Helping educators unlock the power of students who learn differently

One in 5 students in the United States have learning and attention issues. This includes those with identified specific learning disabilities, diagnosed ADHD, or related disorders that impact learning. Despite often having above average or average intelligence, the majority of these students are achieving below grade level. This equates to millions of students across the nation whose strengths and potential are going untapped.

This systematic failure has a devastating ripple effect. Individuals with learning and attention issues often face lifelong challenges, frustration, and failure as they are currently less likely to graduate high school, enroll in and complete college, and hold a job compared to their peers. Schools and districts will continuously seek goals for student achievement and development that are beyond reach if the learning needs of the “1 in 5” go unmet. And our workplaces, communities and greater society will lose out on valuable talent that hasn’t been recognized nor nurtured.

At NCLD and Understood, we set out to unpack and address this problem. We partnered with teachers—often the most consistent touchpoint for students after their caregivers—to understand their experiences and insights. We rooted these experiences in rigorous research focused on general education classrooms, where the majority of the 1 in 5 spend most of their time.

Research shows that teachers can be successful with the 1 in 5. There is evidence of specific critical teacher mindsets and key practices that can improve outcomes and learning for students with learning and attention issues, and for all students.

But to truly move the needle on student achievement, teachers can’t do it alone. Policy makers, teacher preparation leaders, district, network and school administrators, general educators, special educators and caregivers need to break the silos that are ultimately hindering student learning and development.

It will take all of us, working together, to create an education system that better prepares and supports teachers as professionals–so they can better support the 1 in 5 and all students.

Teacher Perspectives

More than 70% of children with learning disabilities and ADHD spend more than 80% of their day in general education classrooms, right alongside their peers without disabilities. Through 13 focus groups and a survey of 1,350 educators, we reached teachers who have different levels of experience, come from a variety of backgrounds, and have worked with different student populations. We captured what general education teachers currently know and believe about teaching students with identified disabilities and/or learning and attention issues. While many feel unprepared to teach the 1 in 5, many are committed to learning more and improving their abilities.

Research Findings

What works for the 1 in 5 can benefit all students.

A literature review of empirical studies, along with input from members of Understood’s Educator Advisory Council, NCLD’s Professional Advisory Board, and other experts, identified and captured:

Three critical mindsets appear to have a positive influence on the learning and development of the 1 in 5:

Educators can implement eight key practices to improve achievement of the 1 in 5 in a general education classroom:

Take Action Now

General Educator. Special Educator. Principal. District Administrator. Teacher Prep Leader. State or Federal Policy Maker. Families and Caregivers. It’s time for all of us to act.

There are shared commitments we can make and steps we can take no matter what role we play. Of course, there are also role-specific actions for leading your organization, schools, and classrooms to more effectively reaching and teaching  1 in 5 and all students.

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