A step beyond inclusion: A case study of what one principal did to improve achievement for students with disabilities
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There is a growing interest in what principals do to improve learning for students with disabilities. This interest is fueled by the need for all students, including students with disabilities, to achieve at high levels. In light of the requirements of No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), principals need to step beyond understanding special education and implementing programs to uncovering the practices, beliefs and attitudes that make a difference in outcomes for students with disabilities. Using case study methodology, this study examines one principal's leadership for the purpose of identifying those practices, beliefs and attitudes that are perceived to contribute to achievement as measured by attainment of Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for students with disabilities. The term "principal's practices" includes not only the procedures and actions followed on a regular basis, but also the strategies adopted to enhance the management of the building and outcomes attributed to the school. The study looks at two additional questions. What knowledge is perceived to be essential for principals to carry out leadership tasks related to special education? What skills are perceived to be necessary for principals to acquire in order to perform tasks related to special education leadership? The focus of this study is on a principal's practices as they relate to students with disabilities and their achievement as measured by Adequate Yearly Progress under NCLB. This case study examines the principal's leadership as the unit of analysis, and builds on an earlier study developed by Jacobson, Brooks, Giles, Johnson, and Ylimaki (2004). Many of the protocols used in this study were developed and used by Jacobson et al. (2004). While Jacobson et al (2004) studied exemplary leadership practices in challenging schools; this study seeks to better understand leadership practices for students with disabilities. Despite increasingly large numbers of students with disabilities who were transferred to this school by the district, the school continued to achieve AYP for the total school population and also for all subgroups including students with disabilities. During the 2004-05 school year, one-third of the students who took the elementary ELA were classified as students with disabilities. The argument is made that the principal's leadership has positively influenced that outcome.