Presuming Competence

Expectations for students with cognitive disabilities: Is the cup half empty or half full? Can the cup flow over?

To make informed decisions about the best instruction and assessments for students with cognitive disabilities, several questions need to be answered. For instance, how many students with cognitive disabilities can be expected to achieve the same level of proficiency as other students? To what extent can we predict who these students are? Can we discern whether a student’s failure to meet proficiency is due to the student’s disabling condition or lack of appropriate instruction? Finally, what effects do teacher expectations have on student achievement? This report addresses these questions, and includes an analysis of nationally representative cognitive and achievement data to illustrate the dangers in making blanket assumptions about appropriate achievement expectations for individuals based on their cognitive ability or diagnostic label. In addition, a review of research on the achievement patterns of students with cognitive disabilities and literature on the effects of teacher expectations is included.

McGrew, K. S., & Evans, J. Expectations for students with cognitive disabilities: Is the cup half empty or half full? Can the cup flow over? (Synthesis Report 54). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, National Center on Educational Outcomes. 2004.

Call to Action for the Texas Educator

Never assume a student is incapable of learning. Rather than focus on student deficits, focus on providing appropriate supports. Learn more about supporting students in the TX CAN online course, Building a Foundation for Supporting Students with Significant Cognitive Disabilities.

Presumed competence reflected in the educational programs of students with IDD before and after the Beyond Access professional development intervention

Judgements about students’ competence influence the goals of their individualized education programs (IEPs), the location of service delivery, and their placement in general education (GE) as opposed to special education (SE) classes. The purpose of this study was to describe how presumed competence to learn the GE curriculum was reflected in the IEPs of students with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), and in the reported percentage of time that these students spent in GE classes prior to and following the Beyond Access professional development intervention. Educational teams of students with IDD participated in a professional development intervention that emphasized students’ presumed competence to learn grade-level GE curriculum. Students’ pre- and post-intervention IEPs were qualitatively analyzed, and team member reports of percentage time spent in GE classes were averaged. Five categories of presumed competence were identified. Following the intervention, emphasis on learning the GE curriculum, a shift in the location of service delivery from outside to within the GE classroom, and increased time spent in GE classes were reported. The Beyond Access intervention shows promise for enhancing views of the competence of students with IDD to learn the GE curriculum and for increasing their inclusion in GE classrooms.

Jorgensen, C. M., McSheehan, M. C., & Sonnenmeier, R. M. “Presumed competence reflected in the educational programs of students with IDD before and after the Beyond Access professional development intervention.” Journal of Intellectual & Developmental Disability 32, no. 4 (2004): 248–262.

Call to Action for the Texas Educator

Learn more about presuming competence by participating in TX CAN’s online course Presuming Competence in the Putting Inclusion into Practice for Students with Complex Access Needs series.