• Driven by Principles

Addressing the needs of our most diverse learners presents a tremendous opportunity with benefits for the entire education community. But teachers and administrators face common challenges: the burden of paperwork and data collection in service of a compliance culture, scarce time and resources, and a disparate understanding of how disability impacts learning.

Schools may spend countless hours on special education compliance and yet miss the mark in giving students with disabilities the academic and behavioral skills they need. Educators need a common framework that redefines success in special education to enable them to share and learn from one another in order to implement lasting change.

The Ability Challenge was launched to help schools develop the systems and processes necessary to deliver world-class special education programming. We provide schools with tools to help close the gap between compliance and quality, starting with the Dimensions of Special Education Quality, a framework for educators across all levels to help them quickly comprehend the true drivers of improved student outcomes.

13% of our nation’s students have disabilities, and many lag behind their non-disabled peers. Equality starts by honoring their needs – and helps advance education for all.

The following core principles drive our work:

All students can achieve.

We believe to our core that success must be driven by a strengths-based approach and high expectations for every young person.

Adults are the change makers.

We know educators are working hard, but we can and should be working smarter and more efficiently.

Innovation is happening.

We must find the bright spots in classrooms across the country, celebrate what works and help amplify the lessons for others.

Strong systems promote equity.

Efficient processes create uniformity in how work gets done, relieves teacher stress, and frees up time to focus on meeting students’ learning needs.

Peer to peer connections are critical.

Opportunities to share, learn from and work together are essential for building sustainable change.

Differences in implementation are both a benefit and a challenge.

Local communities understand and know what will work for their stakeholders. While research and data provide foundations for change, ultimately schools must drive decisions about what and how to improve.

Compliance alone is not sufficient.

Schools can and should connect compliance-based processes to the delivery of robust, specialized instruction and other purposeful supports to help students learn.

Data will change mindsets.

Historically entrenched oppression has created and perpetuated vast divides in student outcomes. Creating proof-points around what works for diverse learners will drive our communities to reach higher and seek success for all.

Improvement is a continuous, ongoing process.

Failures are part of the process; the key is to quickly recognize problems and know how to course correct.

Solve the needs of our most diverse learners has benefits for all.

Starting with students at the margins builds a solid foundation from which all students can achieve success.

Sarah Berger Sandelius

Meet Our Founder

Sarah Sandelius is a lawyer with more than fifteen years of experience implementing strategy and policy on behalf of our nation’s youth. Her work connects policy, process and performance to create strong systems that produce positive academic outcomes and students prepared for post-graduation life.

Sarah spent most of her career at the New York City Department of Education (NYC DOE), serving as Executive Director of Policy and Student Advocacy for NYC DOE’s alternative schools district and then as Senior Counsel for Litigation and Policy. There, she engaged multiple school improvement initiatives that brought together diverse groups of stakeholders to deepen the level of services provided to the district’s most vulnerable students.

In 2016, Sarah founded FlipTurn Education Consulting, partnering with schools and organizations around the country on strategic operations and policy projects focused on improving student outcomes. Through her work, she recognized the need for a common framework to redefine and clarify success in special education. She founded The Ability Challenge in 2018, assembling a coalition of expert practitioners to transform special education programming and help schools effect measurable, lasting and sustainable change.

Sarah received her B.A. from Cornell University and her J.D. from the University of Virginia. She has worked for Teach for America and was the recipient of a 4.0 Schools Essential Fellowship in 2018 to support the launch The Ability Challenge. She also teaches Education Law and Policy at American University in Washington, DC.

Mission

The Ability Challenge seeks to transform how schools serve students with diverse learning needs by building a reliable and trusted framework, metrics, and tools to support meaningful and personalized school improvement.

Vision

Our vision is to create a world where schools and educational programs have equitable, effective systems and processes that provide the foundation for teaching all students, especially those with diverse learning needs, preparing them for meaningful post-secondary opportunities and careers.

Meeting the needs of our most diverse learners helps all students achieve.