Special Education

Special Education Office Moves Toward Measuring Student Outcomes

By Christina A. Samuels — August 06, 2013 2 min read
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Thirty-nine states have garnered a “meets requirements” rating from the U.S. Department of Education’s office of special education programs on the quality of their programs for students with disabilities.

But this is the last year the annual state reports (the full list of reports, which were released last month and cover the 2011-12 school year, can be found here) will focus primarily on “compliance indicators"—for example, timely resolution of due process complaints. The federal special education office is moving to a system that will require states to demonstrate how they are working to improve the educational outcomes for students with disabilities.

I wrote about the upcoming change in May, and Melody Musgrove, the director of OSEP, explained more about the move in a recent gathering of special education parents and state officials held in Washington.

“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,” Musgrove told the audience at the IDEA Leadership Conference on July 29. “We need to focus our energies on the areas that are most in need of improvement.”

The latest state evaluations give an example of the current compliance focus. For example, Mississippi and South Carolina both earned a “meets requirements” rating for the state performance plan, which is the top category. (The other ratings, in order of severity, are “needs assistance,” “needs intervention,” and “needs substantial intervention.”)

However, those states were recently singled out in a report from the National Center for Learning Disabilities on their gaps in graduation rates and dropout rates between students with disabilities and the general student population. Using state-reported data, the NCLD report found that South Carolina had a dropout rate for students with learning disabilities of 49 percent. In Mississippi, 75 percent of all students earned a diploma in 2010-11, compared to 23 percent of students with disabilities.

Eleven states—Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Texas, and West Virginia—fell into the needs assistance category this year. The District of Columbia was in the needs intervention category, for the seventh year in a row.

The 77-minute OSEP presentation to the leadership conference on the new “Results-Driven Accountability” is available online. Interesting to note from the presentation: The department plans to create a tiered model of intervention for states, much like the response to intervention framework is used in classrooms. In the past, the department used a one-size-fits-all model, where each state was visited on a cyclical basis and every state received, in some measure, the same amount of technical assistance.

“That’s not good enough any more,” Musgrove said, particularly in an era of limited resources. “To move that needle, we’ve got to be more targeted and more focused in our efforts.” The discussion of this differentiated monitoring process begins around the 32-minute mark.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.