Administrators consider a number of factors when planning for co-taught classroom assignments. At the top of the list is thoughtful personnel assignment. While matching co-teaching partners based on their skills and collaborative styles is extremely important, careful consideration of the students assigned to their classes is just as critical. Administrators should not automatically place every student with an Individualized Educational Program (IEP) in a co-taught class (Friend, Hamby, & McAdams, 2014). Similarly, they should avoid the temptation to assign students with 504 Plans, students who are English Language Learners (ELL), students with behavioral concerns, and other struggling learners to co-taught classrooms.
While it may seem like a good idea to place all students with high levels of need in a classroom with two licensed teachers, overloading co-taught classes undermines the intent of inclusion (Murawski & Bernhardt, 2015), by missing the mark on heterogeneous grouping. A class made up of only students with high levels of needed support is functionally a self-contained class (Friend, 2014), and even though there are two teachers in the room, it is highly unlikely that they will be able to effectively meet the students’ need for support (Nierengarten & Hughes, 2010).
The ideal percentage of identified students with disabilities (SWD) in a co-taught class is 20-40% (Friend & Cook, 2007; Friend et al., 2014; Murawski & Dieker, 2013). Using this percentage as a guide, in a class of 28 students, no more than 5-11 students should be SWD. While the ideal of 20-40% SWD may not always be possible, administrators should be careful not to create classes in which more than 40%-50% of the students have high levels of need, including students with 504 Plans, ELLs, and students with behavioral concerns or other challenges (Nierengarten & Hughes, 2010).
In addition, administrators should be just as intentional about filling the remaining seats in co-taught classes. Only students whose IEPs indicate a need for a co-taught service delivery option in the specific subject area should be assigned to the co-taught classroom in that subject. A heterogeneous group of students without high levels of need in the given content area should fill the remaining seats in order to create a reasonable and manageable balance in the co-taught classroom (Friend, 2014).
The co-teaching service delivery option is intended to “… provide students with disabilities or other special needs the specialized instruction to which they are entitled while ensuring that they can access the general curriculum in the least restrictive environment” (Friend, 2014, p. 11). The expectation that most SWD spend at least 80% of their school day in the general education classroom does not eliminate the need to provide them with specially designed instruction (SDI) meant to help students access and make progress in the general education curriculum. Therefore, SWD should experience intensified instructional support in co-taught classrooms that simultaneously addresses their specific IEP goals and the general curriculum goals. Effective service delivery in co-taught classrooms can only be achieved when the right providers are matched with the right students and given the appropriate conditions, tools, and supports. Balanced rosters designed to maximize student outcomes will help answer accountability demands and lead to improved school-level outcomes.
For an in-depth look at the importance of balanced, heterogeneous class rosters, visit the IRIS Center Modules “Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies (PALS) a Reading Strategy for Grades 2-6” and “Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies (PALS) a Reading Strategy for High School.” These modules illustrate the benefits of heterogeneous grouping and effective pairings for all students, and provide practice activities for pairing students based on data.
A comprehensive process for building an inclusive master schedule with specific examples may be found at: Creating a Master Schedule that Supports Inclusive Practices (article not longer available).
Friend, M. (2014). Co-teach! Building and sustaining effective classroom partnerships in inclusive schools (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: Marilyn Friend, Inc.
Friend, M., & Cook, L. (2007). Interactions: Collaboration skills for school professionals (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.
Friend, M., Hamby, L., & McAdams, D. (2014, April). Scheduling for co-teaching and other inclusive practices. Paper presented at the meeting of the Council for Exceptional Children, Philadelphia, PA. Retrieved from http://education.wm.edu/centers/ttac/documents/newsletters/cotschedulingfriend.pdf
Murawski, W. W., & Bernhardt, P. (2015, December/2016, January). An administrator’s guide to co-teaching. Educational Leadership. 73(4), 30-34.
Murawski, W. W., & Dieker, L. (2013). Leading the co-teaching dance: Leadership strategies to enhance team outcomes. Alexandria, VA: Council for Exceptional Children.
Nierengarten, G. M., & Hughes, T. (2010). What teachers wish administrators knew about co-teaching in high schools. Electronic Journal for Inclusive Education, 2(6), Article 9. Retrieved at http://corescholar.libraries.wright.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1122&context=ejie