For decades, our education system has failed to serve the 1 in 5 students with learning and attention issues. Data from the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) shows that more than 90% of students with learning disabilities are not proficient in reading or math. Students with learning disabilities are more likely to drop out of high school than their peers, and they enroll in college at half the rate. What’s worse: Only half are employed and half will have involvement with the justice system in the years following high school.

Together, NCLD and Understood released a new report: “Forward Together: Helping Educators Unlock the Power of Students Who Learn Differently.” The report, created in partnership with Lake Research Partners and SRI Education and with generous support for publication from the Gates Foundation, features findings from a brand-new research study that analyzed results from a survey of 1,350 K–12 public school general education teachers and incorporated feedback from 13 focus groups of K–12 general education teachers. In addition, the report contains findings from a 50-state scan of general education teacher certification requirements.

The study found that even though more than 70% of students with LD or ADHD spend at least 80% of their day in the general education classroom, only 17% of general educators feel “very prepared” to teach the 1 in 5. Just 30% feel that, when they try their best, they can be successful with the 1 in 5.  And only 50% believe these students can reach grade-level standards. Even though teachers want to better serve the 1 in 5, they need support developing the skills and mindsets to reach all students.

We know what works for the 1 in 5, and we know how to provide positive, effective learning environments for all students. So what can educators do to ensure that the 1 in 5 succeed? What role do school leaders, district leaders, and other stakeholders play in improving our system?

The report found:

  1. General education teachers would benefit from educational training and clinical practice for the 1 in 5 before they enter the classroom full-time, with proper support in the classroom. Currently, only seven states have specific coursework requirements for teaching students with disabilities at the elementary and secondary level.
  2. Teachers’ mindsets are critical to their success in supporting students with learning disabilities. A strong sense of self-efficacy, positive orientation toward inclusion, personal responsibility for all students, and a growth mindset are all strong attitudes that can help teachers support the 1 in 5.
  3. There are eight key practices that educators can implement to improve the achievement of the 1 in 5 in a general education classroom—with evidence that these practices improve achievement for all students. These practices include explicit, targeted instruction, Universal Design for Learning, strategy instruction, and culturally and linguistically responsive pedagogy, among others.

General educators, special educators, principals, district administrators, teacher prep leaders, state and federal policymakers, and families and caregivers all play critical roles in advancing education for children with learning and attention issues. It’s time to act. We must advocate for and shape policies that invest in and support teachers and students, and we must hold high expectations for all students.

Visit the report and additional resources here.

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Carrying out the NCLD mission to improve outcomes for the 1 in 5 individuals with learning and attention issues.


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