Special Education

Fewer States Hit Mark Under New Spec. Ed. Framework

By Christina A. Samuels — July 08, 2014 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Fewer states are fully meeting federal requirements for serving students with disabilities now that the U.S. Department of Education is focusing less on state compliance with voluminous special education rules and more on how well those students are being taught.

The department released the results of its new evaluation process on June 24. Only 15 states fell into the “meets requirements” category, based on data collected for the 2012-13 school year. More than half the states, 32, were categorized as “needs assistance.” The other three states—California, Delaware, and Texas—plus the District of Columbia fell into the “needs intervention” category. In 2013, 38 states were in the “meets requirement” category.

The results reflect a departure from previous years, when states were evaluated on compliance factors, such as how quickly they evaluated students or resolved due-process complaints.

Now, half of a state’s ranking is based on such factors as the performance of students with disabilities on the National Assessment of Educational Progress and the achievement gap between such students and their typically developing peers. The other half is based on the compliance indicators used in previous years.

Evaluating states on the academic performance of students with disabilities is an important shift away from “complacency,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a press call announcing the evaluation results June 24.

“That complacency is not in our students’ best interest,” Mr. Duncan said. “In too many states, the outcomes for students with disabilities are simply too low.”

He added that states should not look at the change as an additional reporting burden.

“Our department is not asking states to do more; we’re asking them to do things differently,” he said.

Added Support

The Education Department plans to finance a new, $50 million technical-assistance center called the Center on Systemic Improvement, to help states better use their federal special education money to improve student performance. States are also being asked to craft comprehensive plans to boost student achievement and submit them to the department, rather than focus on fixing individual indicators.

The results-driven accountability framework has been in the works for some time. Last year, Melody Musgrove, the director of the office of special education programs, said that the monitoring the department had been doing up to that point didn’t seem to be moving the needle on student achievement.

“We’ve been looking at the data that shows that even though we have been improving in terms of compliance, because that’s what we’ve been focusing on, we were not seeing that same type of improvement across reading, and math, and graduation rates, and post-school outcomes for students with disabilities,” she said at a special education leadership conference last August. “We need to focus our energies on the areas that are most in need of improvement.”

The stakes can be high for states: Under both the previous system and the revised framework, if a state falls into the “needs assistance” category for two years in a row, it could be identified as a high-risk grant recipient and required to accept technical help. A state in the “needs intervention” category for three years in a row could be required to prepare a corrective-action plan, enter into a compliance agreement, or, ultimately, have a portion of its federal special education aid withheld.

The District of Columbia, for example, has been in the “needs intervention” category now for eight years in a row; the department has required it to spend about $500,000 in its federal aid on student-evaluation programs—above and beyond money already earmarked for that purpose—that would otherwise be designated for administrative costs.

Persistent Gaps

The lack of progress that the revised system is intended to address particularly visible when examining the scores of students with disabilities on NAEP, known as “the nation’s report card.” The score gap between students with disabilities and their typically developing peers remains wide: In the 2013 test of 4th grade reading, for example, 69 percent of students with disabilities scored below basic, compared with 27 percent of students without disabilities.

Kim Hymes, the senior director of policy for the Council for Exceptional Children, an advocacy group based in Arlington, Va., said the shift was significant for states.

“The approach the department has taken is a step in the right direction,” Ms. Hymes said after the release of the data. “But we want to make sure we do something really useful with the information ... and that it serves as a trigger to look deeper into the data.”

State Perspective

Mr. Duncan was joined on the press call by state education chiefs Mitchell D. Chester of Massachusetts and Kevin S. Huffman of Tennessee. Massachusetts has the highest performance of students with disabilities, while Tennessee is seeing the fastest improvement, Mr. Duncan said.

“We’ve done a better job at ensuring procedural compliance,” Mr. Chester said, “but it was never clear to me we were doing as well as we can in preparing students well for their future.”

Mr. Huffman added: “We don’t want students winding up in special education just because we did not do a good job in teaching them in their early years.”

Referring to the proportion of Tennessee students receiving special education services, he said: “We can’t duck the results for 14 percent of our students.”

A version of this article appeared in the July 10, 2014 edition of Education Week as Fewer States Hit Mark Under Revised Spec. Ed. Framework


Recruitment & Retention Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Chronic Teacher Shortage: Where Do We Go From Here?  
Join Peter DeWitt, Michael Fullan, and guests for expert insights into finding solutions for the teacher shortage.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Science Webinar
Close the Gender Gap: Getting Girls Excited about STEM
Join female STEM leaders as they discuss the importance of early cheerleaders, real life role models, and female networks of support.
Content provided by Logitech
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Achievement Webinar
Mission Possible: Saving Time While Improving Student Outcomes
Learn how district leaders are maximizing instructional time and finding the best resources for student success through their MTSS framework.
Content provided by Panorama Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Special Education Q&A This Teacher Helps Students With Disabilities Find Agency Through Communication
An award-winning special education teacher shares insights on pandemic recovery and building agency for students with disabilities.
5 min read
Blue silhouettes of two faces look  toward each other with a speech bubble and a thought bubble between them to represent communication.
DigitalVision Vectors
Special Education Supreme Court Seems in Favor of Deaf Student's Right to Sue School District Under the ADA
Miguel Luna Perez was there as the justices weighed issues in his case over his district allegedly failing to provide trained interpreters.
7 min read
Miguel Perez stands outside the Supreme Court after arguments in the case of Perez v. Sturgis Public Schools on Jan. 18, 2023 in Washington, D.C.
Miguel Perez, right, along with lawyer Roman Martinez, stands outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington on Wednesday after arguments in his case against his former school district in Sturgis, Mich.
Mark Walsh/Education Week
Special Education A Deaf Student Says His School District Failed Him. The Supreme Court Will Decide
Miguel Luna Perez received inadequate assistance for 12 years, his suit says. The high court will decide if he can pursue money damages.
10 min read
Miguel Perez
Miguel Luna Perez in a 2016 yearbook photo as a senior at Sturgis High School in Michigan. Luna Perez, who is deaf, went on to the Michigan School for the Deaf in a settlement with his district but is seeking to sue under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 for the district's alleged failures to provide him adequate assistance to communicate.
Photo courtesy of Luna Perez family
Special Education 'Better Defined by Their Strengths': 5 Ways to Support Students With Learning Differences
What are effective ways schools can support students with learning differences? Educators on social media weighed in.
3 min read
A diverse group of students wearing book bags and climbing ladders and books to assemble a large puzzle
iStock/Getty Images Plus