The diversity of the 21st-century classroom creates numerous challenges for teachers who may not have known the same diversity themselves as students. Among these, teachers must balance the requirements of high-stakes accountability while meeting the needs of diverse students within their classroom. The 26th Annual Report to Congress on IDEA reported that approximately ninety-six percent of general education teachers have students in their classroom with learning disabilities.1 This is not a surprising statistic, considering there are over six million students with disability classifications in the United States. The frequency of special education students in the classroom, however, is only one of the obstacles that teachers face. Teachers must also contend with an increasing number of students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and from high-poverty families.2
While many teachers express frustration over high-stakes accountability standards, they acknowledge pressure to “teach to the test,” fearing non-proficient scores, dissatisfaction from school administrators, and in smaller systems, the potential risk of embarrassment when scores are made public. Compounding the issue, data has shown that students with disabilities perform well below their peers in standardized testing.3 In their research, McTighe and Brown articulate a disconnect between the instructional practices found in today’s classrooms and educational research that delineates “requirements for promoting genuine student engagement, understanding, and longitudinal achievement progress.”4 The popular practices and attitudes critiqued by McTighe and Brown include developing curriculum that is too broad, teachers’ flawed perception of the necessity to “cover” content, the overuse of worksheets that are modeled after test formats, and “teaching to the test” in order to boost test scores.