WLWV Continues to Improve Student Outcomes Through Inclusive Practices

Posted by West Linn-Wilsonville on 7/23/2019 2:00:00 PM

Wilsonville High School Unified Soccer players celebrate a goal.

On June 10, West Linn-Wilsonville Superintendent Dr. Kathy Ludwig and Assistant Superintendent of Student Services Dr. Jennifer Spencer-Iiams gave a special presentation alongside members of FACT Oregon, highlighting the changes in special education in the State of Oregon. Speaking in front of members of the Oregon Senate Committee on Education in Salem, Dr. Ludwig and Dr. Spencer-Iiams highlighted the importance of Inclusive Practices in Oregon schools. Specifically, they shared the dramatic impact Inclusive Practices have had on West Linn-Wilsonville schools and students in recent years.

Even before Inclusive Practices were first implemented, the West Linn-Wilsonville School District’s mission statement was to create learning communities for the greatest and most thoughtful people for the world. And for the better part of the past decade, that mission has included Inclusive Practices. Congruently, the District has experienced a great deal of growth during that time, as the District has collected data, monitored student outcomes, cultivated school cultures, and refined Inclusive Practices.

History of Inclusive Practices in West Linn-Wilsonville

Inclusive Practices first came to the District around the 2011-12 school year. The goal of shifting to inclusive practices was simple: Ensure all students have equitable opportunity to reach their full potential.

“Our journey began about seven years ago when we took a serious look at our practices and our consistently predictable data for groups of students that unfortunately reflected qualitatively different experiences and outcomes in our schools,” Superintendent Dr. Kathy Ludwig said during the June 10 presentation. “For us, we knew that we had to make a systemic change if we were going to be serious about our equity work.

“We share the belief, vision, and expectation that all children belong in the general education classroom and that individualized services, whether for special education, language acquisition, social-emotional support, should be integrated into the classroom, where peers learn alongside one another, accessing exciting, relevant, and rigorous curriculum together through differentiation and accommodation.”

Since then, Inclusive Practices have been ingrained into the West Linn-Wilsonville culture. But while inclusive practices have become increasingly popular and talked about in K-12 education all across the country, it’s a term that can mean many different things to different people. So what are inclusive practices in the West Linn-Wilsonville School District?

In West Linn-Wilsonville, Inclusive Practices boil down to building and sustaining positive and safe school communities across the district while promoting the social-emotional, physical, and academic health of all students. Inclusive Practices means equity for all students, regardless of background or ability, to ensure all students have individualized opportunity to reach their full potential.

More specifically, inclusive practices have meant eliminating segregated classrooms, ensuring students of all abilities are in the general education classroom as much as possible during the school day. This means students with learning disabilities who once spent parts or even all of their school day isolated in special education classrooms now experience learning alongside their general education peers. Individualized supports — such as paraeducators, communication devices, or modified curriculum materials among other resources — are brought into the general education classroom.

“In WLWV, as we committed to inclusion, we had to examine the underlying assumptions that have allowed us to create segregated classrooms for students with disabilities over the years, and (we) needed to question those assumptions and believe that all children should have the opportunity to learn and participate with their peers,” said Dr. Spencer-Iiams on June 10. “We needed to think about our beliefs, our structures, and our practices, and we needed to think about inclusion in a way that was not a one-size-fits-all.

“We committed to three high-leverage focus areas – improving our instructional practices, creating inclusive cultures, and increasing student voice. By committing to every student being at their neighborhood school, and in the general education classroom as much as possible, we’ve had to look at our teaching practices and, quite frankly, we had to get better.”

Intentional Moves to Increase Inclusive Practices

In making an intentional switch to Inclusive Practices, the District focused on a few key areas, including increasing professional development to build confidence and capacity of all instructional staff, increasing student participation in co-curricular activities to bolster student engagement, and increasing both parent and student involvement in the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) process for students who are served by an IEP. West Linn-Wilsonville staff engage in professional development.

Over time, school cultures have shifted and students have adjusted. In fact, talk to any WLWV student today and chances are they won’t even remember a time when students with learning disabilities weren’t regular members of the general education classroom. The results that have followed, both quantitatively and qualitatively, have been undeniable, with increased outcomes for the entire student population.

Over the past seven years, student participation in co-curricular activities such as theater, choir, student leadership, and unified sports have all increased. In fact, both West Linn and Wilsonville high schools have been recognized as National Unified Champion Schools due to their commitment to unified sports. The District has focused on hiring teachers who demonstrate a commitment to inclusive practices, and professional development has increased co-teaching in classrooms while building educator capacity. Similarly, parents and students are more intimately involved in the IEP process, ensuring individualized supports are provided to students.

“Once students see themselves as teammates on the field, on the court, on the robotics arena, or in the theater, they absolutely see themselves as peers in the classroom,” Spencer-Iiams said. “We also think about the involvement and engagement of parents a lot, especially in the IEP process. Making that meeting one of collaboration between parent, staff, and the student, really works on the premise that all students belong in the general education classroom, so we’re not debating that, but then we bring the individualized component to it to ask ‘What does this child in particular need to make that work?’”

That doesn’t mean that commitment to Inclusive Practices doesn’t come with challenges and hurdles, however. Since Inclusive Practices were first implemented in West Linn-Wilsonville, District leaders have worked toward addressing systemic barriers that require unrelenting dedication and vigilance. Inclusive Practices requires buy-in from top to bottom, and the patience and understanding of staff and students alike to work together toward a common goal.

“This work is messy, it’s ever-evolving, and it’s hard work. Only by committing to cycles of action, reflection, and improvement do we get better,” Dr. Spencer-Iiams said.

What does the data say about Inclusive Practices in West Linn-Wilsonville?

West Linn High School 2018 graduates prepare to receive their diplomas. The District tracks many data points related to Inclusive Practices and their impact on student outcomes across K-12. One piece of data that has been particularly powerful has been the District’s graduation rates over the past six years. Graduation rates for students who are served by an IEP, students who aren’t served by an IEP, and the overall total student population have all increased significantly over the past seven years.

In 2013, the graduation rate for students served by Special Education (SPED) was approximately 67 percent. The graduation rate for the total West Linn-Wilsonville student population, meanwhile, was approximately 90 percent.

Flash-forward to 2018 and the graduation rate for students served by SPED has jumped to 81.5 percent, higher than the state average for all students. Correspondingly, the WLWV graduation rate for the entire student population has also risen to 94.5 percent, which is the highest among Oregon school districts with multiple high schools.

The data is a strong indicator that Inclusive Practices are benefitting all students and not just those who are served by Special Education.

“We still have work to do, but we are encouraged, and we absolutely know this is the right work,” Dr. Spencer-Iiams said.

While many strides have been made, West Linn-Wilsonville continues to build Inclusive Practices across all of its schools. A total of 14 school districts toured West Linn-Wilsonville schools during the 2018-19 school year to see Inclusive Practices in action and the benefits they are providing students. School districts from parts of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Tennessee visited to learn and share experiences, with more districts from across the country lined up to visit during the 2019-20 school year. It’s all part of West Linn-Wilsonville’s desire to practice a growth mindset, refining practices and ensuring learning communities for the greatest thinkers and most thoughtful people for the world.

Dr. Ludwig and Dr. Spencer-Iiams concluded their presentation to the Oregon Senate Committee on Education by sharing a message provided by a West Linn-Wilsonville parent. It’s a sentiment that summarizes well what the District is working towards.

“By putting kids together and creating a positive environment to understand each other, it takes away the fear some may have of anyone that seems ‘different.’ They will have the confidence to interact with all people, be more kind, inclusive, and advocate for those who may need it. This is something I couldn’t teach them just by talking about it. You’re creating a generation that will be more accepting, understanding, and empathetic.”

To learn more about Inclusive Practices in the West Linn-Wilsonville School District, please visit the District Website. To watch the video of the June 10 presentation, please visit the Oregon State Legislature website.