Criteria for Schools of Authentic and Inclusive Teaching and Learning

The Institute was committed to locating and jointly studying schools and communities in which "authentic and inclusive teaching and learning (SAIL)" occurred for all students, especially those with disabilities.

We were seeking schools and communities in which the following characteristics describe the education that occurs or is envisioned for the near future for all students. In short, we felt the research programs are enriched substantially by: classrooms in which authentic achievement is the focus of curriculum, instruction, and assessment, and by schools that enjoy cohesive professional communities and strong external support mechanisms. Since secondary school reform and restructuring is only now just beginning to gain substantial momentum in several states, the list below of indicators used to locate SAIL is a description of only a handful of U.S. schools. We used this set of indicators only to illustrate in general terms what the current research suggests be characteristics of schools in which high quality intellectual achievement is most often found. It is highly unlikely that any secondary school will fully develop and maintain all of these characteristics. Readers were urged to use this list of indicators to judge for themselves the extent to which their schools are moving in the direction of providing "authentic and inclusive learning" and to explore the local interest in becoming an action research school site. Schools with classrooms and teachers working in a sustained manner on a small sub-set of these indicators were thought to be excellent candidates for action research school sites.

Learning Experiences1

Students produce knowledge through higher order thinking by organizing information and considering alternatives. Learning focuses on acquiring knowledge crucial to a discipline and enables students to engage in reflective, knowledge-building conversations with teachers and peers. 


Instructional tasks ask students to organize, synthesize, interpret, explain, or evaluate pertinent information in addressing a concept, problem, or issue.

Instructional tasks ask students to consider alternative solutions, strategies, perspectives or points of view in addressing a concept, problem or issue.

Instruction involves students in manipulating information and ideas by synthesizing, generalizing, explaining, hypothesizing, or arriving at conclusions that produce new meanings and understandings for them.

Learning experiences focus on the use of disciplined inquiry, including the exploration of content, processes, and communications used in various disciplines and professions.


Instructional tasks ask students to show understanding and /or use ideas, theories, or perspectives considered the base knowledge of an academic or professional discipline.

Instructional tasks ask students to use methods of inquiry, research, or communication characteristic of an academic or professional discipline. 

Instructional tasks ask students to elaborate on their understanding, explanations, or conclusions through extended writing, product, or performance. 

Instruction addresses central ideas of a topic or discipline with enough thoroughness to explore connections and relationship and to produce relatively complex understandings. 

Students engage in reflective conversational exchanges with the teacher and/or their peers about subject matter in a way that builds a shared understanding of ideas or topics.

Learning experiences occur in or are directly connected to the world beyond school.


Instructional tasks ask students to address a concept, problem, or issue that is similar to one that they have encountered or are likely to encounter in life beyond the classroom. 

Instructional tasks ask students to communicate their knowledge, present a product or performance, or take some action for an audience beyond the teacher, classroom, and school building.

Instruction requires students to engage in some form of structured, experiential learning beyond the school setting, including job/career shadowing, community service learning, or formal work-based learning (e.g., cooperative education, youth apprenticeship).

Students make connections between knowledge and either public problems or personal experiences. 

Professional Community

Engagement by teachers, administrators, support service staff, parents, and others in the school setting create frequent and on-going communication regarding student learning and achievement. 


Core beliefs of the faculty and administrators reveal that all students, including those with disabilities, can achieve authentic standards if adequate support strategies and instructional resources. 

To insure students with disabilities achieve authentic instructional tasks and assessments at a level comparable to their nondisabled peers whenever possible, adjustments or accommodations are made only when a compelling educational justification is clearly in evidence. 

Educators pursue a clear shared purpose for all students' learning and engage in collaborative activity to achieve the purpose. An interdependent structure exists to promote teachers working in teams. 

Educators take collective responsibility for student learning. 

The school retains or has been delegated the authority to act on curriculum, policies, hiring, and fiscal matters. 

The organizational arrangement of the school is small enough to ensure that the faculty and students can build trust and communicate effectively regarding the schools shared purpose and their collective responsibilities. 

External Support

Parents and community leaders are actively involved in planning and setting standards for students' learning outcomes and experiences, as well as teachers' professional development. 


Parents of students with disabilities are active and full partners in planning, delivering, and improving learning and related educational experiences.

Standards for instruction and performance are established by educators, but supported by and connected with civic and community groups.

Professional development resources and experiences are readily available to teams of teachers which enable them to explore knowledge, skills, and learning required in the world beyond school.



1The Institute's research design is focused on extending the findings from the OERI-funded Center on Organization and Restructuring of Schools and their construct of authentic pedagogy (Newmann, Secada, & Wehlage, 1995) to schools in which youth with disabilities are served appropriately in regular or alternative instructional settings. The general categories and many of the indicators in this list reflect the elements of teaching and learning they uncovered in an in-depth analysis of significantly restructured schools.



Newmann, F. M., Secada, W. G., & Wehlage, G. G. (1995). A guide to authentic instruction and assessment: Vision, standards and scoring. Madison, WI: Center on Organization and Restructuring of Schools.


File last updated: February 7, 2003
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