Special Education

Ed. Dept. Evaluates States’ Records on Students With Disabilities

By Christina A. Samuels — June 21, 2007 2 min read
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The U.S. Department of Education released evaluations this week of each state’s efforts to teach children with disabilities, from infants to secondary school students, giving most middling grades.

The evaluation process is based on data submitted by the states as mandated by the 2004 reauthorization of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The law attempts to move states away from monitoring compliance with the complex legislation, and toward a focus on educational outcomes for students with disabilities.

Most states fell into the two middle categories, “needs assistance” or “needs intervention,” with only nine making the highest grade, “meets the requirements,” for students aged 3 to 21. For infants through 2-year-olds, 15 states and territories met the requirements, with the remaining states and territories ranked as needing assistance or needing intervention. None were in the lowest category.

The Education Department outlined in detailed letters areas for states to work on for the future, Assistant Secretary John H. Hager, who oversees the office of special education and rehabilitative services, said during a June 20 press conference. The determination letters and findings are available on the department’s Web site.

No Failing Grades

No state was given the lowest rating, “needs substantial intervention,” which was a deliberate choice, department officials said during the press conference. Because the program is in its first year, the department decided not to give any state the lowest rank.

Some of the information that the department requires from each state has been collected for some time, such as graduation rates for students with disabilities. Other data requirements, called “indicators” by the department, are new, such as post-secondary outcomes for students with disabilities, or parent satisfaction. All of the information was compiled into what the department has called annual performance reports, which were delivered to the department Feb. 1.

States were also required to submit a framework for improvement over six years, called a state performance plan.

Some state special education officials have said they were concerned by the complexity of the data-collection effort. The department has developed centers to work with states, said Patricia J. Guard, the acting director of the office of special education programs.

“We have a vast technical-assistance network,” she said “We fund a number of centers, and we have aligned these centers with each one of these indicators. We are committed to working with states.”

States that do not meet the department’s requirements do not face immediate sanctions; they would have to remain in a lower category for at least two years before the department would be required to take action, which could include entering into an improvement agreement with the state or a partial withholding of federal special education dollars. States also can appeal the department’s decision.

The next step for states is to provide similar determinations for each of their individual school districts. The federal special education law does not mandate a time frame for when such evaluations must be released.

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