Results Driven Accountability: Raising the Bar for Students with Disabilities

Today, the US Dept. of Education announced the first results of its new Results Driven Accountability (RDA) system for monitoring the performance of state education agencies’ implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the federal special education law.  This new system moves away from decades of focus on procedural compliance and towards an examination of how well students with disabilities are learning.  This is a welcome change as parents and advocates have learned that procedural compliance alone does not guarantee that children with disabilities are actually learning what they need to know in order to become independent productive adults.

In his press release, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stated what parents and advocates for children with disabilities have known for decades:

Every child, regardless of income, race, background, or disability can succeed if provided the opportunity to learn. We know that when students with disabilities are held to high expectations and have access to the general curriculum in the regular classroom, they excel. We must be honest about student performance, so that we can give all students the supports and services they need to succeed.

This chart showing the poor and declining math performance for students with disabilities from 2005-2010 demonstrates exactly why this new emphasis on educational results is so critical to the long-term success of children with disabilities.

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Reading results are similarly poor with less than 40% of students with disabilities capable of reading proficiently, with stagnating results from 2005-2010.  Worse yet,

Less than 10 percent of our nation’s eighth graders with IEPs are scoring proficient in reading, according to the best available data. We can and must do better,

said Michael Yudin, acting assistant secretary for special education and rehabilitative services.

Today, the Dept. of Education announced the results of its multi-pronged RDA analysis based on 2012-13 data, where states are grades in one of 4 categories: Meets Requirements; Needs Assistance; Needs Intervention; or Needs Substantial Intervention.  Here is how all state education agencies were categorized.

  • Meets Requirements

Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Palau

  • Needs Assistance

Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Washington, West Virginia, American Samoa, Commonwealth of Northern Marianas, Guam, Puerto Rico

  • Needs Intervention

California, Delaware, District of Columbia, Texas, Bureau of Indian Education, Virgin Islands

Fortunately, no states were deemed in need of substantial intervention, but it is deeply troubling that nearly 40 years after Congress first passed federal special education mandates, a majority of states still need federal assistance or actual intervention in order to provide meaningful education to their students with disabilities.

It remains to be seen how vigorously the US Dept. of Education will enforce these new requirements, as prior federal enforcement has been notoriously lax.  In theory, if a state needs assistance for 2 years in a row, the Dept. of Education must take actions such as requiring the state to obtain technical assistance or identifying the state as a high-risk grant recipient. If a state needs intervention for 3 years in a row, federal law mandates that the Dept. of Education must take specific actions, which can include requiring the state to prepare a corrective action plan, enter into a compliance agreement or, ultimately, withholding a portion of the state’s funding.

To help states improve the quality of education which students with disabilities receive, the federal government is providing $50 million for a new technical assistance center, the Center on Systemic Improvement to help states make effective use of the $11.5 billion in federal special education funds which they currently receive to improve outcomes for students with disabilities.

Parents of and advocates for children with disabilities should pay close attention to the new RDA, particularly in states which need assistance or intervention,  to make sure that the federal promise that this new program will improve the education of students with disabilities comes true.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

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Urge Congress to Pass Keeping All Students Safe Act

About two years ago, Wisconsin’s legislature joined 18 states which have a meaningful law protecting its children from inappropriate use of seclusion and restraint in school.  Known as Act 125, this law went into effect on September 1, 2012, and although it has not eliminated the inappropriate use of seclusion and restraint in Wisconsin schools, anecdotally, its use has dropped, and parents are generally notified when it happens so better planning for the child’s safety and needs can take place.  From my vantage point, I note that this law continues to draw great interest, as my post describing its features back in November, 2012, is my second most popular post, receiving views on a regular basis to this day.

However, as the National Autism Committee reports, the need for federal legislation is great, as most states continue to have little or no meaningful regulation of this traumatizing, dangerous, and sometimes deadly practice.

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Fortunately, Sen. Tom Harkin, has introduced S. 2036, known as the Keeping All Students Safe Act, to remedy this problem.  The key features of this important bill are that it:

  • Requires each state educational agency and local educational agency (LEA) that receives federal funds to prohibit school personnel, contractors, and resource officers from subjecting students to: (1) seclusion, (2) mechanical or chemical restraint, (3) aversive behavioral intervention that compromises student health and safety, or (4) physical restraint that is life-threatening or contraindicated based on the student’s health or disability status.
  • Excludes from the definition of “seclusion” time outs that involve the separation of a student from the group, in a non-locked setting, for the purpose of calming.
  • Allows physical restraint only when: (1) the student’s behavior poses an immediate danger of serious physical harm to the student or others; (2) the restraint does not interfere with the student’s ability to communicate; and (3) the restraint occurs after less restrictive interventions have proven ineffective in stopping the danger, except in certain emergencies when immediate restraint is necessary.
  • Requires school personnel imposing physical restraint to: (1) be trained and certified by a state-approved crisis intervention training program, though others may impose such restraint in certain instances when trained personnel are not immediately available; and (2) engage in continuous face-to-face monitoring of the restrained student.
  • Requires: (1) the parents of a physically restrained student to be notified on the day such restraint occurs; (2) a debriefing session to be held as soon as practicable in which the person who imposed the restraint, the immediate adult witnesses, a school administrator, a school mental health professional, and at least one of the student’s family members participate; (3) the affected student to be given an opportunity to discuss the event with a trusted adult who will communicate the student’s perspective to the debriefing session group; and (4) the state educational agency, the LEA, local law enforcement, and any protection and advocacy system serving an affected student to be notified within 24 hours of any death or bodily injury that occurs in conjunction with efforts to control a student’s behavior.
  • Authorizes a student to file a civil action seeking relief from the use of seclusion or restraint on the student in violation of this Act; and
  • Authorizes the Secretary of Education to award grants to states and, through them, competitive subgrants to LEAs to: (1) establish, implement, and enforce policies and procedures to meet this Act’s requirements; (2) improve their capacity to collect and analyze data related to physical restraint; and (3) implement school-wide positive behavioral interventions and supports.

As this current Congress is well known for its dysfunctional inability to pass meaningful legislation of any kind, the only way this bill stands a chance of passing is with a groundswell of grassroots support.  To that end, a Stop Hurting Kids Campaign has been established to make it easy to contact your members of Congress urging passage of this important bill.  You can do so on-line by going to this link.  There is also a Facebook page you can like to get regular updates on the progress of the bill.

Currently, S. 2036 only has 4 co-sponsors (Sens. Murphy (CT); Hirono (HI); Baldwin (WI); and Shaheen (NH).  Contact your Senators TODAY to broaden this group of co-sponsors which will enhance the possibility that the bill will pass the Senate and move on to the House of Representatives.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Replicate this: The Kalamazoo Promise Works

The sound and fury of school reform proponents is deafening as they decry public school failures and urge privatization, charters and high stakes testing.  Equally furious public school supporters seek to cast blame for public school failures on the twin devils of inadequate school funding and student poverty.  Remarkably, neither camp spends a lot of time focusing on innovative programs with proven success and encouraging successful replication.

While successful systems change requires genuine root cause analysis of the problems which require change, real change is far easier and more likely to succeed when a successful model exists which is worthy of replication.  When it comes to increasing high school graduation rates, improving grades, and lowering behavior problems, the Kalamazoo Promise is a program which succeeds in all these measures, and clearly deserves emulation nationwide.

The Kalamazoo Promise started 8 years ago, and has nearly 4000 eligible students. Through sufficient donations, it promises to provide public college scholarships to Kalamazoo High School graduates, with at least a 2.0 grade point average, so unlike many other scholarship programs, it is not designed to serve only academically oriented students.  Of course, students must perform well enough in high school to gain entry into a Michigan college or university, which encourages students who want to obtain the Promise scholarships to work harder.  However, scholarships are available to every Michigan public post-secondary institution from local community colleges to flagship institutions such as the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, thereby fitting the needs of any student who seeks a post-secondary education.

The scholarships provide 65% of public college tuition and mandatory fees for Kalamazoo students who enrolled in high school in 9th grade, sliding up to 100% for those who attend Kalamazoo Public Schools (KPS) from Kindergarten through 12th grade.  This feature has actually served to increase public school enrollment in Kalamazoo, stemming what had been an 18 year trend of declining enrollment and white flight.  Between 80-90% of KPS graduates have been eligible for college scholarships and between 82-85% have received scholarships ranging from $5,000-55,000.

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This chart also reveals that KPS is a mid-size urban school district with significant poverty (13.6% in the 2000 census), and a racially diverse make-up, which makes it all the more appropriate for replication in the myriad of other similar districts throughout the country. This enrollment rise reflects both new students coming into KPS because of the Promise as well as fewer students leaving (through drop out or moving) than prior to the Promise.

In addition to the clear benefit from enrollment rising in KPS, a recent study shows important academic and behavioral results from the Promise:

  • Increased credits obtained by KPS high school students;
  • Increased grades earned by all KPS students with a more dramatic increase for African-American students; and a
  • Decrease in days of suspension for all students, with a more dramatic decrease for African-American students.

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The researchers appropriately deem these results striking and further find that:

The decrease in the number of days spent in suspension might have shifted past some “tipping point” beyond which more presence in the classroom leads to higher grades, while leaving the white students less affected.

With results like these, school advocates of all stripes should push private foundations as well as state and federal governments to put their energy and funding into replicating the Kalamazoo Promise nationwide.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.