Special Education Spotlight

photo of Interim Dean Laura Stapleton

The University of Maryland College of Education’s special education program brings together faculty with a great depth of expertise in many facets of special education, from policy to early childhood to the development of literacy skills.

Our faculty provide expert testimony in court and legislative hearings on special education issues, weighing in on education in juvenile detention centers and the adequacy of state programs for students with disabilities. We are working to develop and evaluate robust preschool curricula that meet the needs of students with disabilities during the critical early childhood period. Through innova­tive research, befitting our status as the flagship university in the state and our location just outside of Washington, D.C., our faculty are investigating ways to best support the development of literacy skills in PK-12 students, skills which are critical to academic achievement.

Underscoring this work is the knowledge that supporting the academic and life skills of youth with disabilities benefits individuals, families and the broader society. The Center for Transition and Career Innovation conducts research on how to best prepare high-school-aged youth with disabilities for college and careers, and our first cohort of TerpsEXCEED scholars arrived on campus this fall. This work is essential for developing an equitable and inclusive workforce.

From leveraging technology to developing strategic partnerships, COE researchers are advancing knowledge and helping to transform the field of special education.

Laura M. Stapleton
Interim Dean and Professor
UMD College of Education

Research and Policy Internships Train Future Leaders

Capitol flowers

Given our location near the nation’s capital, opportunities to work at policy organizations, government agencies, and federally funded research centers present unique apprenticeships for our future graduates. Since 2016, Special Education doctoral students have had the unique opportunity to complete internships in the Washington DC-Metro area. Internships provide short term work experiences to learn and apply their skills in research and policy work. Faculty advisors and site supervisors meet on site before, during, and after the placement to ensure the goals and needs of the student and the host organization are aligned.

Internships offer doctoral students opportunities to network with peers and mentors, gain invaluable applied-research experience, and potentially meet future employers. In fact, several graduates have secured positions post graduation at the organization where they completed an internship. Dr. Alexandra Shelton graduated from the Special Education doctoral program in 2020, and she shared that her experience at the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) created opportunities to learn about the grant review process and careers at OSEP and beyond. “Because of my internship experience at OSEP, I have a better understanding of special education policy and the processes involved in funding special education research. This has proven to be a great asset now that I’ve earned my PhD and am an Assistant Professor of Special Education.”

Susan De La Paz

Suzan De La Paz

Given the diversity in today’s class-rooms, teachers are in need of effective literacy interventions that benefit all learners. Dr. De La Paz’s work in argumentative writing in secondary science and social studies classrooms meets the needs of students who range in initial ability from struggling readers and writers to those who are performing above grade level and who are considered academically talented.

Dr. De La Paz has developed several writing interventions shown to benefit culturally and academically diverse learners, including those with learning disabilities. She uses cognitive apprenticeships with teachers in her professional development, sharing how to use this instructional approach to teach such interventions to scaffold student learning and improve critical thinking.

Dr. De La Paz leads a $1.2M training program, funded by the US Office of Special Education Program, which prepares practice-based researchers to support high-need students with disabilities. Her new curriculum, Reading, Thinking and Writing about History for Ninth Grade United States History, a fully digitized suite of six historical investigations, is in use in a large local Maryland school system. It teaches basic and advanced reading and writing skills and helps students to connect historical controversies to current societal upheaval in the U.S.

Ana Taboada Barber
Professor and Associate Dean

Taboada Barber

Dr. Taboada Barber studies reading comprehension from a cognitive and motivational perspective. Her work centers on studying the influence of specific motivational variables (e.g., autonomy support, self-efficacy) and cognitive variables (e.g., executive function skills; inference making) on the literacy and language development of elementary and middle school students. She studies reading comprehen­sion within classroom instructional contexts as well as an individual difference variable. As a former English as a Second Language teacher in full language immersion settings, Ana’s work in reading comprehension development is principally concentrated within the population of Emergent Bilinguals (EBs) within the United States.

More recently, she has extended her focus to include Spanish-speaking students in South American countries (e.g., Chile and Argentina). Ana has also turned her attention to the possible roles that executive function skills (i.e., working memory, inhibition, and cognitive flexibility) as one component of a larger system of self-regulation, play in the reading comprehension and language development of Emergent Bilinguals and of English-only speaking children.

Jason Chow
Assistant Professor

Photograph of Jason Chow

Dr. Chow directs the UMD TRI3LAB, and his research focuses on children’s language, social, and behavioral development, teacher-child and peer interactions, and supporting educators’ implementation of evidence-based practices. Methodologically, he works to improve and disseminate high-quality and state-of-the-art designs in meta-analysis and adaptive intervention designs. His research and partnerships work to identify barriers and factors that facilitate the implementation of evidence-based behavior supports and effective instruction to support educators and the students they serve. He is also a Visiting Faculty in the Department of Paediatrics, National University of Singapore, and an Affiliate Faculty in the Centre of Inclusive Education, Queensland University of Technology, where he collaborates with researchers to promote the academic development and social wellbeing of children and youth.

He currently serves as an Associate Editor for Assessment for Effective Intervention, Remedial and Special Education, and Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions. Dr. Chow is PI of Early Career Research Grants from the Institute of Education Sciences and the Educational Psychology Division of the American Psychological Association, and is Co-PI of a $2.33M doctoral training grant from the Office of Special Education Programs with his colleagues at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he provides research mentorship and teaches a series of intensive seminars on meta-analysis.

Jade Wexler
Associate Professor

Jade Wexler

Dr. Wexler’s scholarship focuses on interventions to support adolescents with reading difficulties and disabilities, and innovative profes­sional development and coaching for teachers and instructional leaders. Dr. Wexler has been the PI or co-PI of several studies funded by the U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences (IES) and the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP).

For IES-funded Project CALI (Content Area Literacy Instruction), Dr. Wexler and her team developed and evaluated a middle school co-teaching and literacy professional development model designed to improve collaboration between content-area and special education teachers and enhance students’ reading achievement and content-area knowledge. PACT Plus was a model demonstration project to build a school-wide literacy model in four middle schools.

These projects made clear that the field could benefit from a more systematic literacy coaching model designed to support teachers’ varying levels of skill and will. Thus, Dr. Wexler and colleagues were recently awarded two grants to develop, refine, and evaluate such a model: AIM Coaching. They received a $1.4M Development and Innovation grant from IES to refine and rigorously evaluate the efficacy of AIM Coaching under rigorous research conditions and also a $1.6M grant from OSEP to answer questions related to its implementation and sustainability when implemented under routine conditions.

Kelli Cummings
Associate Professor

Dr. Cummings focuses on the evaluation and use of formative assessment and data-based decision making to support school improvement efforts and improve students’ language and literacy development. She conducts studies to improve the accuracy, validity, and utility of screening, progress monitoring, and diagnostic assessments and also applications of these tools in school systems. She studies both Spanish and English reading assessments and is presently working with a team in Oregon and Texas on a project using these measures with a sample of bilingual students.

In addition to her study of assessment tools, Dr. Cummings evaluates why and how Black, indigenous, students of color and language minority students have been historically and are presently under and overrepresented in special education, depending on the disability category and grade level. She is currently conducting a meta-analysis to evaluate which early intervention efforts affect disproportionality for emergent bilingual students. She is collaborating with Dr. Richard Shin, Associate Professor of Counseling Psychology to evaluate teacher decision making processes.

Dr. Cummings collaborates with the Maryland State Department of Education on the Ready to Read Act, with St. Mary’s County Public Schools and the National Center on Improving Literacy (NCIL) on supporting a National Beacon site for universal screening in Grades K-2. She also is a partner with Decoding Dyslexia Maryland.

Gulnoza Yakubova
Assistant Professor


Dr. Yakubova’s scholarship focuses on best practices for teaching students diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Her overarching research interest focuses on examining technology-based interventions to teach autistic students the skills they need to have a successful life after school. She uses technology with a primary focus on: (1) increasing functional independence of autistic students at school and community, (2) supporting access to learning academic content, with a focus on mathematics skills for students who traditionally have received functional skills curriculum, and (3) training parents on creating video-based interventions using daily use technology and implementing video-based interventions to teach independent living skills to their children at home.

Philip J. Burke
Professor; Director, Institute for the Study of Exceptional Youth

Phil Burke

Dr. Burke’s work focuses on major policy issues affecting individuals with disabilities. He has testifed before the US Congress House and Senate Committees and serves as the Political Action Liaison for the Higher Education Consortium in Special Education. He has served as a consultant to the Special Master for the US District Court in Baltimore in the historic Vaughn G. litigation, the Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation, the Offce for Economic Co-Operation and Development and as a Nominator for the MacArthur Fellows Program. 

Since 1992, Dr. Burke has directed graduate M.Ed. and Ed.D. programs in Europe coordinated with the US Defense Department Dependents schools and provided guidance to DOD overseas schools in their special education programs. 

Dr. Burke is the director of the Institute for the Study of Exceptional Children and Youth, which is dedicated to fostering research and programmatic excellence in special education. The Institute has generated over 40 million dollars to conduct research, policy analysis, training and program development.

Impacting Undergraduate Education: The Disability Studies Minor

The Disability Studies (DS) minor is directed by Dr. Yewon Lee. In 2019, founders Drs. Peter Leone and Carolyn Fink celebrated the minor’s launch, which was designed to broaden students’ understandings of the concept of disability and facilitate connections to content and concepts within other disciplines on campus through required and elective courses. In its inaugural year, 54 students from seven colleges and 16 majors across the university joined the program.

As our society faces on-going problems with systematic exclusion, isolation, and oppression of people with disabilities, everyone must work across neighborhoods, educational systems, and the workforce towards a more inclusive and equitable world. The DS minor works towards removing societal and attitudinal barriers and deficit-based perceptions of people with disabilities. Students enrolled in the program have opportunities to develop a better understanding of disabilities and explore ways to become change agents through our partnerships with local organizations like Main Street Apartment and the TerpsEXCEED Program. We continue this work in hopes that we can continue to draw students of all education backgrounds to this important program and build a more inclusive world.

"Once a terp, always a terp": Professional Development for Teaching Transitioning Teachers

Graduation hat

The transition from preservice teacher candidate to inservice teacher can be challenging. To provide our graduates with continued support, Dr. Dawn Martin, Dr. Yewon Lee, and Ms. Stacey Williams developed a yearlong virtual Professional Development (PD) series, Bridging Initial Teacher Preparation Through Innovative Induction Year Support. This initiative is supported by a generous grant from the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE).

Each year, the series offers 20 new special education teachers interactive sessions and individual­ized coaching. In addition, the PD covers priority topics outlined by MSDE including Specially Designed Instruction, data-driven instruc­tion, collaborative practice, and high-leverage practices.

“It is critical that our beginning teachers get support to continue their trajectory of growth in the early years of their teaching experience. We are invested in the success of our graduates and are excited to be able to support them,” said Stacey Williams, co-investigator of the project.