Today the IEP Task Force reconvened in a meeting about the new IEP Plus 5.0. Together with the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens (GACEC), a meeting was held to go over the new functionalities of the IEP computer system that former Chair of the IEP Task Force Matt Denn wanted to scrap altogether. This meeting was SO important nobody knew about it. And unless legislation has been introduced extending Senate Concurrent Resolution #63 from the 147th General Assembly, anything with the name “IEP Task Force” is technically illegal.
While pretty much nobody showed up to the meeting from the old IEP Task Force, I find it interesting the DOE would stage a meeting in conjunction with the GACEC and this mythical new IEP Task Force. None of the legislators from the previous task force showed up. Matt Denn wasn’t there. So who is running this? Apparently, the Director of the Exceptional Children Resources Group Mary Ann Mieczkowski ran the meeting. She was on the IEP Task Force. And she is also a member of the GACEC.
So we have a non-public meeting of two very public entities. Say the IEP Task Force was just a name thrown on over a month ago (which was when an email was sent to different task force members advising them of this meeting today). The GACEC should have definitely put this on the Delaware Public Meeting Calendar. But I guess non-transparency is okay if nobody finds out about it!
From what I have learned, the meeting was very boring. It was a lot of technical lingo about the updated computer system run by Sunguard. Sunguard also runs e-school, that clever little database that houses EVERYTHING about your child. IEP Plus is the system where ALL IEPs are stored. But that’s not the point. I’ve been in IEP meetings where IEP Plus sucks the oxygen out of the room and technical difficulties take up far too much time. I’m sure it isn’t just schools and the DOE who are fed up by it. But here is the DOE, probably paying tons of money for this upgrade with no one the wiser. By denying any parent the ability to go to this meeting, I have to wonder what other meetings are going on in this state behind closed doors that should be open to the public. I’m sure there are plenty! Like I’ve said a couple times: “Delaware, first to sign the Constitution, the last to follow it!”
The Delaware Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens (GACEC) website appears to be in severe disarray. The last agenda for one of their meetings is for their March 17th, 2015 meeting. The last minutes are from their June 2015 meeting. When does this group meet? On the Delaware Public Meetings Calendar it shows their last meeting was November 17th, 2015. No agenda was on the calendar either. Are they even meeting anymore?
I used to get emails from this group when I was on their distribution list. But once I blasted them for their opposition of the parent opt-out legislation, House Bill 50, I was banned from this email list. My guess, this is now an “inclusive club” in Delaware that doesn’t have to follow state law for public meetings or transparency. As a group that is supposed to represent the disabled of Delaware, this is very disheartening to see. I expect more out of any state agency or council, but I expect much more out of this group. Is Wendy Strauss still the Executive Director? Is Robert Overmiller still the Chair of GACEC? When are their meetings? They do have a calendar of their meetings for the year, but that isn’t saying much without the other necessary state law compliance in effect.
Why does this group think they don’t have to be visible with their activities?
Delaware PTA, DSEA & Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens:
You hold a great deal of power in your groups. We the people need you to band together and unite for the students of Delaware. The ESEA reauthorization is all about more testing, more federal mandates and waivers, and even “social impact bonds”. I know your bosses in the National PTA, NEA and Governor Markell are all behind this federal legislation. But that does not mean you need to endorse legislation that has not even been seen by the public yet.
Delaware PTA: You know I love you for your support on the opt-out movement and House Bill 50! We need you to take a serious look at the personalized learning models and competency-based education supports embedded in this legislation. These are not good for students over the long-term, especially those students who are most in need. This bill is big on accountability systems created at the state level, and we all know what that kind of power can have in a few corrupt minds in our state. Please, do not endorse this bill and let your National PTA know they shouldn’t either.
DSEA: I have to admit, you folks are an enigma to me! From my perspective, the best words I can think of are this- you always want a seat at the table but don’t realize you are actually on the table as the main course. I’ve seen this with the Delaware School Success Framework, teacher evaluations, and Race To The Top. I know you wish there didn’t even have to be opt-out, but the plain simple fact is that it is here and it is necessary for parents to do this. I get that teachers endorsing opt-out could put them in rough waters, but they are already in that position because of the state and federal mandates coming down. Please do not endorse this bill that will make sure teachers lose even more voice.
GACEC: You are a Governor’s council run by the state, which puts you under the shadow of Governor Markell. But your mandate is to look out for exceptional citizens, those with disabilities. Please tell me how supporting the Governor against opt-out helps those citizens. Please tell me you truly want the best outcome for children with special needs. Please tell me you do not support this latest edition of the ESEA reauthorization. We’ve seen the outcome of Smarter Balanced for our children with disabilities. They are now further behind. That isn’t progress, and I’m sure you have seen how Delaware wants these children to go from 19% proficiency to 59% in six years. That is insanity, brought on by Governor Markell. Please stop siding with the DOE on matters that only negatively impact our kids.
This may provide schools with an incentive to encourage student participation in the assessment system.
I would think, after seeing the abysmal Smarter Balanced Assessment results for Delaware, especially for students with disabilities, the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens would change it’s tune on parent opt-out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment. But in their public comment for Regulation 103, which the State Board shot down for action yesterday, they felt the participation rate penalty could be a good way for schools to convince parents the kids need to take the test.
What is it with this council? I appreciate a lot of the work they do. Don’t get me wrong on that. But this is HUGE. Yes, it is a group with the word Governor in it, but that doesn’t mean they have to stick with his opinions. I would love it if they could give any factual basis for their claims aside from the News Journal. This isn’t the first time they have based their opinions on articles in the News Journal. Don’t read a newspaper, or even my own blog. Just look at the statistics for students with disabilities on the Smarter Balanced Assessment. 10% in Math, 15% in ELA. That’s ALL you need to know. These are kids. And I’m sure a lot of them wanted to do good on this test. Imagine the pain and confusion they will feel when they get their results. Imagine the struggles they had taking this test. It’s not right, and it isn’t fair that a group of adults speaking for these children should go against the public consensus on this. This test is horrible, and everyone knows it.
I’ve met Robert Overmiller and Wendy Strauss, and they are good people. I know quite a few members on this council. I just don’t get why they would do this. Luckily, this Regulation is going to be reviewed and hopefully reworked. But I would love a compelling reason why they are so adamantly against parent opt-out.
In reviewing GACEC and their modus operandi, I was curious if they gave public comment concerning Gateway Lab School. This is a charter school designed for students with disabilities that was threatened with non-renewal of their charter in late 2014. Thankfully, the State Board of Education and Mark Murphy did renew their charter. Public support was massive for this school. The GACEC wrote a letter of support for their charter renewal which can be found on pages 6 & 7 of the below document. My take on this below that.
It comes down to one statement in their letter: “In conjunction with our role as the state advisory panel, we would like to share our concerns on the recent decision by the Charter School Accountability Committee to recommend the State Board of Education revoke the charter of the Gateway Lab School based on assessment data.”
Assessment data should not be the sole factor in making a policy decision as per the GACEC. But in their letter of opposition to House Bill 50, President Robert Overmiller with the GACEC writes “the validity of overall test results will be undermined if large numbers of students do not participate in the assessment.” So GACEC can determine when data should and should not be used. The main issue with Gateway Lab School was academic performance. I completely agree with the GACEC, standardized test scores should never make or break a school. But they can’t play both sides on this balance beam. Because “Avoiding the unpleasant reality of assessments and their place in public education is not a viable response to relatively poor overall performance by Delaware students” as Overmiller wrote in the opposition letter, completely goes against their reasoning for supporting Gateway’s charter renewal.
In the case of Gateway, Overmiller actually went to the school to observe and see how their students were doing with the school and if they were showing academic interest and their special education was offering a rewarding environment. He found it was. But in the case of parent opt-out, Overmiller did not reach out to parents who are opting out, or try to understand the motivations behind their decisions. Has he talked to teachers or the DOE about the technical accommodation issues affecting students with disabilities? Did he observe how these children are doing on the test? This council is meant to look at issues with citizens with disabilities, but in their opposition letter, they never once say the words “special education” or “disabilities”. Once again GACEC, you can’t have it both ways. I truly believe the GACEC should rescind their letter of opposition to House Bill 50 until they have truly educated themselves on this issue.