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So... What is Specially Designed Instruction?

It's time to consider how we're addressing academic skill gaps. (Note: For the purpose of this article, the focus will be on academic SDI.)

When a child qualifies for Special Education services and has an Individual Education Plan (IEP), the primary benefit is receiving Specially Designed Instruction (SDI).

So what exactly does that mean?

"Specially Designed Instruction (SDI) is defined as appropriate changes to the content, methodology, or delivery of instruction so that it is explicitly linked to the eligible student's present levels of performance, specifically in the areas of disability and the resulting IEP goals." (Marilyn Friend, PhD).

The content may be changed to increase engagement or application to what has been learned or to encourage higher order thinking. It relates back to learning goals.

Methodology refers to how the instruction is happening (i.e. small group instruction, 1:1) or the process for instruction (i.e. explicit and systematic).

The delivery considers how instruction and additional strategies are supporting engagement in grade level curriculum.


  • working on grade level material with adult guidance

  • completing "make-up" work

  • a "tutoring" session

  • the same for every child

How do we determine SDI for academic deficits?

According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (, Present Levels of Performance must be determined. The IEP looks at:

  • how the child is performing in academic areas and functional performance

  • how the child’s disability affects the child’s involvement and progress in the general education curriculum (i.e., the same curriculum as for children without disabilities); or

  • how the disability affects the child’s participation in appropriate activities (for pre-school age children)

This graphic illustrates areas of consideration in determining Present Levels.

After Present Levels of Performance have been determined, goals are created. Goals target the following:

  • skill gaps and learning deficits

  • strategies to increase accessibility to core instruction

  • academic accomplishments needed in order to mitigate disability

Goals are created in a specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound (S.M.A.R.T.) fashion so they may be progress monitored for growth and adjusted accordingly.

Some examples of S.M.A.R.T. goals:

  1. Given instruction in phonological awareness, Sam will read 2-syllable unfamiliar words with 80% accuracy over 3 consecutive trials as measured by a teacher administered phonological awareness assessment.

  2. Given instruction in mathematical computation, Alicia will add 2-digit numbers with regrouping with 85% accuracy over 4 consecutive trials as measured by a teacher administered mathematical computation assessment.

Once goals have been created, planning for SDI may begin.

Check out the next blog where purposeful instructional design is the topic du jour...

Inclusiveology supports school communities with SDI and meaningful access to content. CLICK here for more information:

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