Laying the Foundation for Standards-based Data-driven Specially Designed Instruction

Specially designed instruction (SDI) provides students with disabilities (SWD) the opportunity to make progress in the general education curriculum (IDEA, 2004). A student’s Individualized Educational Program (IEP) is supposed to provide the roadmap for special and general educators. Unfortunately, it is not unusual for special educators to become overwhelmed with the simultaneous demands of IEP development, scheduling IEP meetings, and standardized testing in the spring.

The problem with the spring timing of the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL) assessments and IEP development for the next school year is that the IEP is frequently developed without the benefit of student outcome data on the SOL assessment. Any disconnect between IEP goal development and student performance on the SOL assessment can lead to an instructional gap that limits opportunities for SWD to make progress in the general education curriculum. While new IEP goals must be based on a student’s individual needs and other student progress monitoring measures, there must be a connection to the grade-level general education curriculum, as measured by the SOL assessment during assessment years.

Although teachers know whether a given student passed or failed an SOL assessment before designing instruction, they may not know that they can analyze skill performance more in-depth in the Student Detail by Question (SDBQ) report.  That is, the SDBQ report provides details within the reporting categories on the SOL Test Blueprints that may be used to guide more targeted standards-based IEP goal development and SDI.  These targets, in turn, may provide students a more realistic opportunity to make progress in the general education curriculum.

To illustrate, a sixth-grade student performed well on questions relating to synonyms, context clues, and a lower-level question requiring him to apply knowledge of affixes (see Figure 1). However, when presented with medium-level questions requiring application of knowledge of word relationships and affixes, he did not respond correctly. These results suggest that SDI focused on word analysis strategies may be appropriate. If this student is to successfully move through middle and high school, effective word analysis is critical.

Figure 1. Grade 6 Reading SDBQ Report:  Use Word Analysis Strategies and Word Reference Materials


(Virginia Department of Education [VDOE], 2017)

The same sixth-grade student was successful with fictional text on medium-level questions focused on characterization, author’s organizational pattern, and plot development, but struggled with lower-level questions about how story elements impact plot development and the use of implied information and textual support to make inferences (see Figure 2). This suggests that the student may benefit from SDI focused on comprehension strategies in fictional texts, with specific attention to story elements, plot development, and inferencing.


Figure 2. Grade 6 Reading SDBQ Report: Demonstrate Comprehension of Fictional Texts


(VDOE, 2017)

In comprehending nonfiction texts, the same sixth-grade student was successful with medium-level questions related to an author’s organizational pattern, cause and effect, and drawing conclusions on explicit information using textual support (see Figure 3). The student’s success with an author’s organizational pattern in both fiction and nonfiction texts suggests that this is an area of strength across genres and that similar structures might be used to support areas of weakness. The missed question about the use of text structures to categorize information implies a possible gap in knowledge worth consideration for Tier 1 instruction with possible connections to specific SDI. Additionally, the missed question about comparison relationships suggests that the student lacks strategies for analyzing nonfiction texts. This information should be considered when setting goals and designing instruction for this student during his seventh-grade year.

Figure 3. Grade 6 Reading SDBQ Report:  Demonstrate Comprehension of Nonfiction Texts


(VDOE, 2017)

When SDBQ reports are available for SWD in specific content areas, they should be fully analyzed for connections to IEP goals and SDI for the upcoming school year. Teachers should seek out all available skill-specific data rather than relying solely on SOL pass rates. Additional sources of skill-specific data are noted in Strategic and Specially Designed Instruction: Leveraging Data Sources to Ensure General Curriculum Access (Buyrn, 2016). Every missed question on an SOL assessment does not necessarily indicate a need for specific SDI, but it provides data worth consideration and further investigation as special and general educators plan a course for the upcoming school year.

The SDBQ can also uncover areas of focus for Tier 1 instruction. An effective program for SWD includes Tier 1 instruction informed by previous outcome data from all students and individualized goals and SDI that align with the general education curriculum.  If special educators uncover gaps between students’ IEP goals and the standards-based assessment data in the fall, they should adjust those goals and ensure that SDI rises to the level of need and expectation so that teachers and students can hit the ground running. If standards-based goals are well aligned with both student need and targeted SDI, ongoing formative assessment and progress monitoring measures will help chart a course for success across the school year.

Teachers interested in effective classroom assessment strategies may wish to access the IRIS Center Modules Classroom Assessment (Part 1):  An Introduction to Monitoring Academic Achievement in the Classroom (2004) and Classroom Assessment (Part 2): Evaluating Reading Progress (2005). Ongoing formative assessment practices aligned with summative assessment measures l provide a connected and strategic instructional foundation for SWD. These modules provide specific practices and models that will help teachers make these vital connections.


Buyrn, C. A. (2017, February). Strategic and specially designed instruction:  Leveraging data sources to ensure general curriculum access. Training and Technical Assistance Center at the College of William and Mary:  Link Lines Newsletter. Retrieved from

Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, 20 U.S.C. §300. (2004). Retrieved from

The IRIS Center. (2004). Classroom assessment (part 1):  An introduction to monitoring academic achievement in the classroom. Retrieved from

The IRIS Center. (2005). Classroom assessment (part 2):  Evaluating reading progress. Retrieved from

Virginia Department of Education. (2017). Student detail by question report. Richmond, VA: Author.

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