Accountability-driven school reform model for special education : a Delphi study

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Locson, Lynn Grace Morales, 1975-

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Current accountability mechanisms create organizational opportunities and challenges for special education. This study was designed to conceptually validate an accountability-driven model for school reform that is responsive to the unique organizational context of special education, assessment needs of students with disabilities, and technical assistance needs of personnel who serve them. The Delphi technological forecasting procedure (Weatherman [and] Swenson, 1974) was used to gather expert opinion and develop consensus among 105 university-based and field-based experts from various disability categories in special education relative to which components (i.e., program activities, inputs, constraints, and outcomes) should be given priority in accountability-driven school reforms. An integrated model of accountability-driven school reform for students with disabilities was derived from the expert panel's responses using Borich and Jemelka's (1982) program modeling and decomposition. In this model, the priorities for program activities are classified into: (a) professional development (b) curricular/instructional responses, and (c) improving support for special education. As for inputs for these program activities, the priorities include (a) personnel--primarily teachers, (b) students and their families, (c) materials/techniques--primarily research, and (d) supports. Constraints that may considerably impact the implementation of accountability-driven school reform can be classified into (a) internal constraints which include school context, teacher attributes, and student attributes; and (b) external constraints which include political and social constraints. Lastly, the main outcomes of accountability-driven school reform are (a) student-related, (b) teacher-related, or (c) school-related. Findings of the Delphi study support the need for highly-qualified teams of general education teachers and special educators serving students with disabilities, a re-definition and expansion of research-based practice for special education, the valuing of special education expertise in accountability-driven school reforms, an informed school leadership to support special education, and for further consensus building to operationally define NCLB mandates. Implications for the re-authorization of NCLB, comprehensive school reforms for all students, and educational leadership responsive to special education are also discussed.