Link Lines – November 2020

November’s Issue of Link Lines: Use of High Leverage Practices

Click here to read this issue for educators


Read the Administrator’s Corner below


Admin Corner - Sticky Note Option 1

Literacy Leadership at the IEP Meeting

By Cathy Buyrn, M.Ed.

Administrators serve as the local education agency (LEA) representative during individualized education program (IEP) meetings. It is important for them to take this role seriously as, in addition to the school responsibilities outlined in the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA, 2004), the recent Supreme Court case Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District (U.S. Department of Education, 2017) established a higher standard for demonstrating student progress. In the unanimous decision, the court asserted that “a school must offer an IEP that is reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress in light of the child’s circumstances” (para. 1) and that “every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives” (p. 5). While administrators should ensure that IEPs contain challenging academic and functional goals across the curriculum and the school day, it is important that they pay particular attention to literacy.

Reading is a critical life skill (Americans with Disabilities Act [ADA], 2008) that should be prioritized for all students, including students with disabilities. In 2018 the International Literacy Association (ILA) declared that “children have the basic human right to read” (p. 2) and in 2019 went even further, calling on administrators to “prioritize children’s rights to read” (ILA, p. 5). Specifically, administrators were asked to sign the pledge and take action by ensuring that scientifically driven reading instruction build the independent reading skills of all students. This call to action also applies to students with disabilities despite a history of low expectations and poor outcomes for this group of students. The Endrew decision aligns with this call to action and identified High-Leverage Practices for Special Education (McLeskey et al., 2017).

 All of the 22 high-leverage practices (HLPs) in four aspects of practice – collaboration, assessment, social-emotional learning, and instruction – can guide administrative leadership focused on literacy across the school environment and at IEP meetings. Under the instructional umbrella of the HLPs, two specific practices (see Table 1) can be used to support the development of IEP goals and specially designed instruction (SDI) across the curriculum and especially in the five critical components of reading instruction (i.e., phonemic and phonological awareness, phonics/decoding, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension). Administrators should make sure that the following HLPs are a focus of goal setting and instructional practices across the curriculum, and especially for students with identified reading difficulties.

Table 1

Connecting High-Leverage Practices and Systematic Reading Instruction

High-Leverage Practices

(McLeskey et al., 2017)

Reading Examples
HLP 11: Identify and prioritize long- and short-term learning goals. Long-Term Goal

  • When presented with a list of 20 closed-syllable (CVC) words, the student will identify, orally decode, and write words with short vowel sounds with 95% accuracy by June 12, 2021.

Setting low accuracy goals (e.g., 70%) for basic foundational reading skills limits student growth. Administrators should question goals with low accuracy targets.

HLP 12: Systematically design instruction toward a specific learning goal. Short-Term Systematic Instructional Goals

  • Identify, produce, and write the initial consonant sound in CVC words.
  • Identify, produce, and write the final consonant sound in CVC words.
  • Identify, produce, and write the medial short vowel sound in CVC words.
  • Blend the initial, medial, and final sounds in closed-syllable (CVC) words.
  • Listen to and use correct spelling to write closed syllable (CVC) words.

Prerequisite subskills should be mastered with 100% accuracy in order to make progress towards the long-term goal.


As the LEA representative at the table during IEP meetings, administrators have an ethical and legal obligation to elevate the academic expectations for students with disabilities and facilitate their right to become independent readers. Satisfying the new standard established by the Endrew decision requires specific attention to strategic goal setting (HLP 11) and systematic instruction (HLP 12) designed to accomplish “appropriately ambitious” (2017, p. 7) goals. This standard is especially critical in the five components of reading instruction. Administrators should not substitute reading accommodations (e.g., read aloud, audio, text-to-speech) for systematic and appropriately intensive reading instruction regardless of students’ age or grade level. If special education teachers are spending more time providing reading accommodations than they are providing systematic and intensive reading instruction, students with disabilities will not be the life-ready independent readers depicted in Virginia’s Profile of a Graduate. Rising to this challenge will require that administrators employ a multi-year focus on the “individualization” of student IEPs and the development of independent reading skills using scientifically based reading instruction.

Additional Resources

Administrators can build their own skills and knowledge about how to develop high-quality IEPs that close critical skills gaps across the curriculum and in the vital components of reading by completing the IRIS module at the link below.

How Administrators Can Support the Development and Implementation of High-Quality IEPs

For specific answers to frequently asked questions about the provision of special education services during the COVID-19 pandemic, Virginia administrators can access the link below.

VDOE Special Education and Student Services (SESS) Frequently Asked Questions

Administrators can help build the IEP development skills of their special education teachers by having them complete the IRIS module at the link below.

Developing High-Quality Individualized Education Programs

Additional resources focused on SDI in the critical components of reading may be found at the National Center on Intensive Intervention link below. The site includes examples and resources to support SDI delivered in virtual learning settings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Strategies to Support Intensifying Literacy Interventions

Virginia State Superintendent of Instruction, Dr. James Lane, has asserted that early literacy skills and scientifically based reading instruction are priorities for all Virginia educators. Administrators and teachers can access professional development focused on these priorities at the link below.

Comprehensive Literacy Webinar Series


Americans With Disabilities Act [ADA] Amendments, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. (2008).

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1400 (2004).

International Literacy Association [ILA]. (2019). Advocating for children’s rights to read: A manual for enacting the rights in classrooms, communities, and the world.

International Literacy Association [ILA]. (2018). The case for children’s rights to read.

McLeskey, J., Barringer, M-D., Billingsley, B., Brownell, M., Jackson, D., Kennedy, M., Lewis, T., Maheady, L., Rodriguez, J., Scheeler, M. C., Winn, J., & Ziegler, D. (2017, January). High-leverage practices in special education. Arlington, VA: Council for Exceptional Children & CEEDAR Center.

U.S. Department of Education. (2017). Questions and answers (Q & A) on U.S. Supreme Court Case decision Endrew F. v Douglas County School District Re-1. Washington, DC: Author.

image of students

Reading Resource Guide

As announced in our last edition of Link Lines, we have new products to help newsletter readers find valuable educational resources related to topics including student engagement, classroom management, and co-teaching.  We have compiled current online resources, arranged them by media type, highlighted the five we found most helpful to practitioners, and identified those that are family-friendly.  View the Reading Resource Guide, compiled by Christine Peterson.  We will share additional guides in the 2017-18 editions of Link Lines.

Helping Students to Identify Unfamiliar Words

Thanks to brain research, we now understand more about the underlying processes used when students attempt to identify unknown words.  Brain imaging provides insights into these processes through identification of the particular regions involved, their functions, and interactions within the left hemisphere where language processing at the word level occurs.

[Read more…]

Intensifying Instructional Delivery During Guided Reading

Authors Mary Murray Stowe, M.Ed., and Jan Rozzelle, Ed.D.
Elementary and middle schools across the Commonwealth are selecting guided reading as a means to address students’ comprehension issues.  Why are more and more schools adopting this practice? Guided reading may support struggling readers because it:

[Read more…]

Dyslexia: Insights and Current Understandings

Through what lens, do we examine dyslexia?  Medically, educationally, legislatively?
Definition?  Prevalence? Resources?

Much recent educational conversation centers on dyslexia.  Parent groups have formed to address their concerns regarding their children’s progress in reading and academics after a diagnosis of dyslexia.  Long-standing professional organizations work in the area of dyslexia through research, pedagogy, curriculum, and other avenues in education.  Much attention has been given to addressing the needs of students and adults with dyslexia.  Eighteen states have adopted legislation involving dyslexia, and 25 states have either issued a dyslexia handbook or recognized October as Dyslexia Awareness Month (USA Today, October 30, 2014). [Read more…]

The Power of Engagement: Connecting Students, Families, and Learning

It is essential to provide students with disabilities “rigorous and relevant instruction to better engage students in learning and provide the skills needed to graduate and to serve them after they leave school” (Wilkins & Huckabee, 2014, p. 45). This statement, in turn, leads to the question: How do students want to be engaged in their learning? When a middle school teacher asked her eighth graders that question, one student responded, “I believe that it all boils down to relationships.  Not relationships from teacher to student or relationships from student to student, but rather relations between the text and the outside world” (Wolpert-Gawron, 2012, “Connecting the Real World,” para. 1).  Another student observed, “When a student is active they learn in a deeper way than sitting” (Wolpert-Gawron, 2012, “Get Me Out of My Seat!” para. 1). [Read more…]

Close Reading, Text Annotation, Text-Dependent Questions, and Paired Passages – Oh My!!!

Take a deep breath. There is no need to take cover. Terms like close reading, text annotation, text-dependent questions, and paired passages are not passing fads in education. Instead, they represent a return to building inspired, engaged, independent readers. They represent promising practices for developing strategic readers, including students with disabilities (SWD) (Katz & Carlise, 2009). This article will link teachers to resources to help implement these high-yield strategies in support of rigorous college- and career-ready expectations for all students. [Read more…]

VDOE Instructional Resources That Support the Written, Taught, and Tested Curriculum in English and Math


The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) website contains multiple resources to assist in aligning the curriculum that is taught with the written and tested curriculum. Use of these resources can only enhance our pedagogical practices. VDOE has done the work for us to make this necessary alignment possible with supporting resources. [Read more…]