from the classroom, where a student might miss announcements or other lessons," said Melissa Knight, who works with third, fourth and fifth-grade classes at Charles Evans Elementary.
Issues that arose included children detouring on their way back to class and disturbing the class in session upon their return.
Page 2 of 2 - "Before, students would get work, come to resource room and have to get settled again. With this, there is no travel time. They don't get lost. Papers don't get lost," Knight said.
Student work is still modified on an individual basis to adhere to the student's Individualized Education Program.
At Charles Evans, each special education teacher and paraprofessional has a daily schedule of classes they rotate through. Each child with an IEP is seen daily.
However, when the special education staff visits the classroom, they will work with any student who needs help.
"At first, the students weren't sure and asked to come to my classroom," Knight said. "Now, they don't feel so secluded and I check on everybody, even those students without IEPs."
Depending on the school, the faculty and the lesson of the day, Inclusion works different ways. Some special education teachers tutor any students that need assistance. Other times, they will work with the general education teacher and co-teach a lesson. Lastly, each teacher or paraprofessional will be in charge of a station when students rotate through several activities in small groups.
"It takes a lot of partnership," said Mary Thomas, Jefferson special education teacher.
Special education staff is still assigned a physical classroom in each building, which is used for activities like taking a test when certain students need to have it read out loud or receive speech therapy.
As with any new system, reception among teachers has been mixed.
"I feel it's a good concept," said Knight, who has experience with the system teaching five years in Texas. "There are kinks and schedules to work out, logistical things. When both sides are new to it, it takes a little getting used to it."
Jefferson fourth-grade Teacher Holley Rosebeary has taught 20 years, but is in her first year in Ardmore. She has experienced both systems.
"Students are able to feel just as part of the classroom as anyone else," she said. "It allows other students to share their knowledge and be in a cooperative learning environment."
It also has benefits for teachers.
"It's nice to have another teacher or worker to be there and interact with them as well as myself," Rosebeary said.
However, an old issue that the teacher is not able to meet all the needs of every student is ongoing.
"It's difficult to meet all the needs at the appropriate time that they need you," Rosebeary said. "Sometimes they need time when they haven't mastered a concept, but I can't make myself more than one person."
Yet, teachers are looking to adapt to the Inclusion Education System.
"Mrs. Knight is just my friend and teacher that helps in my classroom," said Lori Farney, Charles Evans fifth-grade teacher. "All the students go to her with questions. We have students who are the targets, but that's not obvious to the students."