It has been implemented in a number of different ways, and the general focus of the practice is to meet the needs of students through the least restrictive environment.
Many of the co-teaching arrangements are for inclusion classrooms, where a special education teacher and a classroom teacher are combined to serve a diverse class that includes students with a variety of special needs.
“Inclusion classrooms help all the students in a classroom, as both teachers are serving all the students,” said Angie Ingram, coordinator of special education for the school system.
It also helps students with disabilities to have support and access to the general curriculum with their peers, according to Karen Hughes, principal at LaFayette Middle School.
Two classrooms were recently recorded by Northwest Georgia Learning Resource Systems, responsible for special education support for the Georgia Department of Education.
The video will be used for a Co-Teaching Academy, which provides examples and resources to other teaching tandems throughout the state.
One video involved Steven Imler and Tina Potts in their seventh-grade math class. The other lesson involved Amalia Selle and Jenny Morgan in their seventh-grade ELA class.
Students in Selle and Morgan’s class had been preparing for a debate following student essays and research assignments. Both were very impressed with student knowledge and participation during the taping.
Amalia Selle has been a team teacher for three of her six years at LaFayette Middle School.
“I love having someone else to bounce ideas off of, someone to say how do you think this is going to work,” Selle said.
“You have kids both with regular education and special education in this environment and you have other kids in the RTI process,” Morgan said. “In this process, this is a true representation, this is the world they are going to live in, and they all need to learn how to function in it.”
As the special education teacher, Morgan has the ability to pull out special needs students, something she avoids as “it defeats the purpose of inclusion.”
Traditionally in many schools special needs students would be frequently pulled from their classrooms or be in self-contained resource environments.
“There are times when even the (kids) that are typically excelling, they benefit from being pulled out, and they need some time in smaller groups,” Morgan said. “I think it helps us teach more effectively.”
The two teachers treat each student on an individual level based on needs, making it nearly impossible to single out special education students within their class.
After initial assessment at the beginning of the school year several students began the year in a resource classroom for those with learning disabilities.
“We moved two of them into this classroom,” Selle said, “because we feel that they are excelling in her classroom and they need to be challenged in a different way.”
Looking at the total population of special education students, the federal and state Departments of Education establish targets for the percentage of special education students who should be included in the regular education setting for more than 80 percent of the school day. Georgia's target for this school year is 65 percent.
Research shows that children tend to learn more from their peers than from teachers in so many situations.
LaFayette Middle School has been showing progress in increasing the percentage of inclusion classes during recent years from a 50.6 percent in 2010 to a 62.6 percent in 2011.
The focus on moving students within peers of the same age is to provide the most natural learning environment for success.
“There are a myriad of reasons students may have to be removed from the (regular educational) setting, but that decision is made after considering less restrictive options,” Ingram said.
The previous year’s data on each student is used to determine the number of inclusion classrooms and the combinations of teachers that will be necessary in each school.
LaFayette Middle School has 37 team teaching segments offered in all academic subjects (English language arts, math, science and social studies) from sixth to eighth grade, according to principal Karen Hughes.
“We have increased the number of inclusion segments in which our children participate and they are in the regular education setting more now than five years ago,” Ingram said.
It also helps treat special education students much like their regular education peers aiming to avoid singling out any students and lessening the stigma and stereotypes.
The concept has led to a definite increase in student achievement. Students with disabilities exceeded CRCT criteria (89 percent for reading and 81 percent in math) during the past two years, according to Hughes.