Author: Dr. Marie Huges & Dr. Batya Elbaum
Title: Project BEAMS: Benchmarks of Exemplary Achievement in Middle Schools
Institution: University of Miami
Month / Year: January 2002
Project BEAMS: Benchmarks of Exemplary Achievement in Middle Schools was designed with the aim of developing the knowledge base on how middle schools can achieve positive learning results for students with disabilities in the context of improving learning outcomes for all students. In Phase 1 of the Project, Defining and Identifying Exemplary Middle Schools, we developed a consensus concerning the definition of exemplary learning results for students with disabilities and examined multiple measures and indicators of such outcomes.
Of particular interest in this phase of the project were the perceptions of middle school principals, regular and special education teachers, student with disabilities, and parents. We first contacted a random sample of middle school principals in our four-district area (Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade, and Monroe) and requested permission to interview them. Those that granted permission were interviewed and were also asked to nominate several teachers whom we could recruit for participation in a focus group interview. Eight focus group interviews were conducted, two in each of the four counties. In addition, participating teachers who taught students with disabilities were asked us in locating parents who would be willing to participate in a phone interview. Through this process, we were able to identify and set up interviews with almost 60 parents of middle school students with disabilities. Responses to a key question asked during the interview - "What are your goals for middle school students with disabilities?" - assisted us in defining criteria for identification of schools as achieving positive outcomes for middle school students with disabilities.
Subsequent surveys of school ESE chairpersons, examination of data from school, district and state databases, and one-day site visits to nominated schools enabled us to identify a set of middle schools in southeastern Florida that could be defined as achieving exemplary learning results for students with disabilities. Two of these schools, one in Miami-Dade County and one in Monroe County, were selected as sites for Phase 2 of the project.
In Phase 2, Specifying and Describing the Factors that Contribute to Exemplary Learning Results, we conducted an observational study of the two selected schools using a multiple case study approach focusing on students with learning disabilities who were included in general education classrooms for all or part of the school day. Reading, language arts, and mathematics classes were observed on multiple occasions. In addition, each of the designated case study students was shadowed for an entire school day five times during the year. Finally, students were administered a variety of measures to assess changes over time in reading, mathematics, self-concept, and study skills.
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