Only 43 percent of students in South Carolina with disabilities will graduate from high school according to the Department of Education. Compare that to the 78 percent graduation rate for all students in the state, and we get an achievement gap of 35 points. According to those statistics, only 13 of my 30 young scholars who I help teach are likely to leave their public education experience with opportunities to successfully enter college or start a career. When putting faces to these numbers, this makes me furious.
Students within my classes have the determination to succeed at their individual goals. They participate in discussions about career and college readiness, and they share their hopes and dreams for their futures. Unfortunately, the graduation rates in South Carolina do not reflect their drive. What does this say about how South Carolina policies are implemented in our special education classrooms?
Special education teachers in South Carolina, like all teachers, should be given the necessary support and then held accountable for the academic growth of their students. The best way to accomplish this is to implement evaluations that are objective, meaningful, and fair—evaluations that accurately reflect the responsibilities of a special educator. Aside from planning meaningful lessons, implementing long-range plans, classroom management, grading and documentation, special education teachers are also responsible for teaching multiple subjects and grade levels. While doing so, they are legally responsible for creating and implementing extensive individual education plans for each of their students.
When we evaluate special education teachers by reviewing student achievement, we need to consider whether or not school districts have what they need to properly support our special educators with their extra responsibilities. We may need to reevaluate caseload limitations, professional development options, and whether or not funding is allocated responsibly within our districts to provide adequate special services. We ask a tremendous amount of our teachers and need to make sure we support them in ways that effectively meet their needs.
South Carolina’s new teacher evaluation system has the potential to give teachers greater feedback and ensure all teachers are making a positive impact on their students’ achievement, including students in special education. And while there’s still a long way to go to improve graduation rates and increase college and career readiness, these evaluations have the opportunity to take us in the right direction.
Fortunately we don’t have to go about this in isolation. The Green Dot charter schools in Washington, California, and Tennessee, for example, have tailored special-education teacher evaluations to ensure they’re providing a top-notch education to all students. South Carolina should look to other states and programs like these to develop ways to improve our own system. We owe that to our teachers, and more importantly, we owe it to our kids.
Erin is a special education teacher in Scranton, SC. She provides academic support in a variety of settings for students in 2nd – 5th grade. She is currently in Teachers for Transformation Academy for StudentsFirst South Carolina.