Special Education Initiatives

The Office of Special Services engages teachers, schools, districts, and communities in a variety of initiatives to serve the unique needs of identified students.  Special Education initiatives include an alternative certification program for special education teachers, the appointment of educational surrogate parents and the dissemination of dyslexia resources for students, teachers, and parents.  Additionally, Math4ME and Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS) programs assist teachers and administrators to develop academic, behavioral and social-emotional supports for school environments.

Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. A secondary consequence may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede the growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.

Maine Revised Statue 20-A M.S.R. § 4701-B requires school administrative units to screen students in kindergarten through second grade who have difficulty in these areas:

A. Phonological and phonemic awareness;

B. Sound-symbol recognition;

C. Alphabet knowledge;

D. Decoding skills;

E. Rapid naming skills; and

F. Encoding skills.

The Maine Department of Education recommends universal screening for all students in kindergarten through second grade. The information collected through screening will assist teachers in planning and implementing appropriate instruction and intervention for all struggling readers, including those with the characteristics of dyslexia.

Understanding Dyslexia

Dyslexia Fact Sheet A one-page fact sheet created by Understood.org that briefly outlines what dyslexia is, what it is not and ways to assist students with characteristics of dyslexia.

Dyslexia Basics From the International Dyslexia Association, Dyslexia Basics provides a thorough overview of the condition, the effects, diagnosis, treatment and rights of individuals with dyslexia.

Common Myths & Facts Myths about dyslexia and their corresponding facts collected by the New Hampshire Department of Education.

Dyslexia FAQ Frequently asked questions about dyslexia answered by the Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity.

Recognizing Characteristics of Dyslexia

Signs of Dyslexia A list of indicators and characteristics of dyslexia provided by the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity.

Universal Screening: K-2 Reading Overview of the purpose and process of conducting universal screenings for characteristics of dyslexia.

Screening for Dyslexia National Center on Improving literacy document created to provide an overview of screening for dyslexia

Identifying Assessments Academic screening tools chart, including literacy universal screeners, created by the National Center on Intensive Intervention.

Resources for Educators

Federal Guidance from the Office of Special Education Programs A letter from OSEP describing the implications of federal law on disabilities for state and local policy and practice, especially concerning the identification and treatment of dyslexia.

5 Questions Parents and Educators Can Ask Questions about specific learning disabilities and dyslexia created by the National Center for Learning Disabilities that may frame parent teacher conversations.

Meeting the Challenges of Early Literacy Phonics Instruction International Literacy Association position statement advising that explicit and systematic phonics instruction is vitally important for all learners, especially those who struggle with reading and writing.

Dyslexia in the Classroom:  What Every Teacher Needs to Know

Webinars Series of three webinars focusing on instructional needs of students with dyslexia and learning difficulties hosted by the International Dyslexia Association.

Reading 101:  A Guide to Teaching Reading and Writing Nine course modules created by Reading Rockets that provide in-depth information, classroom strategies, assignments, and additional resources on the building blocks of teaching reading and writing — including phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and text comprehension.

Dyslexia Modules Decoding Dyslexia California has created a universal screener module and is developing additional dyslexia modules addressing assessments, RTI & MTSS, a teacher toolbox and legislation.

Resources for Parents & Families

A Child Becomes a Reader Provides ideas for parents of students in kindergarten through 3rd grade based on literacy research.

Navigating the School System When Your Child is Struggling with Reading or Dyslexia A collection of information and resources for parents created by the Minnesota Department of Education Special Education Policy Division.

5 Questions Parents and Educators Can Ask Questions about specific learning disabilities and dyslexia created by the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

What Every Family Should Know A dyslexia handbook for families created by the International Dyslexia Association.  The handbook addresses topics from a definition of dyslexia to helping your student transition after high school.

Children’s Dyslexia Centers The Children’s Dyslexia Centers provide intensive reading instruction for children in grades 1 through 12 in their tutoring locations.

Assitive Technology

Bookshare Students with a qualifying disability are provided free access to e-books, audiobooks, and a variety of other resources.  This project is supported by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs

Learning Ally Assistive technology such as audio books are assessible online for children and adults with disabilities.  The site also includes resources for parents and families.

As a component of Maine’s State Systematic Improvement plan, Math4ME is designed to implement evidence-based professional development to improve math proficiency of students with disabilities in grades 3-8 and to improve instructional practices of teachers of these students.

Math4ME training is grounded in the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) Mathematics Teaching Practices.  This training includes hands-on activities and interactive professional learning experiences that allow participants to gain a deeper understanding of core mathematics concepts and strategies. Program content includes operations with whole numbers, fractions and decimals, and algebraic and geometric reasoning; problem-solving skills and processes; and assessment, diagnostic probes, and formative feedback.

 “The Math4ME work has allowed me to view math in a whole new way. I find that I am less focused on a student’s ability to solve a problem correctly and more focused on understanding and exploring that student’s decision-making process in solving the problem. This allows students to understand and appreciate the work they do in class, as well as give them the real-world skills they will need in the future. It has also helped me to evolve as a teacher, to take a step back and ask myself what I want students to get out of a lesson. I would highly recommend the Math4ME program to all. – Shannon Wooten, Teacher, Greene Central School

“Math4ME has trained me how to strategically question students in order to get them thinking mathematically.  Math4ME training and resources provide the insight teachers need to encourage mathematical behaviors such as logical thinking,  testing conjectures, and meaningful reflection while problem-solving.” – Bridgette Ortiz, Teacher, Bowdoinham Community School

The feedback from my teachers has been extremely positive. They love having the coach come into their classroom to observe and offer feedback. The rich 1-on-1 discussions about their mathematical teaching practices that followed the lessons were some of the best professional development they have ever experienced.” – Danielle Harris, Principal, Leeds Central School

Beginning Fall 2018, conditionally certified special educators in their first year of teaching are required to participate in Maine’s Alternative Certification Mentoring program (MACM), a Maine Department of Education project developed in partnership with the University of Maine. This requirement is outlined in the Maine Department of Education Chapter 180, Section 11(5).Maine’s Alternative Certification and Mentoring program (MACM)

This program is an alternative pathway to certification to support Maine’s need for highly qualified special educators. MACM offers intensive, focused support and mentoring during the special educator’s critical first year of practice.

MACM ensures that new conditionally certified special educators are mentored by a trained special educator mentor. They must also complete a one-semester online graduate course designed for MACM participants. The course, MACM Special Education Mentorship, is focused on application of Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) through the Individualized Education Program (IEP) process.Special Education Mentorship.

School Administrative Units (SAUs) may use federal IDEA funds to support the cost of the MACM course if an appropriate professional development project is written in the application. The course is offered at both the University of Maine and the University of Southern Maine and the teacher is expected to work with the SAU to cover the course tuition. The new teacher may enroll in the required course during either the fall or spring semester of their first year.

MACM Procedures for School Districts

As soon as a conditionally certified special educator is hired, the SAU should contact the MACM Coordinator with the name and contact information for the new teacher and the SAU’s certification committee chair. MACM will work with the SAU’s certification committee and special education administrator to identify and assign a veteran special educator mentor to support the new teacher. If the SAU does not have a trained special educator mentor available, the SAU should assign a general educator mentor and MACM will assign an external mentor to support the new teacher with special education-related needs. For more information, please contact the MACM Coordinator, Valerie.Smith@maine.edu




The Educational Surrogate Parent Program was established to provide educational surrogate parents to children with disabilities whenever the natural parents or guardian of a child with a disability cannot be identified or located, or when the child is in the custody of the state. Educational surrogate parents have all the rights of natural parents for special education matters, e.g. permission for evaluation and placement, to release information and to request an educational hearing. The primary goal of the educational surrogate parent program is to ensure that all children with disabilities are provided with equal educational opportunities. Educational surrogates need to be caring individuals able to work with Maine Special Education Regulations and attend pupil evaluation team meetings in the child's local school or other education settings (such as a regional day treatment program or special purpose private school) determined necessary by the IEP team.

Request for Appointment of Surrogate Parent

Surrogate Parenting Training Webinar

Volunteer Application- Education Surrogate Parent

Volunteer Application-Specific Child Surrogate Parent Application

The Maine Department of Education has partnered with the University of Maine system to provide Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS) training and coaching for schools and districts throughout the state. 

PBIS is a multi-tiered approach to supporting the social, emotional and behavioral development of students in K-12 settings. The purpose of PBIS is to improve the social, emotional and academic outcomes for all students, including students with disabilities and students from underrepresented groups. The graphic below highlights the PBIS tiered approach to social, emotional and behavioral supports.  

The graphic below, from the National PBIS Technical Assistance Center, shows the three tiers of this systematic approach.  Tier 1 includes universal preventative and proactive school-wide and classroom practices for all students and educators within the school environment.  During tier 2, groups of students at-risk for negative social, emotional, and/or behavior outcomes are provided interventions.  For students who are unresponsive to supports from tier 1 or 2, individualized and intensive interventions are designed in tier 3.

PBIS Information & Resources

Maine PBIS

Northeast PBIS

PBIS Technical Assistance Center funded by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) and the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE)

Briefs from throughout the United States highlighting the effectiveness of PBIS in schools & districts

Integrating Equity and PBIS Efforts at the District Level

PBIS Technical Guide


Contact Tracy Whitlock, Ph. D.
Special Projects Coordinator