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E.D. Launches Effort To Make Annual Report On Special Education More Useful

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WASHINGTON--Federal education officials have begun an effort to improve the annual national report on special education and make it more useful to researchers, advocacy groups, policymakers, and administrators.

The Education Department is required by law to publish the yearly report, a massive document designed to provide a snapshot of the state of special-education programs nationwide. More than 2,500 copies of the report are printed each year.

Now, with 15 such reports under its belt, the department is looking for ways to make it better, said Louis Danielson, the branch chief of special studies for the department's office of special-education programs.

Toward that end, the department last month convened a two-day brainstorming session here with more than a dozen representatives of advocacy groups, state special-education administrators, reporting organizations, and researchers.

The group recommended, among other changes, making the report easier to use. Some participants suggested publishing two reports--one a condensed and more readable version that might describe trends over time and the other a statistical compilation much like the current report.

"It would be good for people who still want the reference document but might not want to read the whole thing,'' Mr. Danielson said.

The group also agreed on the need to include more information in the document on how disabled students are faring.

"The report ... has mostly been focused on compliance and process issues like 'Do kids have [individualized education plans]?''' said Jeffrey Osowski, New Jersey's state special-education director. "We should also look at things like dropout rates, pupil achievement, employment--sets of outcomes and indicators that would clearly show how well we're doing in special education.''

More Complete Picture

Mr. Danielson said the group also suggested exploring ways by which some of the data on states' compliance with federal law might give a fuller picture of what is going on in states.

For example, he said, one state might be listed as failing to meet federal requirements for notifying parents of an upcoming meeting on é.å.ð.'s because federal monitoring teams turned up cases in which the notices had a missing word or erroneous language. In another state, notices may not have been mailed at all. Currently, both states might be described the same way in the report.

Moreover, the group said, the report could also look at a state's compliance over time to track any progress.

One unresolved issue, however, concerns the way in which the report compares states. For example, states vary widely in the percentage cx24p8 el-41lof children served under some special-education categories and in whether or not those children are served primarily in regular classrooms or in separate settings.

Laying out the data on a state-by-state basis, some state directors have complained, leads to some unfair comparisons of states. Others maintain that the comparisons help prod states to make policy changes.

The meeting was the first of several planned over the next several months. Mr. Danielson said changes may begin to show up in the annual reports as soon as next year.

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