Beasley, L. (2022). Teaching in the gap: Understanding special educators’ experiences teaching in between education policies (Publication No. 29330637) [Doctoral dissertation, University of Illinois at Chicago]. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global. https://www.proquest.com/docview/2697053457
University of Illinois (Chicago, IL); ProQuest document ID: 2697053457
Accommodations were not specified. The perspectives of special education teachers of students with disabilities in grades K–8 were investigated related to their self-perceptions of how well and in what ways that they apply the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 2004) and Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA, 2015) federal policies to their educational practices; academic accommodations practices were emphasized in this summary.
Elementary and middle-school special education teachers (n=10) from the large metropolitan school district of Chicago, Illinois (U.S.) participated. All teacher-participants had at least two years, and as much as 17 years of work experience with learning behavior specialist credentials. Their students were in various grade ranges, typically across two grade levels, between kindergarten and grade 8. The participants worked in resource (n=6), self-contained (n=4), and inclusion (n=3) settings; some worked in more than one setting throughout the day or week. Additional characteristics such as race/ethnicity were reported. Nine participants identified as women and one was a male teacher. The Chicago teacher and student populations, including students with disabilities, were described. Stratified random sampling was applied for broad variation of experiences.
The semi-structured interview protocol incorporated about 30 questions including follow-up probes addressing the concurrent implementation of both ESSA 2015 and IDEA 2004 in special educators' classrooms. The interviewer sought to understand how the contradictory nature of these two major education policies impacted teacher's roles and efforts in schools.
The researcher pointed out the tension between adapting instructional practices and classroom tests with accommodations, while incorporating accommodations into comprehensive large-scale assessments in ways that maintain construct validity whenever possible. Teachers have been faced with navigating the incongruency of ESSA 2015, which has posited that all children should be able to learn all grade-level standards and test proficiently on those standards, and IDEA 2004, which has directed that each student's education should be individualized and ought not to follow a singular standard trajectory. Themes pertaining to autonomy and discretion of teachers' practices, teachers being empowered, serving as policy enactors, the degree of adherence to federal policies, and manner of voicing concerns were described. The researcher concluded that teachers managed to work through the competing demands of IDEA and ESSA, but the extent to which teachers were able to navigate the ambiguity and tension of the two policies depended heavily on building priorities, guidance and support, available resources, and their understanding of the policies.