Most of the teachers you will be working with are general education teachers, but almost every general education teacher has the task of teaching (and grading) students with disabilities or special needs in the classroom. Students may have Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and/or be English Language Learners (ELL). You may also encounter the initialisms SPED (Special Education), DL (Diverse Learner), or ESL (English as a Second Language).
While these students may have different learning needs, they are still given access to the general education curriculum, including the assignments that you have you have been trusted to grade.
We know that sometimes Graiders see this as an extra challenge. Here are some tips to make sure you are successful when grading assignments for students with special needs.
Message the teacher early
Teachers will always have the most insight on how specific students in their classes learn and should be graded. Some teachers will provide you with names of students with special needs and specific grading guidelines, but others will not. If you receive a list, make sure you understand any special grading expectations. If you do not receive a list, but suspect some students may be students with special needs or English Language Learners, it's okay to ask so that you can ensure your feedback is most helpful to students!
- "Hi Ms. Allen, I noticed you included a list of students who have IEPs. Is there anything I should know about my scoring or feedback for these students? Are there specific goals that these students are working on that I should focus on in my feedback?"
- "Hi Mr. Gunter, I am grading for your third period, and I noticed Mya, Aaron, and Terry wrote two paragraphs instead of five. Did all students receive the same assignment instructions, or did these three have modified guidelines?"
Remember the difference between grading and scoring
Sometimes, Graiders feel as though they are in a tough spot when asked to grade work for students who have special needs or students who are working far below grade level. Some Graiders have noted that the rubrics do not seem fair, and that can cause the task of assigning them a grade to be a little daunting.
Remember that the rubric score does not always directly translate to a grade. Teachers may adjust the grade (the actual letter or number that goes in to the gradebook) as needed once they receive your feedback.
Note: some teachers will have special instructions for specific students. They may ask you to score some students more leniently or differently. Always follow the special instructions you are given, even if they seem to contradict our advice above!
Accommodate your feedback
Students with disabilities, students with special needs, and students learning English often read at a lower level than their peers. Keep this in mind when you are writing your feedback and always consider your sentence structure, word choice, vocabulary, and length of feedback. It is important that your feedback is accessible to students so they can independently apply it on future assignments.
Our hallmarks of effective feedback are always important, but they become even more relevant when grading work for students with special needs. Keep the following top of mind when grading work for students with special needs:
- Goal-Oriented : Stick to the rubric and keep feedback objective! Remember, feedback is about what the student has mastered, not how hard they tried.
- Prioritized : Focus on making your feedback particularly clear and concise. Avoid wordy feedback that the student may not be able to understand. Continue to prioritize comments on content over conventions. Though students may make more conventions errors than their peers, feedback on content will typically be more motivating and have a more significant impact on future work.
- Actionable : Make sure your feedback is so specific that the student knows exactly what she/he needs to work on for their assignment, and how to do it. Sentence starters and examples can be helpful, but remember that you should not provide students with answers or re-write work for them.
- Student-Friendly Use extra positive and encouraging language with students, even if they struggled with the assignment. Always focus on the opportunities that the student has to grow rather than what the student did wrong so that they feel motivated to continue working.
Students with special needs are often the students who will benefit most from high quality feedback. Even more than general education students, these students need to be made aware of what specific goals they should be working on and how they can master them, despite their disabilities or special needs.
Students with IEPs and English Language Learners do not always receive the personalized attention that they need in general education classrooms, which can cause them to have a negative view of their school experience. This is where you come in!
Providing these students with positive highlights of what they are doing well, as well as personalized and meaningful next-steps for them to take in order to increase their learning has the potential to motivate and encourage students to continue working in an environment that may be new or difficult for them.
Resources and Additional Reading