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Cooperative teaching project: a model for students at risk.

Over the past few years, many educators have sought more integration and cooperation between regular and special education in meeting the needs of at-risk students. In 1986, Madeleine Will discussed learning opportunities for educationally disadvantaged students and those with mild learning disabilities. She called for a system that would bring programs to students rather than bring students to programs. Educational responsibility would be shared between regular and special education. The goal of this cooperation would be to lessen our dependence on pull-out programs. Other educators believe that we have built a dual system by using pull-out programs that limit the incentive for cooperation between regular and special education (Allington & Johnson, 1986; Wang, Reynolds, & Walberg, 1986).

The wide variety of traditional school programs created to provide special, compensatory, and remedial education services have been referred to as "second systems of education" by Reynolds, Wang, and Walberg (1987). These researchers imply that the second system impedes identification of the real source of many learning problems: the quality of instruction or learning environment in the regular education program.

Implementing more effective programs to meet the needs of at-risk students is in the forefront of educational reform. In the most recent U.S. Department of Education Chapter 1 reauthorization plan (1989), the U.S. Congress provides some flexibility in federal regulations. This flexibility will allow educators the opportunity to work cooperatively in addressing the educational needs of low-achieving students. Such an approach is also supported by several professional groups at the national level (Advocacy Center for the Elderly and the Disabled, 1986; Position Statement, 1986).



In 1987 an innovative teaching model with cooperation between regular and special education was implemented at Hiawatha Elementary School in Minneapolis. A major purpose of this initiative was to bring previously separate resources together to work toward a common purpose--shifting the focus from remediation and failure of students to one of prevention and support for student success. This new model was named the Cooperative Teaching Project (CTP).

The CTP began in January 1987 in the first grade and was extended to Grades K-3 in September 1987. This model provided the opportunity for special education, compensatory education, and regular education teachers to work together on addressing the educational problems of low-achieving students without the fragmentation that usually occurs in these delivery systems. It allowed the staff to concentrate on prereferral instructional strategies and to fashion these strategies into a comprehensive, building-wide approach.

The major goals of the project are twofold: first, to reduce the discrepancy in reading and readiness skills of high-risk students and their grade-level peers; second, to increase classroom teachers' repertoire of instructional strategies to use with low-achieving students.

In the CTP, regular education teachers have primary responsibility for meeting the academic needs of high-risk students. Special education, Chapter 1, and compensatory education teachers provide supplemental instruction within the classroom. The progress of all students is monitored weekly using curriculum-based measures (Deno, Mirkin, & Chiang, 1982); and monitoring data is used to make decisions regarding instructional strategies, motivational techniques, and placement in reading groups.

The purpose of this article is to provide a case study of the project and examine its impact on Hiawatha School. Project implementation is reviewed and available data sources are analyzed. Descriptive data related to individual student performance, total building progress, special education referrals, and teacher attitudes are reported.


Subjects and Setting

Hiawatha Elementary School, a Minneapolis Public School, has 470 students in Grades K-3. The students come from an urban environment; 44% are minority, 59% are eligible for free or reduced-cost meals, 95% are bused to school, and there is a 42% student turnover rate in the academic year. Primary staff involved in the Cooperative Teaching Project include 14 regular classroom teachers, two compensatory education teachers, two special education teachers, two Chapter 1 tutors, and one speech/language clinician. The CTP serves approximately 170 Hiawatha students in Grades K-3 each year.


Students are identified for supplemental instruction by a team of teachers reviewing curriculum-based measures in reading and readiness (Marston & Magnusson, 1988), district-designed tests, curriculum placement tests (Weiss, Steuer, & Cruikshank, 1983), individual language samples, and school records. A student is placed in supplemental groups if his or her reading/readiness screening score is below the 25th percentile, the district-designed grade-level test score is below the 25th percentile, progress is below expectation, and teachers/parents express a concern. Students are exited from supplemental groups if progress is above expectation and performance indexes show strong growth (e.g., group participation, end of unit tests, and progress chart). All screening measures are administered in the fall. Students new to Hiawatha are screened by the Cooperative Teaching Team as they enter the school. Screening information is used to determine eligibility for Cooperative Teaching reading and language groups and classroom reading-group placement. Students may be moved in or out of instructional groups throughout the year, depending on individual progress and documented response to interventions.

Students are placed in groups by skill level, and special education teachers work with students at highest risk for academic failure. Student progress is reviewed throughout the school year, and instructional changes are made as progress falls below individual progress goals for four consecutive weeks. A referral is made to the building special education review committee if progress continues below expectation after two interventions have been tried.

Figure 1 illustrates the process used to place students in CTP groups. All students are screened in readiness or reading. If students are at risk for academic failure, they are placed in a supplemental group. Ongoing placement decisions are made based on students' responses to interventions as shown by weekly progress monitoring.


Special education, Chapter 1, and compensatory education teachers provide 25 minutes (min) of supplemental reading/readiness instruction in small groups 5 days per week to students at greatest risk for academic failure. Speech/language clinicians provide 25 min of small-group supplemental instruction 3 days per week to students with the most limited language skills. Curriculum materials and methods are chosen to support daily reading instruction provided by classroom teachers and to enhance student performance as measured by weekly progress monitoring, teacher reports of progress, and district-scheduled testing. All teachers work to maximize student time on task, correct student responses, and generalization of taught skills. Training is available in use of specialized learning materials and Elements of Effective Instruction (Berliner, 1984; Rosenshine, 1983).

All supplemental groups meet in regular classrooms during scheduled reading periods to minimize disruptions and increase engaged learning time. Students no longer lose instructional time passing in the halls during defined reading blocks. Behavior problems that might occur outside of a student's classroom are eliminated. Students are viewed as full participants in their classroom because they remain with classmates throughout their school day. Some independent reading activity time is replaced with small-group instruction for students who have difficulty working independently. Teachers learn strategies from one another as they teach in classroom together.


Classroom teams including all teachers working on reading, readiness, and language attend scheduled meetings once a month to review individual student progress and coordinate instructional plans based on changing student needs. Within classrooms, teachers review instructional plans on an informal basis weekly. All supplemental teachers meet twice each month for ongoing planning, problem solving around specific students, and sharing instructional strategies. Classroom teachers and supplemental teachers exchange formal lesson plans weekly; these plans reflect a shared focus on specific reading/readiness objectives. Lesson plans are also collected and monitored by the principal. Instructional goals for the CTP match regular district curriculum goals and are measured by criterion-referenced tests used throughout the district.

Data Collection

All Hiawatha students are evaluated using curriculum-based measures (CBM) three times a year. These data are compared to district-developed normative information. In addition, reading progress of all students in the school is monitored weekly with formative evaluation procedures (Marston & Magnusson, 1988). Students read from grade level passages once weekly for 1 min while the teacher counts the number of words read correctly (Deno, Mirkin, & Chiang, 1982). Performance is charted on equal-interval graph paper using the moving median approach. In this system, the median of the last three data points is plotted on the graph. Student progress before and during cooperative teaching can be compared. Hiawatha staff are trained to monitor, chart, and interpret individual reading and readiness progress using trend lines and individual progress goals. Interjudge reliability coefficients for teachers measuring reading and readiness exceeded .90. An actual example of student progress being monitored is shown in Figure 2, in which one student's ("Jim's") words read correctly are graphed weekly.

This graph shows that Jim is not in a CTP group at the start of the year, Phase A. Though there is a slight increase in words read correctly at this time, his improvement was not viewed as educationally significant by staff. During the academic year, Jim was placed in a CTP group. This change in instruction appears to have had a significant effect on his reading progress, as seen in Phase B of Figure 2. Jim now reads approximately 60 words correctly in 1 min. In addition, Jim's errors have been reduced from 15 per minute to less than 5.

Instructional changes are made based on individual student progress and response to specific instruction. Instructional changes might include time allocated to instructional activities, motivational strategies, specific materials, parent contact, teaching style, and attendance contracts. All instructional changes are documented on individual progress-monitoring charts, as shown in Figure 2. Student progress is shared with students, staff, and families to improve student performance. At the end of each school year, Hiawatha staff are asked to rate the effectiveness of the project and list suggestions for future years.


The evaluation results of the Hiawatha CTP are divided into four major categories. The first type of results relate to the effectiveness of CTP. The second category examines the overall impact of CTP on the school. A third analysis is directed at how CTP affected referrals to special education. Finally, teacher attitudes concerning the implementation of cooperative teaching are reviewed.

Effectiveness of Cooperative Teaching

Several approaches to evaluating the effectiveness of the CTP were considered. One approach contrasted the learning rate of CTP pupils versus non-CTP students. At first glance, this might seem to be an appropriate design; but it was flawed in that the initial performances of CTP and non-CTP children were extremely different. Thus, non-CTP students were an inadequate control group. A second design called for a matched set of students that were either CTP or non-CTP, but equivalent in initial performance. Low sample sizes for this analysis obviated such a design. The third design, a single-subject time series analysis of pupil learning rate while students were taught in both a CTP and non-CTP condition during an academic year, was selected as most appropriate. In the single-subject design, the slope of learning in reading is calculated for the student while being serviced in regular education. Once a child is placed in CTP, a new learning rate is calculated. To compare CTP to non-CTP, the learning rates for these students are aggregated for each phase and analyzed using a paired t-test.

During Year 2 this analysis was conducted for 9 students. The average rate of improvement for these students without CTP was .83 words per week (SD = 1.06). However, during CTP, these students averaged 2.89 correct word gains per week (SD = 2.78). When the two instructional phases are compared with a paired t-test analysis, the t-value equals 2.19, with a probability level of .060.

During Year 3 the learning rate of 28 students (9 first graders, 14 second graders, and 5 third graders) was analyzed. The average gain per week for all students was .58 correct words without CTP and 1.78 words correct with CTP. Paired t-test analysis provided a t-value of 3.25 and was statistically significant at the .003 level.

A breakdown of the learning slopes by grade level was revealing. At the first grade, the average slope of improvement was .94 during the non-CTP condition and 3.11 during CTP. The second graders had an average gain per week of .40 correct words in non-CTP and .73 during CTP. In the third grade, the average gain was .40 during non-CTP and 2.30 correct words per week during CTP (see Figure 3).

Impact of Cooperative Teaching

One approach to examining the impact of cooperative teaching on Hiawatha Elementary School is to look at the average performance of each grade level during the fall, winter, and spring. Table 1 lists the school averages for words read correctly at each grade level in 1988-89. As can [TABULAR DATA OMITTED]

be seen, pupil performance increased significantly from fall to winter and winter to spring at each grade level.

The median slope of improvement for Hiawatha students in Grades K-3 for 1988-89 school year follows: Grade K, 1.00 letter; Grade 1,2.00 words; Grade 2, 1.75 words; Grade 3, 1.50 words. For kindergarten, the slope is reported in median gain for letters correctly identified each week. For Grades 1, 2, and 3, the slope represents the weekly median gain in words read correctly.

Effect of Cooperative Teaching on Special


To analyze the effect of CTP on special education, we examined the number of referrals made to special education over a 3-year period. During the first year, emphasis was placed on a large group of high-risk first graders. After a reading screening in January, it was determined that 108 of 128 pupils (79%) were eligible for further assessment for special education services. Since normally about half of these students would qualify


Hiawatha Teacher Attitudes Toward Cooperative

Teaching May 1989
Item (%)
Cooperative Classroom Teams Were:
 1. Effective for sharing student
 progress 100
 2. Effective for making placement
 decisions 91
 3. Effective for instructional
 planning 83
Weekly exchange of lesson plans
 coordinated instruction between
 team members 87
Instructional pacing and content were
 coordinated between team members 87
Progress Monitoring Charts Were Used:
 1. To identify and place at-risk
 students 87
 2. To document services provided 78
 3. For instructional planning 70
 4. To motivate students 65
 5. For family conferences 52
Students at risk were placed in
 appropriate cooperative teaching
 groups 87

for service, Hiawatha had the potential of adding over 50 first-grade students to its special education caseloads. As a result, CTP was initiated in an attempt to provide more service to these high-risk children.

Similarly, at the start of Years 2 and 3, a large number of students at Grades K-3 would qualify for special education assessment based on entry CBM screening in readiness and reading. Each year, as students were placed in small CTP groups, the number of students qualifying for special education assessment decreased dramatically. At the start of Year 3, for example, 96 Hiawatha at-risk students were eligible for special education assessment. All 96 were placed in CTP groups. By spring 1989, 24 students had moved. Of the remaining 72 students who had been placed in CTP groups, only 8 students were considered eligible for special education assessment. Following assessment, only 1 student was found to be eligible for special education.

Teacher Attitudes Toward Cooperative


Hiawatha teachers completed a Cooperative Teaching Questionnaire in the spring of 1989. At that time the majority of teachers responded positively when asked if Cooperative Teaching Teams coordinated the planning and instruction of high-risk students. All classroom teachers agreed that students of concern received appropriate service in reading and readiness that year (see Table 2). Hiawatha staff reported that they use progress monitoring charts primarily to identify at-risk students. Weekly monitoring charts are also used for instructional planning, for motivation, and for sharing progress. Teachers expressed interest in more specific instructional strategy training and more scheduled time to teach around individual students.


Implementation of the Cooperative Teaching Project over the past 3 years at Hiawatha Elementary School indicates that this project has been beneficial in several respects. First, the data show that students taught with this model made significant gains. Low student performance increased appreciably from non-CTP to CTP placement. Second, there appeared to be an overall positive effect on the progress of all Hiawatha students when we compared growth from fall, winter, and spring. Third, the project had a definite impact on special education; the majority of students receiving CTP service were able to progress at or above district expectations without labeled or pulled out for special education. Fourth, teacher attitudes toward CTP were positive; and regular education teachers assumed the primary responsibility for instructing at-risk students. Fifth, there was a significant increase in cooperative planning between regular and special education staff.

The Hiawatha staff continue to problem solve around particular issues that hamper effective implementation of a cooperative model. First, it proved difficult to meet all the regulatory requirements for Chapter 1 and special education in using staff for these services in the regular classroom. Second, some staff were not willing to try new stategies to meet the needs of high-risk students; and as a result, the principal made some unilateral decisions. Third, turnover in staff due to non-tenure and bidding rights have hindered the establishment of long-term goals for staff development. Cooperative planning and inservice training time is essential to improving communication, increasing instructional skills, and ensuring the commitment of all involved staff. Approximately $3,000 was spent each year for staff development. Much time and effort are spent training new staff. A high level of resources must be committeed to facilitate implementation of a successful model.

At the end of the 1988-89 school year, the Cooperative Teaching Team reviewed teacher attitudes and student performance in an effort to evaluate areas for future improvement. Teacher training in alternative instructional strategies will continue, with a specific focus on strategies for second grade, where student gain was not as great as at other grades. Teach meetings will include reviews of student progress and instructional strategies with more time scheduled if possible. Supplemental instruction will be scheduled in grade-level blocks to minimize disruption. All CTP instruction will occur in the regular education classrooms. Classroom CTP teams will set a team agenda before classroom team meetings, take notes at each meeting, and distribute meeting notes to all team members. All Hiawatha students will be screened using CBM in readiness or reading during the first week of school. Progress monitoring will begin the second week of school. Language/reading/readiness instructional models will be defined during the week teachers return to school. Supplemental instruction will begin during the third week of school.

Several limitations to this case study should be noted. First, the data presented here are of a descriptive rather than experimental nature. School-based research is rarely experimental because of the difficulty in conducting a random selection of subjects or assignment to groups. Nonetheless, group differences were measured in this study; the descriptive information gathered indicates that students do benefit from the alternative instructional model described. A second problem is that these data are restricted to one school and a limited range of grades, K-3. Obviously, replication in other settings and across grade levels is necessary.

The project findings indicate that cooperative teaching is one effective intervention for providing service to high-risk students in the regular class-room. Because there is a rapid increase in the number of students referred and placed in special education--an increase of 119% since 1976, as reported by Edgar and Hayden 1984-85)--this model appears promising. As an integral component, curriculum-based measures are effective in providing data to evaluate individual response to interventions, as well as large group progress. Further study should be initiated to test the effects of similar cooperative efforts between regular and special education teachers in meeting the needs of high-risk students. Such study might delineate the components of a successful model that would assist school districts, colleges, and universities in designing innovative teaching models and training future educators to implement these innovations.


Advocacy Center for the Elderly and Disabled. (1986). Rights without labels. New Orleans: Author.

Allington, R.L., & Johnson, P. (1986). The coordination among regular classroom reading programs and targeted support programs. Albany: State University of New York.

Berliner, D. C. (1984). The half-full glass: A review of research on teaching. In P.L. Hosford (Ed.), Using what we know about teaching (pp. 51-77). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Deno, S. L., Mirken, P. K., & Chiang, B. (1982). Identifying valid measures of reading. Exceptional Children, 49, 36-45.

Edgar, E., & Hayden, A. H. (1984-85). Who are the children special education should serve and how many children are there? The Journal of Special Educatin, 18, 523-539.

Marston, D., & Magnusson, D. (1988). Curriculum based measurement: District level implementation. In J. Graden, J. Zins, & M. Curtins (Eds.), Alternative educational delivery systems: Enhancing instructional options for all students (pp. 137-172). Washington, DC: National Association of School Psychologists.

Position statement: Advocacy for appropriate educational services for all children. (1986). Boston, MA: National Coalition of Advocates for Students and the National Association of School Psychologists.

Reynolds, M. C., Wang, M. C., & Walberg, H. J. (1987). The necessary restructuring of special and regular education. Exceptional Children, 53-391-398.

Rosenshine, B. (1983). Teaching functions in instructional programs. Elementary School Journal, 85, 335-352.

U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. (1989, Monday, 23 October). Chapter 1 state operated or supported programs for handicapped children. Federal Register, 54 (178).

Wang, M. C., Reynolds, M. C., & Walberg, H. J. (1986). Rethinking special education. Educational Leadership, 44(1), 26-31. Weiss, B. J., Steuer, L. O., & Cruikshank, S. B. (1983). Holt reading series. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Will, M. C. (1986). Educating children with learning problems: A shared responsibility. Exceptional Children, 52, 411-416.


HETICENA SELF is the Principal of Hiawatha Elementary School, Minneapolis, Minnesota. ANNE BENNING (CEC Chapter #298) is a Special Education Resource Teacher; DOUG MARSTON (CEC Chapter #298) is a School Psychologist in the Department of Special Education; and DEANNE MAGNUSSON is the Coordinator of the K-6 School Based Resource Program in the Department of special Education of the Minneapolis Public Schools, Minnesota.
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Title Annotation:discusses innovative teaching model aimed at disabled children to promote student performance
Author:Self, Herticena; Benning, Anne; Marston, Doug; Magnusson, Deanne
Publication:Exceptional Children
Date:Sep 1, 1991
Previous Article:Teacher perceptions of the regular education initiative.
Next Article:Effects of preschool integration for children with disabilities.

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