Meeting Needs for All Learners Through Personalized Learning: NGLC in Oakland Launch Update

In the piece below Greg Klein, our Senior Director of Learning and Innovation, had a chance to connect with three members of the East Bay Innovation Academy (EBIA) special education team to learn how the school’s model of personalizing learning creates a supportive frame for their students qualifying for special education services to be well served in inclusive, general education classrooms. We spoke with Lansine Toure (LT) Director of Equity and Social Emotional Learning, Robert Moore (RM) Education Specialist, and Jaymee Huggins (JH) Instructional Aide. This is part of a series launched in fall 2017 to share updates from our seven Next Generation in Learning Challenge in Oakland launch grantees to hear what they learned from the first year of work and how it has shaped their focus for the second year of the grant.

RFF: How is your special education team structured?

LT: We have two credentialed Education Specialists who are the case managers. They do the in-take work and begin services after conferring with families. We have three full-time Instructional Aides doing push-in and pull-out services. In addition, we also have two part-time Instructional Aides — one supporting English Language Arts and one supporting behavior.

Each Monday morning the team comes together to identify the work for the week. It’s seemingly limitless what our Instruction Aides do for our program. They are very flexible in taking on so many tasks at once and they are the main student-facing time of our program. They see students before school, during school, at lunch, and after school. They also build strong relationships with students so when they’re in the classroom they can dig into the work and help. They know all the students in the classroom and they end up helping kids across the board.

Eighth grade students making scale models in science class.

JH: The other Instructional Aides and I work amongst the students who have Individualized Educational Plans. Every Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) has a certain number of service minutes that have to be completed each week, and it’s our role to fulfill those minutes and that typically means we push into their classes–English Language Arts, history, science, math, and extra curricular classes. We shadow students and help them on whatever it is they need. We are there to help out the teacher and we end up helping all students. We try to give the students in our program a sense of anonymity. We’re there to help the classroom and keep an extra eye on the students our department serves.

RM: We’re a small department, so in many ways the work looks similar for an Education Specialist and an Instructional Aide. I’ll build customized pathways, say in Think Through Math, based on IEP goals. Instructional Aides can help students through some of that work during the Independent Learning Time block. Instructional Aides deliver, and Education Specialists architect and deliver. Students think about all the adults as their teachers.

RFF: What do you think is unique to the EBIA model for special education?

LT: I don’t know if it’s unique, but what we’re trying to do here is to comply with the various laws and regulations and then get high overall satisfaction for program with students, teachers, and parents. And so that goal is not all that unique. But we definitely try a holistic approach — we push-in, we create co-teaching models with Instructional Aides, and try to make special education as much a part of general education as possible. We’re not seen as some other department, and instead we often support general education students, too, in classrooms.

Our Education Specialists are great at knowing all the rules and regulations related to special education and supporting students and families. We have talented teachers who build unique and powerful relationships with students. Both of our Education Specialists spend a lot of time getting to know the families on their caseloads. They have systems in place to track goals, track service minutes, and track progress. We also have a strong sense of professionalism and camaraderie across the team.

RM: I see our roles as facilitating the inclusion of students who learn differently from some of their peers. We are adhering to documents that outline the procedure for educating these students, but I like to think we’re engaging in that creatively and transparently so that the general population doesn’t really see our team or me as “special ed people” but instead as all purpose teachers who appear in classes and work with small groups or with one or another student. I’m really interested in there not being any stigma in special education. We are a full inclusion model. Most of the time, the least restrictive environment is the general education classroom. There are some opportunities for pull out interventions, like reading intervention, or giving students a quieter, smaller session for proctoring tests. We’re helping all of our students who learn in different ways to play and work at the same level as all their peers. When I co-teach or push in, I’m working with everyone. I don’t walk into a room and have students say “oh, so and so’s special teacher is here to help them…”

RFF: Why do you think this program is successful? How do know?

LT: We have good systems, and if we didn’t have those, we wouldn’t be successful. Every Friday the Education Specialists send out a Google Form to teachers to get information on where the special education team can help. Then the plan is given to the Instructional Aides on Monday. An example of what the Instructional Aids might do is supporting kids to take tests outside of the classroom if needed. We also have lots of spreadsheets for goal tracking and documenting Specialized Academic Instruction minutes throughout the week. To support the annual cycle for creating IEPs, eight weeks before an Annual we review the previous IEP, seven weeks out we notify families, six weeks out we notify the grade-level team, etc. We focus on tracking goals per individual student. We have strong satisfaction from parents and teachers based on a survey from the Alliance for the Study of School Climate School Climate Assessment Instrument run by Seneca Family of Agencies.

We’re seeing growth within our students. Our environment has helped students access the services they need and adults who will support them. It’s not 100 percent perfect, but working for most of our students.

Seventh grade students choosing where to work during English class.

JH: It is successful big picture overall. In addition to tracking IEP goal progress, the success is just seeing our kids develop and their skills develop. Kids often outgrow their goals. I see students become super successful when they get the right tools in order to access more knowledge and build their confidence.
One example of success is with one student who has anxiety. We as a team gave her strategies to help her build confidence. We helped her with writing down assignments so she didn’t have to keep it all in her head. In the beginning, she would email me about every ten minutes asking for help and come to her in class. By the end of the year, it was down to maybe once a week. She raises her hand more, and feels confident to ask her peers questions and to ask the teacher questions. She really transformed her confidence level.

Another student has behavior goals and has a really difficult time working in groups with others and expressing how he feels when he’s overwhelmed or angry. In the beginning of the year he had some challenges with aggression and was not coming up with ways to stop himself before it was too late. I helped him learn about how to get help from an adult earlier. He can say to himself, “I feel myself getting angry and I need to find an adult I can talk to who has my back.” We really have our students’ backs.

RM: Data is a cornerstone of our work. Instructional Aides are crucial to helping us collect data on students and about the service minutes delivered with individual students. That way we can keep building accurate goals and objectives for students.

I think we’ve found success because we’re organized. We take students different learning styles and IEPs seriously. We are very organized about tracking progress and measuring growth. That’s also a school-wide practice. It’s part of our school culture to be data-oriented. The climate of data as a measure of growth supports our special education department to be organized.

That data we look at is grounded in students’ IEPs, and might include data from online learning programs like Think Through Math and Achieve3000, and also teacher-generated assignments and quizzes. We use classroom observations of how students are working in small groups. Then there are school wide “must-dos” like MAP testing for all students, or SBAC assessments.

A really big piece of work that we do is Social Emotional Learning work, which can be a little more difficult to quantify in a spreadsheet or on a progress report. We are building remarkable relationships with students, and that human story is really what’s important.

Data Note: While we agree with Robert that success with students who qualify for special education services, or any student for that matter, is not always best measured in only standardized assessments, we did want to provide some data and/or evidence on how EBIA is doing with these students. In bullets below we have provided SBAC assessment results for all students attending EBIA as well as students who qualify for special education who attend EBIA, any Oakland Unified School District school, and any public school in California that met or exceeded the standard.

  • EBIA: All Students–58% English Language Arts, 48% math
  • EBIA: Students in Special Education–26% English Language Arts, 15% math
  • OUSD: Students in Special Education–7% English Language Arts, 7% math
  • California: Students in Special Education–14% English Language Arts, 14% math
RFF: What would you change about the model?

Upper grade students working on geometry.

LT: Special Education is an ever changing landscape with new services provided and new techniques to do so. The big thing for us is having the right staffing in place in-house to make things better for our students. If we had more funding, I would love to have an in-house mental health department to be responsive to students in special education and also the whole campus. A few of us have a background on mental health, but there are a lot of students dealing with a number of issues and we always need more capacity to meet the need so all students have someone on campus to access when they need it. Right now we contract out for assessments and for therapy, but that’s only for identified students. There are greater needs still and it would be better if we had more immediate access to more capacity. Number two would be to be much more responsive when we have some kind of new statewide initiative. There is a lot of stuff coming out right now about dyslexia and I would love to get our education specialists to training and get them additional certifications so we can be responsive to the shifting needs of students.

JH: We want to create a greater degree of anonymity of our students. They don’t want to feel like they’re getting special attention. We could create systems to help students signal for help more discretely.

RH: I would love for us to have a little more space. When it comes to state-testing, we can get cramped as we have accommodations for some students who need to be pulled out or have things read aloud. Special and general education collaboration is really solid, administration help is solid, and our parents are great. I would love to see our department expand if we had the funds to hire more Instructional Aides or another Education Specialist and have one for each grade. Currently I collaborate across all grades and that’s about twelve other teachers.


Key Data Stats for East Bay Innovation Academy
EBIA currently has 500 students across sixth to tenth grade. The school’s main racial/ethnicity student groups include White (30%), Hispanic (31%),African American (18%), Two or More Races (16%), and Asian (5%). This year, 26% of the students are from families with low-income, 7% are English Learners, and 15% qualify for special education services. EBIA’s rate of chronic absenteeism was 3.7% compared to California’s state-wide rate of 10.8% (this is the percentage of students who miss 18 or more school days, or greater than 10% of the school year).


– contributed by Greg Klein