Why is overcoming the expectations gap so hard? | Tanya Sheckley | 4 Min Read

October 31, 2022

The expectations gap is something that we all know exists within the realm of special education, yet very few call it out.  Parents are weary from years of being told what their child cannot do, or is not capable of, by doctors, therapists, teachers, and other well-meaning professionals; and school districts are not incented to provide an education that is challenging or meaningful for students with disabilities. Instead, the language used in our culture is that of accommodation or modification.

When my daughter started school, with cerebral palsy, identified by the school district as OHI (Other Health Impairment) and Multiple Disabilities, there were goals for many life skills and physical skills, but none for her education.  I was fine with this, as I believed her goals were the same as any other student’s, to get an education and go on to whatever college, school, or program she chose to pursue in life.  

When she was in first grade, the focus of the meeting changed to looking at academic goals.  I was fortunate she was in full inclusion, spending between 70 – 80% of her time in her class when she wasn’t getting pull-out services.  I expressed that her goals were matching those of her peers.  I was asked if I wanted modified grades.  Having a modified curriculum is different than having an accessible curriculum.  When we make it accessible it is the same curriculum but delivered in a different manner or the expectation of the deliverable is in a different form.  When we modify a curriculum we change it.  Our students are no longer getting the same, full, general education curriculum.  

In my case, the school was asking to modify the curriculum because that’s what they always did and they didn’t expect her to be able to complete the regular curriculum.  It wasn’t because she couldn’t do it, she was currently thriving in the top half of her class academically, but because they didn’t expect her to be able to do it.  This is the expectations gap.  We have a student who is in the high reading group and the high math group, doing three-digit math equations in kindergarten, and we are asked for modified grades due to her disabilities.  The school did not expect her to achieve.  I expected her to achieve all she dreamed of; the space in between is the expectations gap.  It…

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Tanya Sheckley

Tanya Sheckley is Founder and President of UP Academy, an elementary lab school which values innovation, empathy and strength and incorporates a unique neuro-development program for children with physical disabilities. Tanya’s vision and mission show it’s possible to celebrate differences, change what’s broken in the American education system, and that all children can receive a rigorous, well-rounded education. She is an Edpreneur, Author of Rebel Educator: Create Classrooms of Imagination and Impact and host of the Rebel Educator podcast. She speaks frequently on the future of education and entrepreneurship. She is a rebel educator who works with new and existing schools to question the status quo and develop innovative student experiences through inclusion and project-based learning.