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Use of High Leverage Practices Link Lines – November 2020

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

Click here to read this issue for educators

By Susan Jones, M.Ed. and Mary Stowe, M.Ed.


Read the Administrator’s Corner below

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.

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