LAWRENCE — When students with intellectual disability are supported to set and go after goals for their future, based on their dreams, interests and abilities, their educational achievement, goal attainment and post-school employment have all been shown to improve. Two new studies co-authored by University of Kansas researchers have shown that a model designed to introduce self-determination with this population can successfully be implemented and sustained, statewide, in school systems, leading to changes in both student and teacher outcomes.
The Self-Determined Learning Model of Instruction, known as SDLMI, is an evidence-based model designed to enable educators to teach students to self-regulate problem solving and to set and attain goals for education and post-school employment. Karrie Shogren, professor of special education and director of the KU Center on Developmental Disabilities, and Michael Wehmeyer, Ross and Mariana Beach Distinguished Professor of Special Education and director of the Beach Center on Disability, have been working with the state of Rhode Island since 2015 to implement the SDLMI statewide as part of a Department of Justice consent decree to provide equitable education and employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities. The studies, published in the Journal of Disability Policy Studies and Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, respectively, highlight the effectiveness of the intervention.
The first study evaluated the first year of SDLMI implementation in Rhode Island. Teachers across the state implemented the program with fidelity, successfully imparted its lessons to students and reported they saw improvement throughout the year in their students’ abilities to set goals, work toward accomplishing them and in their self-determination.
“I think these results tell us that, with training and ongoing coaching, teachers can do this and greatly impact student outcomes,” Shogren said. “And it doesn’t have to take away from other educational areas. It’s about shifting the focus from teachers setting goals for students to students setting their own goals, with support from their teachers and peers. And, the most exciting piece is that teachers and schools across the entire state were able to do this with fidelity and made great improvements in goal attainment across multiple domains. Both students and teachers are more motivated in engaged in identifying and going after the things students want for their futures.”
The researchers are working with Rhode Island educators as part of a five- to 10-year project to improve educational and career opportunities for individuals with disabilities. In addition to training with SDLMI, they have offered ongoing coaching, training and support. This has also created an opportunity for ongoing analysis of implementation across a state, identifying the best practices to promote sustainability without extensive support from researchers. As one of the first attempts to implement SDLMI at such a wide level, the success shows it can be implemented from school to school, throughout a district or state and be customized to fit the unique needs of each school and system.
While students from all walks of life are regularly told about the importance of setting goals, they are not as commonly taught how to achieve them or develop action plans to do so. SDLMI works with students to learn to take those steps and determine what they want to achieve with their educations and careers. The study also found students and teachers alike reported improvements in the individuals’ setting appropriate goals, developing plans to achieve them, implementing the plans and increasing their feelings of empowerment to take control of their education.
“We take those kinds of measurements from the perspective of students and teachers whenever possible,” Shogren said. “We saw students reporting they’re attaining goals and feeling more empowered to go after their goals. And we’re seeing changes in teacher expectations as well.”
A second study, funded by the Institute of Education Sciences, evaluated the second year of the program’s implementation and the effects of providing additional supports to students to enable transition planning. Specifically, half of the students across the state receiving SDLMI instruction were randomly assigned to receive additional instruction in self-determination via a program called “Whose Future Is It?” Measurements showed students in the SDLMI-only group reported significant increases in self-determination scores over the course of the year and teachers reported significant increases in the same area for those who received additional instruction. The results suggest that individualizing self-determination instruction can have even greater positive effects on helping students with intellectual disabilities set and achieve goals and transition to meaningful employment after school. This highlights, however, the importance of individualization based on students’ needs and the importance of teacher education on self-determination and supporting its development.
Results of the two studies illustrate the value of self-determination instruction for students as well as providing information to schools, districts and states to consider when determining the type of instruction for students with intellectual disability, the researchers wrote. They also show that a program that helps students boost their self-determination, as well as actual goal attainment from a teacher’s perspective, can be implemented and sustained on a wide scale. The researchers will continue to evaluate the programs to determine how best to support schools, educators and students in implementing such programs.
“These studies have provided further evidence that, if we get students involved in setting goals and teach them how to achieve them across what they’re learning in school, we can help them apply these skills in many meaningful areas of life,” Shogren said.