Why some special ed services worked, and some did not, during remote instruction

Special educators reported a "significantly lower sense of well-being" during remote learning, survey says.
By: | April 29, 2022

The shift to remote learning disrupted some special education services more severely than others. These challenges that special educators faced during COVID may provide guidance to administrators who are planning to expand virtual instruction even when the pandemic recedes.

On the one hand, the move to remote meetings increased parent participation. But special educators had a harder time providing intellectual and academic assessments, counseling and other interventions, according to a new analysis from the University of California, Riverside’s school of education. And the special educators themselves reported a “significantly lower sense of well-being” during remote learning compared to a typical year, say researchers who interviewed 332 special education teachers, school psychologists and related providers.

“Although schools were still expected to follow federal timelines and mandates for special education services, schools were provided little guidance on how to effectively shift their services remotely,” says the study’s author, Tyler Womack, a doctoral student in education at UC Riverside.

Still, many of the respondents said they held annual IEP meetings and continued to update annual goals and accommodations on IEP documents during remote learning. But some staff members’ responsibilities shifted significantly. School psychologists, for example, reported providing far more counseling and mental health care during remote instruction. They spend most of their time conducting psychological assessments in a typical in-person year.

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“Our research questions explored which special education services were provided during remote learning and whether staff perceived the services that were provided to be effective,” said co-author Elissa Monteiro, also a UC Riverside education doctoral student.

Special education teachers and staff who felt supported by administrators were more likely to say they were having success with students and student outcomes. However, many of the educators surveyed said they had never been trained to conduct special education meetings remotely. This contributed to a lower sense of connectedness and efficacy during virtual learning, the study found.

Administrators should assess staff members’ comfort with technological platforms and offer professional development on providing special education services remotely. The authors of the survey cited past research that has found teachers who participate in such training feel more effective and less exhausted. Administrators can further support teachers by including them in decision-making and helping them maintain social and professional connections when instruction is remote.

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