July 10, 2008

Penn State Helps Bridge Gap for Students With Learning and Other Disabilities

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa., July 10 /PRNewswire/ -- In Pennsylvania, more than 260,000 students with learning and other disabilities are in public schools, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE). Nationally, nearly 7 million schoolchildren have a disability. Between the federal No Child Left Behind Act and PDE mandates, half of these students spend most of their day in a general education classroom. This presents challenges to the teachers responsible for their education, but who often lack adequate specialized preparation. In response to new teacher certification requirements, Penn State has created a teacher training program called Evidence-Based Practices for Inclusive Classrooms and Differentiating Instruction (EPIC) ( http://www.outreach.psu.edu/cape/epic/register.html ) for current and future teachers. It's a collaboration between the College of Education's Special Education program, Penn State Continuing and Professional Education (CAPE) and PDE's Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network.

"EPIC will help teachers find innovative ways to educate every child in every classroom," said Edward Donovan, director of Health and Education Programs for CAPE, a unit of Penn State Outreach.

The EPIC series of courses is offered for credit, and beginning this fall, a noncredit option will be available for professional development and Pennsylvania Act 48. Since course content is delivered via video lectures, with opportunities for online collaboration among participants, the series is available to teachers everywhere.

Convenient access to these courses will benefit general classroom teachers and their students with disabilities, said Dr. David McNaughton, Penn State associate professor of special education. Keeping students with disabilities in the general education classroom "better prepares them for adult life. These students benefit from being educated with their same-age peers," added McNaughton, who is lead faculty for the first EPIC course. "Many of the practices that have proven successful for special education needs are powerful for other students and benefit everyone in the classroom."

A new feature for the first course, Foundational Skills for Working with Students with Special Education Needs in General Education Classrooms, which begins Nov. 3, is a case study activity that lets participants "apply the strategies learned in the course to deal with a classroom challenge they face," McNaughton said. One such challenge is what to do for a student whose academic performance is not where it needs to be. Teachers will learn how to address this challenge by gathering information about the student's learning abilities, as well as how to communicate their findings to the family, so all are working toward the goal of helping the student improve academically, McNaughton explained.

Dr. Charles Hughes, professor of special education and co-author of the forthcoming book "Teaching Students with Learning Difficulties: Making Instruction Effective and Explicit," teaches two of the courses. He focuses on giving teachers "ways to design and deliver instruction on a variety of academic content that will make it more accessible to the diverse learners in every classroom, including those with learning difficulties."

Considering the shortage of PhDs in special education, the EPIC series also could help small Pennsylvania colleges and universities with teacher education programs meet state requirements. According to Professor Kathy Ruhl, head of Educational and School Psychology and Special Education and professor of special education, "The national shortage of PhD-qualified special education faculty members means that some institutions may not be able to offer the required courses." Penn State's graduate Special Education program, ranked 12th nationally by U.S. News and World Report, and one of the few top- ranked programs to have an undergraduate teacher preparation program, is ideally positioned to provide this training, Ruhl said.

For information or to register for the first EPIC course, visit http://www.outreach.psu.edu/cape/epic/ online.

Penn State Continuing and Professional Education (CAPE) delivers professional development and continuing education programs to adult learners at locations across Pennsylvania. CAPE, a unit of Penn State Outreach, uses Penn State's network of 24 campuses and the University's academic colleges to design master's, bachelor's and associate degree programs for adult learners in a wide range of fields, including business, education, engineering/technology, health, and justice/government. For information, visit http://www.outreach.psu.edu/cape/ online. Penn State Continuing and Professional Education is part of Penn State Outreach, the largest unified outreach organization in American higher education. Penn State Outreach serves more than 5 million people each year, delivering more than 2,000 programs to people in all 67 Pennsylvania counties, all 50 states and 80 countries worldwide.

Penn State Outreach

CONTACT: Deborah A. Benedetti, +1-814-238-4895, [email protected],or Dave Aneckstein, +1-814-865-7600, [email protected], both of PennState Outreach

Web site: http://www.outreach.psu.edu/cape