School staff members often lack training and experience in how to adapt physical education classes for students with disabilities—and the quality of services is reduced as a result, says Timothy Davis, an assistant professor of physical education at the State University of New York at Cortland and the chairman of the Adapted Physical Education National Standards, a project established by a professional group to create standards and a certification program for the profession.
Only 13 states suggest additional training for physical educators to teach adapted physical education, according to Mr. Davis. Most states do not require any additional certification.
Teachers in an undergraduate program for physical education are often required to take one three-credit course in adapted physical education in the last year of the program, he notes. “By the time they get interested in adapted physical education, they are done and they are out student-teaching,” Mr. Davis says. “Then because they have had the one course, they get a job in a district teaching adapted physical education.
“The lack of standards for hiring highly qualified teachers is a huge frustration,” he says, “that perpetuates the lack of service, the lack of quality, and ultimately has a tremendous impact on the quality of life of students with disabilities.”
About 1,700 teachers in the United States are nationally certified in adapted physical education through his group, Mr. Davis says.
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Because of a lack of training, physical education teachers often feel uncomfortable attending individualized-education-program, or IEP, meetings for students with disabilities—and the absence of those educators troubles him.
“Even if we are not invited to the meeting, we have to knock on the door. It’s your student, in your class,” Mr. Davis says. “If the physical education teacher is not at the meeting, somebody else makes the idea for placement. Somebody else is writing the goals and objectives for physical education. We need to be there; we need the representation.”
Sometimes an attitude shift can make a big difference, he says, in how to teach sports to students with disabilities.
“You focus on ability and not disability,” Mr. Davis says. “Focus on what a kid can do, and you can make it work. If you say, ‘He can’t run, he can’t throw,’ I cringe. Tell me what he can do, and now we can start teaching.”